Rose Levy Beranbaum, author of “The Pie & Pastry Bible,” says if you want to sell your house, have an apple pie baking when prospective buyers come. The aroma will permeate the house and “make anyone feel truly at home.”
What is it about apple pie that is so appealing? And just what is the “best” apple pie? Is it your grandma’s, or mom’s, or tutu’s? Is it a one crust (deep dish) or two? Streusel-topped or latticed? Do you like it warm or chilled? Alone or a la mode?
Chances are the perfect apple pie is the one you grew up with, or one that you tasted during a memorable event. But just in case you don’t have a tried and true apple pie recipe in your home, here are a few choices.
Susan Purdy, author of “The Perfect Pie,” says pie making is becoming a lost art, because many people are afraid of trying to make a perfect pie crust. Store-bought pie shells aren’t that bad, but Purdy offers a better choice: for a handy supply of quick-to-make pie dough, make her dry mix (recipe follows), then add water when ready to make your pie.
Homemade pie crust mix
You can make this mix ahead and store it for up to a month in the refrigerator or a cool pantry. At the last minute, add water, mix and roll out the dough. Recipe makes about 9 cups mix; enough for six 9-inch pie shells.
6 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1 tablespoon salt
1 pound can hydrogenated vegetable shortening, such as Crisco
Whisk the flour and salt together in a bowl. Cut in the shortening until mixture is crumbly, with bits the size of rice. Store in a covered container. When ready to use, follow these guidelines:
For an 8-inch crust, use 1 1/4 cups mix for 1 crust; 2 1/4 cups for 2 crusts, plus 2 to 4 tablespoons of ice water. For a 9-inch crust, use 1 1/2 cups mix for 1 crust; 2 1/2 cups for 2 crusts, plus 2 to 4 tablespoons of ice water.
How do you make the best apple pie filling? Rose Levy Beranbaum says that reducing and concentrating the juices of the apples make it necessary to use only about half the usual amount of thickener, resulting in a purer apple flavor, a juicy filling and a crisp bottom crust. Here’s her recipe from “The Pie & Pastry Bible;” makes one 9-inch pie (about 8 servings).
The best all-American apple pie
Make pie crust for a 2-crust pie, then make filling:
2 1/2 pounds baking apples (about 6), peeled, cored and sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 to 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cornstarch
Fit the bottom pie dough into the pie pan and trim the edge almost even with the edge of the pan. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine the apples, lemon juice, sugars, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt; toss to mix. Leave apples at room temperature for 30 minutes, or up to 3 hours. Transfer apples and their juices to a colander suspended over a bowl. Mixture will release at least a half cup of liquid.
In a small saucepan, over medium-high heat, boil down this liquid, with the butter, to about 1/3 cup or until syrupy and lightly caramelized. Swirl liquid but do not stir it. Transfer apples to a bowl; toss them with the cornstarch until all traces of it have disappeared. Pour syrup over apples, tossing gently. Roll out top crust large enough to cut a 12-inch circle. Transfer apple mixture to lined pie shell. Moisten border of bottom crust by brushing lightly with water. Place top crust over fruit. Tuck the overhang under bottom crust; press down all around the top to seal. Crimp border; make about 5 evenly-spaced 2-inch slashes on top crust. Cover pie loosely with plastic wrap; refrigerate for 1 hour before baking. Set oven rack at lowest level and place a baking sheet on it. Preheat oven to 425 F at least 20 minutes before baking. Set pie directly on baking sheet; bake 45 to 55 minutes or until juices bubble through the slashes and apples feel tender but not mushy when a small knife is inserted through a slash. Cool pie on a rack for at least 4 hours before cutting.
Tarte aux pommes (French apple tart)
In “Recipes from the Vineyards of Oregon,” author Leslie Whipple gives a simple recipe for a French apple tart, using only 4 ingredients plus your favorite pie crust.
Pastry for a one-crust pie
4 to 5 apples, peeled, cored and sliced into thin wedges
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 egg yolks
4 tablespoons sugar
Preheat oven to 375 F. Using your favorite pie crust recipe, roll dough out to fit a pizza pan, making a 1-inch-high edge. Lay apple slices, slightly overlapping, in concentric circles around the pie shell, all the way to the center. Blend the cream with the egg yolks; pour over apples. Sprinkle with sugar. Bake about 40 minutes or until custard is set and apples are nicely browned. Serve warm.
Deep dish apple pie
A deep dish apple pie, like the one in “Desserts” by Nancy Silverton, uses sauteed apple slices for what has allegedly been called “the best they have ever eaten” by several restaurant critics. The recipe includes a flaky pastry, but I am just giving the filling and technique here, which can be used with your own pie crust.
6 1/2 pounds tart green apples (about 15), peeled, halved and cored
2 teaspoons cinnamon
3 1/3 cups granulated sugar
1 pound unsalted butter plus 1 tablespoon to coat pie pan
3 cups Southern Comfort
2 cups heavy cream
Slice the apples no thinner than 1/4 inch thick. There should be about 22 cups. In a small bowl, stir together the cinnamon and sugar. In a large, high-sided saute pan, melt the butter; let it bubble slightly over medium-high heat. Add apples; cook until tender, 5 to 8 minutes. Sprinkle sugar mixture on apples in pan; stir with a wooden spoon. Reduce heat to medium. As sugar melts and juice is released from apples, liquid will collect in pan. Stir occasionally to avoid scorching, until juice and sugar have reduced to a thick syrup and apples are translucent and completely caramelized but still firm to the touch, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat. Add Southern Comfort and ignite, letting the alcohol burn until the flames die down on their own. Add cream; cook 5 to 10 minutes until reduced and thick. Pour apples into a colander set over a large bowl to drain. Reserve the juices for making a sauce to serve with the finished pie. When apples have drained, spread them in a wide pan or on a baking sheet so they cool rapidly and stop cooking. Refrigerate until cold. Place sauteed apples into bottom of pie pan when cooled; dot top with 2 tablespoons butter cut into small pieces. Cover with crust and pinch to seal edges. Make a steam hole on top, and four 1-inch slits around the hole. Refrigerate about 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 400 F and bake pie for 30 minutes; reduce heat to 350 F and bake 35 minutes longer, until top is golden brown.