P is for Pie
Or pies. One big one and a lot of little ones.
We went apple picking last Sunday, and while I’d made a pie that same day, I hadn’t yet made anything else with our haul of Macouns and Empires. We’d all been eating them almost daily, but we still had (and still have) a lot of apples left.
This past Saturday morning when Bill took the kids trout fishing, I tied my apron on and started baking.
Actually, I’d planned a bit ahead – I’d made a big batch of pie crust dough the night before . Just a basic pie dough – use your favorite. This is the one I used – a slight variation on the one in my falling-apart copy of the Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook:
Basic Pie Crust Dough
(And please note this is double the amount needed for a 2-crust pie. So if you wanted to, I suppose you could make a 4-crust pie with it.)
4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
3 teaspoons sugar
1 1/4 cups (2 1/4 sticks) chilled, unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
10-12 tablespoons ice water
Sift the dry ingredients together or mix in a food processor, add the butter and work it in, either with a pastry blender or through the food processor, until the majority of the mixture looks like coarse sand but there are larger lumps of butter still visible. Slowly add the water, a few tablespoons at a time, and process in short pulses or toss gently with a fork, until the dough just comes together – you don’t want it soggy.. Shape the dough into a disk (or two, or four), wrap tightly and refrigerate for a few hours.
That was the recipe I used. It produces a flaky, tasty crust.
I used a quarter of the dough to make the bottom crust for my pie – rolled it out into roughly a circle, gently placed it in the pie pan, trimmed it, and put it back in the fridge to chill again while I made the topping.
See, I’d decided to do something different with this pie – I thought I’d make a pie that was part pie and part apple crisp. So while the dough was chilling, I preheated the oven to 425 degrees F and mixed the following ingredients together:
4 T all purpose flour
3 T whole oats
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp allspice (in hindsight, I’d reduce this to about 1/4, or leave it out altogether)
1/4 tsp salt
4 T butter, cold, cubed
Mix all the dry ingredients together, then add in the butter and, with a pastry blender or your fingers, work the butter into the dry ingredients until it’s just about completely incorporated. A few little lumps of butter are okay. Set aside.
The next step is to peel and slice your apples and put the filling together. I peeled seven of them. I think I’ve got two Macouns and five Empire, but I could have that backwards. They’re all roughly the same size – medium – and I could have probably used another, now that I think about it.
After they were all peeled, I sliced them up – nothing fancy here – just sliced away at the flesh with a paring knife until I got to the core. If you wanted pieces all about the same size, you could cut the apples in half, core them, and slice them up in quarter-inch thick pieces. But my mother doesn’t make her pies that way, and most of the time neither do I.
Next, I sprinkled a couple teaspoons of sugar, several good shakes of cinnamon, a tablespoonful of flour, and the grated zest of half a lemon over the apples and then mixed everything together.
Then I got out my pie pan from the fridge, slid the apple mixture in, and topped with the crisp mixture.
And then I did a kind of stupid thing. I flattened the top down. See, I’d crimped the crust all nice and pretty, but the filling looked kind of skimpy. So I thought if I pressed down on the top, the filling would slide out a bit toward the edges, and it would look better.
Don’t do it. It looks…flat.
But – too late. So I put the pie in the oven.
I baked it for about 40-45 minutes, and when I checked it at the 30 minute mark, the crust was already looking a little too dark, so I covered the whole thing with a piece of foil.
The top of the pie still looked flat. Ah well. At least it was smelling pretty good.
Now, I have to go back in time a teeny bit, because after I’d made the crust for the pie, I also used up the rest of the dough. I didn’t mention it before because I didn’t want to be too confusing. Or too much more confusing.
I rolled out the remaining 3/4 of the dough to between 1/4 and 1/8 inch thick, and took my nice big apple shaped cookie cutter and cut out a lot of apples. I placed them all on cookie sheets, and popped them in the fridge to chill while I went back to work on the pie.
Once the pie was in the oven I got 4 more apples (3 would have probably been enough) and this time, I sliced them fairly prettily:
I put my pretty slices in a bowl and added a little bit of sugar and cinnamon (a couple teaspoons of sugar and one of cinnamon), tossed everything together, and then got the apple-shaped pie dough back out of the freezer. And I took one dough apple, put it on the counter, dipped my finger in some water and dampened the outer edge of the dough apple, then carefully placed several apple slices (probably two layers of slices in some cases – you’ll have to see what works best for you, depending on how thickly you slice the apples) in the center of the dough.
