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Humble pie – Basic apple pie made pretty

Posted in Food, and Food & Entertaining

Apple cranberry pieWhen my mother was here in Los Angeles to spend the Summer, I amazed her with some special desserts but, no matter how pretty or elaborate my dishes, the one she kept on going back to was the peach and berry cobbler I made when she first arrived.

“Can’t you make me that fruit thing again?” became her Summer refrain and I obliged, making the damned thing over and over, so much, in fact, that she mastered it herself and now, in the depths of the Italian winter, she is delighting family and friends with this new fangled dessert from America.

Funny how it was the English who invented pie when it could be such a classical Italian peasant recipe: some basic dough or crumbs baked with the freshest and most seasonal fruit. If the English invented pies, it was the Americans who refined them and this Italian started a love affair with pies since the first slice of Key Lime Pie found its way to my lips 25 years ago on Key West.

Pies have become my “thing” –  I learnt to make and bake pretty much everything under the sun but my pies, cobblers, betties, crumbles and the like are special. No recipes needed anymore, just my basic dough (and I am partial to butter, not lard) and my tongue for tasting different fruit and spice combinations. I like pies because they are humble, they can be cobbled up together at the drop of a hat and they make use of whatever is in season. Which was the idea to begin with, way back when: meats and sturdy vegetables thrown together under a topping of flour and fat.

Apple crostata
The lazy version of a pie: what in the US we call a crostata, made richer with a crumble topping

Thanksgiving has come and gone and my kitchen was filled with more pumpkin and pecan pies than necessary, just because. And I don’t even like these two pie iterations: pumpkin, because I am Italian after all, and I associate it with ravioli rather than dessert; and pecan because it’s not my favorite nut and it requires a large amount of corn syrup (to obviate to that, I sometimes use maple syrup – which can make for a pretty expensive pie!).

In Autumn/Winter, my favorite pie is always apple – sometimes I will add some nuts, or mix in some pears or dried fruit but the taste of baked apples spiced with cinnamon and ginger and lemon embodies my idea of winter.

Here is my recipe for basic apple pie – and who says it has to look plain? Take out some cookie cutters and have fun with shapes. And if pie is a wonderful ending to a simple dinner, it’s even better the morning after for breakfast. Beats a cupcake any day of the week!

RECIPE – Yields 8 servings (9″ pie)

For the crust:
1 1/4 C Flour (150 g)
1 ts salt
1 T sugar
5 oz butter, cubed and chilled (140 g)
very cold water

For the filling
2 pounds of apples (1 Kg)  – I like to use a mix of Granny Smith and some sweeter ones like Gala, peeled, cored and sliced
1/2 C brown sugar (100 g)
1/2 C  sugar (80 g) (sugar amounts depends on sweetness of the apples, so taste them first)
1 T cornstarch
pinch of salt
zest of one lemon
1/4 ts powder ginger
1 ts cinnamon
1 1/2 ts lemon juice
a few tablespoons of butter
1 egg
1 T heavy cream

cold butter
Very cold butter will ensure a flaky crust

1. To make the crust, place the dry ingredients in the bowl of a standing mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment (or use a food processor). Add the cold butter and mix until mixture forms pea size pieces. Add a few tablespoons of iced water and keep on adding until the dough barely comes together. Take it out of the bowl, divide it in two disks, wrap it in plastic and refrigerate for at least one hour.

2. Make the filling: Place the apples in a bowl with the sugars, cinnamon, ginger, cornstarch, salt, lemon zest. You can add some dried fruit or berries or nuts if you like. Let sit until ready to bake.

3. Roll the dough: Take the dough out of the refrigerator and roll half of it on a lightly floured surface. Transfer it to a 9″ pie pan, pressing it into the bottom. Crimp the edges. Chill.

Cookie cutters
Shapes in between Thanksgiving and Christmas

4. Roll the second disk of the dough and, using cookie cutters, cut as many shapes as you can, rerolling scraps as you go along. Put them on a baking sheet and refrigerate (You can also roll a second round if you would rather have a more conventional looking pie).

5. Take out the chilled dough and pour the filling into the crust. Dot with butter. Arrange the cut shapes all over the top (or drape the second round over the filling, cutting a couple of vents in it). Mix the egg with the cream using a fork and brush the eggwash all over the cut shapes. Sprinkle with sugar (if you have Demerara or crystal sugar, it will look even prettier).

Raw apple pie
Before going into the oven

6. Place the pie on a baking sheet (to catch any juices) and bake at 425F(220C) for about 20 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 375F (190C) and bake for another 50 minutes or so, until the juices are visibly bubbling. If the crust seems to be getting too dark, cover it with foil.

7. Cool before serving. Eat at room temperature or re-heat just slightly.

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  1. Nice looking apple pie! I always put a lattice on top, which looks pretty but is a lot of work indeed.

    December 6, 2013
    • I tend to use lattice for crostata and, sometimes, blueberry pies. Cookie cutters are faster

      December 7, 2013
  2. Let me know if you do. The cookie cutter idea is actually easier than rolling a top crust.

    December 5, 2013
  3. I wholeheartedly agree with you, pies are the best. Not to mention they seem so much easier to make for how good they always taste! I also love your idea about the cookie cutters, I’ll definitely have to give that a try.

    December 5, 2013

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