Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Apple Pie That Can Win A Contest

The King of Soup has another, lesser-known title: The Prince of Pie. A few years ago The Prince of Pie and I decided to have an apple pie bakeoff. This idea came as a result of a very successful visit to a local Ontario apple farm where we picked oodles of different types of apples. We thought it would be fun to try baking some pies with different kinds of apples in them to see which one tasted best.
The Prince of Pie has long been a braggart with regard to his pastry making skills. And I will admit that he does a good job. He gets very into his craft, refusing to use technology (a food processor) to help him, instead freezing his fingers over and over again in an ice water bath so as not to heat the pastry too much while mixing the ingredients. Me, not so much, I believe in using a Cuisinart all the way.
So we planned a dinner party and invited The Prince’s Mother and her spouse, as well as my own Mom. I don’t even remember what the meal was, just how competitive The Prince and I became in the kitchen with the pies.
At the end of the day, The Prince of Pie won the battle. He won for several reasons: 1) his pastry was flakier (I used all butter, he used all lard), 2) his filling was tarter (I used Honeycrisp apples and he used Spartan), and 3) his pie was prettier. As much as I like to believe I am not a sore loser, I was hurt. My own Mom voted against my pie (it was a blinded taste test, to be fair to both competitors and judges).
Later on, about a year later we had a rematch over lasagne. His was meat, mine vegetarian, and I won hands down (even the meat eaters preferred my lasagne). But I was still stinging from the pie battle. So last week we were expecting The Prince’s Mother and her spouse for dinner again. I decided to make a pie, just for fun (yeah, right!).
This time I decided to use half butter and half lard, because I believe the lard definitely makes the crust flaky, and the butter gives the crust a better taste. For the filling I used Granny Smith, a nice tart, firm apple. And I took some extra time to make it pretty, very pretty (I cut leaves out of pastry and everything!).
Well guess what? The Prince’s Mother, her spouse, and even The Prince himself all agreed it was one of the best, if not THE best apple pie they had ever tasted.
And it was.
The sweet scent of redemption smells not unlike an apple pie. MY apple pie.
Dvorah’s Apple Pie
For the crust (adapted from The Joy of Cooking):
Sift together: 2 cups all purpose flour and 1 tsp salt
Add 1/3 cup plus 1 tbsp chilled butter and 1/3 cup plus 1 tbsp lard (I use Tenderflake)
Cut the butter/lard into the flour mixture using a pastry blender, or use a food processor and pulse until mixture resembles pea-sized grains (this is what I did). You can also use your fingers to do this as described above in the story.
Then add 2 tbsp very cold water and pulse a few times until ingredients hold together. You may add 1 tsp more water if needed. You can wrap the dough in some plastic wrap and let it sit on the counter until you are ready to roll it out. Don't put it in the fridge because it will become too stiff.
Usually I take the easy way out and press the dough into the bottom of a springform pan, trying to build up the sides of the pie crust so it looks like a deep-dish crust. But this time, since I had a reputation to rebuild, I went all out and rolled my crust.

Roll out your pastry using a bit of flour on the rolling pin and a bit on the rolling surface – but not too much or your dough will be too stiff and will lose its’ flakiness.  In the photo below you can see that I used my pie plate to estimate the size that the dough needed to be to fill the plate.

Use the rolling pin to help you get the dough off of the counter and into the pie plate.

Yes, my bottom crust looks messy right now, but the great thing about pastry is that it is easy to repair (as long as it is not too dry). Patch it up with pieces of other dough – you don’t need to worry because no one will see the bottom crust.

5 – 6 cups apples (I used Granny Smith)
Peel the apples and core them. I use one of those nifty apple cutters that both cuts and cores at the same time. Then use a knife to cut each of those slices in half – that way the apples are all pretty much the same size. If you cut them too thin the filling will be mushy.

Taste the apples. If they are VERY tart, add 2/3 cup white or brown sugar. If they are VERY sweet only add ½ cup white or brown sugar. I used ¼ cup white and ¼ cup brown.
Also add 1/8 tsp salt and 1 to 1 ½ tbsp cornstarch (if apples are VERY juicy, use 1 ½ tbsp cornstarch, if apples are dry, as most Granny Smiths are, use only 1 tbsp).
Also add ¼ tsp cinnamon and 1/8 tsp nutmeg. Next time I might add some allspice and/or cloves as well.
If the apples are bland you can add 1 tbsp lemon juice or 1 tsp vanilla or ½ tsp grated lemon rind.

Mix the apples with all of these ingredients and then pour them into the pie plate that has the bottom layer of dough in it. Dot the apples with butter, then cover with the top layer of dough.

Trim the dough that is left hanging over the edge of the pie plate leaving ~1/3 inch overhang. Fold overhang under and use your fingers to make a fluted edge (you do this by pinching – see photo). Make sure you have a good thickness of dough on the fluted edge since it shrinks when it bakes.

Use leftover dough to make some decorations if desired. I made leaves. They came out looking very pretty once the pie was baked.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. You can either prick the top of the crust with a fork to make some holes for the steam to escape, or make some curvy slices in the crust like I did (see photo).
Bake the pie at 450 for 10 minutes and then reduce the heat to 350 and cook the pie for an additional 35 to 45 minutes. Keep an eye on it and if the crust looks too dark, you can lay a sheet of tin foil on top of it for the remainder of the cooking time. I baked it for 35 minutes because I knew I was going to reheat it later when it was time for dessert.

Serve with vanilla ice cream, or cheddar cheese, or just as it is. I promise you it will be delicious. Maybe even contest-worthy.


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