Then I took another apple and placed it (make sure the stem and leaf are facing the same way or you’ll end up with a wild mutant two-stemmed apple) on top of the first one, pressing gently all around the edges with your fingertips.
It should look like this:
Then, partly to seal the edges and partly because it looks pretty, get a fork and press the tine around the edges of your little mini pie. Only go about 1/4 of an inch in from the edge.
And place them all back on your cookie sheets, because they’ll be going back in the refrigerator again.
After the pie comes out, get your chilled mini pies out of the fridge and finish making them pretty.
I used the tip of a knife to make an “A” in each one. Then I brushed them all with some egg wash (one egg beaten with a teaspoon or so of water or milk) and then sprinkled sparkling sugar on top.
Sometimes I’m really happy with what I’m doing. This was one of those times.
And into the oven they went.
Of course, I still had scraps of dough left over. And I hate waste. So I rolled out the remaining three bits of dough, brushed some butter on them, sprinkled them with sugar and cinnamon, and then sort of rolled/folded them up like this.
I know. They’re not pretty at all. But that’s okay.
I stuck them back in the fridge to wait until the mini pies came out.
Meanwhile, the original, full-sized, crisp-topped pie was out of the oven and cooling, and while it smelled good, it looked…flat. And brown. And boring.
So I dusted the top with confectioners’ sugar. It helped a little, but still, the damage had been done when I flattened the top, and there’s no way of getting around that, is there? No.
I baked the mini pies for about 40 minutes. If you’re doing this at home, I’d suggest checking them at 30. The stem and leaf part are going to brown faster, so you want to pull them out before they get black, but you also want the main part of the pie to have that lovely golden brown color. I know. It’s a complicated dance sometimes.
Anyway, here they are, fresh from the oven.
Just about this time, Bill and the kids got home from fishing. They didn’t catch any trout, and it was cold and windy, so they were ready for something warm and comforting.
Little (and big) hands reached for the mini pies, but I slapped them away (and yelled) because the pies really had JUST come out of the oven and I didn’t want to have to deal with any burns.
So I got them to wait about five or ten minutes through the clever use of stalling tactics like these:
“Take your shoes off! I don’t want you tracking mud everywhere!”
“Go wash your hands, they’re filthy and you’ve been touching fish and worms!”
“Did you use soap? Go wash your hands again, with SOAP!”
“No! Don’t take that one – it’s pretty and I need it for the pictures! Here, have this (ugly) one!”
Feel free to use these or make up your own.
Anyway, once the pies were handed out, everyone was happy.
And I still had some pretty ones left for the pictures.
See that bowl of apples? That’s still only SOME of the remaining apples. We had a good day of picking!
Here’s the inside of one of the pies. I think this might be the very first one I’d made, because I know I put more apples in the later ones. It’s okay, though – I really like pie crust. I ate this one.
Okay, no remember the dough scraps? I took them out of the fridge, sliced them up about 1/3 inch wide, put them on a baking sheet and popped them in the oven til they were golden on top.
They were good – just little cinnamony nuggets of dough. They were gone pretty quickly, too.
And, finally, after lunch was consumed, I cut into the crisp-topped pie.
It didn’t look AWFUL, though a nicely domed top would have been (in my opinion) prettier. Ah well.
Alex got the first slice, mainly because he’d shoved his way right up to the counter and was waiting anxiously as I sliced and served. He loves apple pie.
Bill and the kids each had a slice, and the overall feeling was that the pie was just okay. Bill didn’t like the allspice flavor – it actually overshadowed the cinnamon – and Alex told me it wasn’t my best pie (I love his brutal honesty in food assessment), and that he’d give me a “B” for it. But the mini pies – they were way better. And Julia just brought the plate of barely touched pie back to me and said, in her sad voice, that she just really didn’t like it.
I ate hers, and you know what?
It’s just okay.
I think less (or no) allspice in the topping would have been the way to go, or maybe I should have just stuck to what was familiar to everyone and made a two-crusted pie in the first place.
But, if I’d done that, there wouldn’t have been as many mini pies, so I guess I’m okay with my decision that morning.
And I think a nice scoop of vanilla ice cream, or a big dollop of whipped cream on top would do this pie a world of good.
And that’s my baking saga from Sunday.