I’ve had so many people ask me for my pie recipe I am finally getting around to posting a step-by-step Show and Tell. The credit for this apple pie-making technique goes to my Mentor of All Things Pie, Mary Spellman, who owned the shop in Malibu where I worked. I don’t think I’m broaching any trade secrets here by publishing this. What’s important is that people everywhere know how to make pie.
How to bake an apple pie in Mexico, or wherever else you happen to live:
First, trust a Mexican when they tell you your propane tank is empty, otherwise you may turn on the oven and find your baking plans are foiled. The delivery truck arrived in the nick of time.
Proceed to next step.
Turn on some music to suit your mood. (It was ‘Cuban Groove’ in my case today.) Pour yourself a glass of wine (if it’s that time of day). Set up your supplies.
Make sure you have your basic ingredients (as you may be able to see I am running low on sugar). Keep it simple, keep the dishwashing to a minimum. You don’t need a food processor! Also, I use a waxy table cloth which I can wipe clean and reuse. (Though if I had marble countertops in my kitchen, I would just roll the dough straight onto the counter.)
You will need: 1 big Pie dish, 2 large bowls, 1 1-cup measuring cup, rolling pin, paring knife, pastry brush, flour, butter, shortening, sugar, salt, cinnamon, ice water, and apples.
Wash your hands, remove your rings and watch, have a towel and wet washcloth ready (in case you need to answer the phone), and be ready to get your hands gooey. Really, it’s fun.
For the Dough:
2 and 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup veggie shortening (like Crisco. And for the record, I think real lard makes for too greasy a crust.)
Also add a dash of salt.
Work the “fat” into the flour with your bare hands. Yes, I know a food processor is easier, but then you can’t call your pie “hand-made.” Sort of squeeze the butter and shortening into the flour until it’s the texture of peas. It’s okay to have pea-size chunks of butter.
Now, add ice water. Every recipe says add one tablespoon at a time, and they call for some scant amount like a few tablespoons. Well, I like to live on the edge. And, as I’ve said, I’m not patient. So I just pour a little water in straight from my glass —
screw the measuring spoon. The KEY here is when you mix the water into the dough do it with a LIGHT TOUCH. “Don’t manhandle the dough!” as my friend Kathy used to remind me. Add enough water to get the dough a little wet, just short of sticky. And watch those ice cubes! (Of course, you could be more sensible and use chilled water from the fridge, no ice.) Oh, and save the rest of the water, because you might get thirsty later.
It might be hard to see, but this is should be the consistency of your dough after you’ve added the water. Now this is where most people screw up: what do they do? They manhandle the dough! Leave your Type-A personality at the office and think delicate, feminine thoughts. You are NOT going to knead this dough; it is not bread. You are going to work with it ONLY enough to get it to hold together and formed into two nice, firm discs. If you overwork your dough you will probably be tempted to salvage your efforts by making a trip to the grocery store to buy some frozen, pre-made crust loaded with preservatives and tastes like…never mind. Just TAKE IT EASY on your dough and the rest should go smoothly.
Next, sprinkle flour under and on top of one of your discs. (Technically, you should refrigerate your dough for about a half hour, but I always skip this part. The words ‘instant gratification’ come to mind…hmm.) You can rub flour on your rolling pin too if your dough is sticky.
It’s time to roll. Roll from the center, stretching your disc out in all directions, ONE roll at a time until it is a few inches wider than your pie dish. And the dough should be thin enough where you can almost see the tablecloth pattern through it. Again, don’t go crazy! Don’t go rolling your pin back and forth and back and forth like your dough is some pottery project. Dough is delicate. Dough needs to be handled with love and tenderness. Dough can be forgiving, but, like in a relationship, dough can only be pushed so far before it wants to break up with you. If, however, it does break, I have some patching tips below.
Meanwhile, if your dough sticks to your rolling pin (or wine bottle, which I use if I don’t have a rolling pin), give that sucker a good choke-hold and, in a downward motion, slide the gunk off with your hand.
Also, if dough is sticking to your rolling surface, lift up the dough, scrape the table clean underneath, and sprinkle a little more flour before resuming.
Use the rolling pin (or wine bottle) to lift your dough over to your pie dish. Try to get the dough centered before laying it down.
And, don’t worry, it doesn’t have to look pretty!
Leave the edges hanging over the sides. It’s not time to crimp them yet.
By the way, now is a good time to turn on your oven. Set the temperature to 425 degrees (Farenheit).
Peel the apples — you should have, on average, about 7 large Granny Smiths, for a generous pie. (In this case, I am using a combo of local je ne sais quoi Mexican apples, smallish ones, and not counting how many. However many it takes to fill my dish is how many I use.)
Save the skins for the horses next door, if you have horses next door. (I just discovered last week that we do.)
Then slice HALF of the apples directly into the pie dish. Yes! Another shortcut! And one less bowl to wash. You don’t have to cook them or mix them with the sugar and cinnamon in a separate bowl. The slices should be of a consistent size, not too thin or they will cook too fast and get mushy, not too thick or they won’t cook through.
Sprinkle one-half cup of sugar (or less), cinnamon to taste (be careful not to overpower your pie with it), a dash of salt to bring out the fruit’s flavor, and about, hmm, let’s say, 2 tablespoons of flour to thicken the juice. If this were an exact science it wouldn’t be any fun.
Slice the other half of your apples on top of this and repeat the step above by adding a second round of these ingredients (1/2 cup sugar, cinnamon, salt, flour). Add a dollop of butter on top of the pile.
Roll out the second dough disc and lay it on top of the pie-in-progress to cover it. (Not like in the photo, that’s just to show you what’s underneath.)
Cut off the excess dough, from both the top and bottom crusts, leaving about an inch hanging over the sides. Sometimes I use a scissors for this.)
Save the excess! There are other uses for it. Like patching bad spots like that hole in the top of mine.
Gently squeeze the two dough layers together and roll them under, keeping them together, as you go around the dish. This “roll” should lay against the lip (or rim) of the pie dish.
This is to seal in the juices. And once this baby starts baking, it will be very juicy!
Start crimping. Well, you don’t have to. You can leave your edges round like in the step above, but for a fluted edge try this:
Using your thumb and index finger on one hand as a base, push the SIDE of your other index finger into the other fingers with the pie dough in between. Keep moving your fingers around until you’ve come full-circle.
Oh, that’s gonna be so purdy. You know, you can also use a fork and just press the edge down around the rim for another fancy effect. Fast and easy too.
Notice I patched my hole with some daisy artwork. This is why you should never be afraid to make your own pie! Your crust can look like it’s headed for disaster with cracks and holes, and you can cover up all the blemishes with a little creativity.
Brush it with a beaten egg and use the knife to punch some slits in the top for ventilation. And put it in the oven.
Bake at 425 degrees for about 20 minutes. Keep an eye on it though so it doesn’t get too brown. Ovens vary and baking times too. A sports watch with a timer comes in very handy for baking pie. And everyone thought my waterproof Timex was for triathlons. Ha!
Turn the oven down to 400 degrees and bake for another 30 to 40 minutes until the juice bubbles. Poke a knife through one of your air slits on top to make sure apples have softened. But don’t bake it so long they turn into applesauce.
Caution: Luscious baking pie scent may attract unwanted neighbors.
Look! The finished product. And it had a little offspring too! See what you can do with that leftover dough?
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some apple pie to eat.