Apples from the Market
©2013 Chris Terrell
In high school and college, the holiday season was my favorite time to bake. I had time off from school and it was the perfect time and place for baking.
And being the holidays, one of the first things I made was mincemeat pie. This was not a culinary high point, however. All I had to do was buy some jarred mincemeat and frozen pie crusts and —“bam!”—I was back in merry ol’ England for a Victorian Christmas. (I’m not sure how I got into the mincemeat pie thing, but it was probably because of an English friend in college who had served it at a party.)
Next, I moved onto pecan pie, which is one of my favorite pies in the world. And while I still used a store-bought crust, at least the filling was homemade this time. I swear the best pecan pie recipe in the world is the one on the back of every single bottle of Karo Syrup And talk about convenient! You don’t need to dig through a dusty shoebox of recipes. All you need to do is go to the grocery store, grab a bottle, and start shopping!
Here’s the recipe:
1 cup Karo® Light OR Dark Corn Syrup
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 teaspoon Spice Islands® Pure Vanilla Extract
1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) pecans
1 (9-inch) unbaked or frozen [optional—see below] deep-dish pie crust
1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. Mix corn syrup, eggs, sugar, butter and vanilla using a spoon. Stir in pecans. Pour filling into pie crust.
Bake on center rack of oven for 60 to 70 minutes (see tips for doneness, below). Cool for 2 hours on wire rack before serving.
To use prepared frozen pie crust: Place cookie sheet in oven and preheat oven as directed. Pour filling into frozen crust and bake on preheated cookie sheet.
RECIPE TIPS: Pie is done when center reaches 200°F. Tap center surface of pie lightly - it should spring back when done. For easy clean up, spray pie pan with cooking spray before placing pie crust in pan. If pie crust is overbrowning, cover edges with foil.
Next, I tried pumpkin pie (another favorite of mine—I guess I'm partial to fall-centric recipes). This also involved the use of frozen pie crust and canned pumpkin. Like the pecan pie recipe above, a recipe can be found on the back of the can of pumpkin. (I usually buy Libby.)
All this time, I used frozen pie crust because, like a lot of people, I was intimidated by the thought of making homemade pie crust. So one day I decided to overcome this irrational fear and make my first pie crust. The recipe I landed upon was one for apple pie I found in an issue of Southern Living. Now, I know I run the risk of loosing my “Man Card” by revealing that I read Southern Living, but they do have the best desert recipes out there. (And please believe me when I say I don’t read the articles on chintz!)
What I found interesting about the recipe was the use of chilled apple cider in place of chilled water. Besides giving the crust a nice apple flavor, the acidic nature of the cider inhibits gluten formation. Too much gluten keeps pie crust from being nice and flaky. This is why some recipes call for chilled vodka rather than chilled water because alcohol also inhibits gluten formation. (Try it! It works!) Another option is apple cider vinegar, which has the acid and a slight amount of alcohol. It also gives the crust just a touch of tanginess.
This is the apple pie recipe I’ve used since then. I continue to tinker with it because I’ve found that even in baking one must experiment in order to make them your own. I revisited this recipe this past weekend, and I must say that I probably made the best crust I’ve made yet. It was certainly the prettiest apple pie I’ve made.
©2013 Chris Terrell
Over the years, I learned and read about some good tips on pie making, and here they are:
1. To avoid soggy bottoms (that sounds bad), sprinkle an even mixture of sugar and flour on the bottom of the crust before baking. This protects the crust from absorbing too much moisture while cooking.
2. Rest the dough for at least several hours in the fridge, as much as 24 hours before rolling out. This allows for the glutens in the dough to “chill” out or relax.
3. Keep it cool. Everything you put into making the pie crust (water/vodka/cider, butter, shortening, etc.) should be well chilled.
4. Keep it slow: add your butter/shortening and liquids slowly in small bits.
5. Sweat the small stuff. If you're making a fruit pie, put the fruit in a large bowl with sugar and then after about 30 minutes, drain off the liquid. This keeps the pie from getting too soggy. Save the liquid because it can be used for lots of things, like pouring it over ice cream or made into some kind of Sunday brunch alcohol concoction! If you do this, add more sugar than the recipe calls for because you will lose some sugar in the juice that runs off.
6. Finally, make sure your crust is marbled. This should be easy if you add your butter/shortening to the flour in small bits. In other words, your crust should have little gobs of butter/shortening evenly distributed throughout the crust. This is important because as the dough cooks, the bits of butter/shortening will melt, leaving air pockets which add to the crust’s flakiness.
All that being said, don’t be intimidated by pie or pie crust. Don’t buy the frozen stuff anymore. Make the crust yourself. It is worth it. If your grandmother could do it, then you can to!
Southern Living Apple Pie Recipe
4 1/2 pounds Granny Smith apples, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch-thick wedges
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
Cornmeal Crust Dough (see below)
1 tablespoon butter
1. Preheat oven to 375°. Stir together apples, sugar, flour, ground cinnamon, and salt. Let stand 15 minutes, gently stirring occasionally.
2. Roll 1 Cornmeal Crust Dough disk to 1/8-inch thickness (about 11 inches wide) on a well-floured surface. Gently press dough into a 9-inch glass pie plate. Spoon apple mixture into crust, packing tightly and mounding in center; dot with butter cut into pieces. [Packing the fruit tightly into the crust avoids creating air pockets because the fruit will shrink during cooking.]
3. Roll remaining dough disk to 1/8-inch thickness (about 13 inches wide). Gently place dough over filling; fold edges under, and crimp, sealing to bottom crust. Place pie on a jelly-roll pan. Cut 4 to 5 slits in top of pie for steam to escape.
4. Bake at 375° on an oven rack one-third up from bottom of oven 50 minutes. Cover loosely with aluminum foil, and bake 40 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack, and cool 1 1/2 to 2 hours before serving.
Cornmeal Pie Crust
2⅓ cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup plain yellow cornmeal
2 tablespoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup cold butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/4 cup chilled shortening, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
8 to 10 Tbsp. chilled apple cider
1. Stir together first 4 ingredients in a large bowl. Cut butter and shortening into flour mixture with a pastry blender until mixture resembles small peas. Mound mixture on 1 side of bowl.
2. Drizzle 1 Tbsp. apple cider along edge of mixture in bowl. Using a fork, gently toss a small amount of flour mixture into cider just until dry ingredients are moistened; move mixture to other side of bowl. Repeat procedure with remaining cider and flour mixture.
3. Gently gather dough into two flat disks. Wrap in plastic wrap, and chill 1 to 24 hours.