By Emily Paster
Are you starting to plan your Thanksgiving menu? Will you make the same foods as last year or will you try to mix it up? My mother and I love to host Thanksgiving together and we have pretty much honed our menu over past the few decades so that it is just how we want it. I did revolutionize the way we cooked the turkey about 7 years ago. (See this article about my high heat, no basting method of cooking a Thanksgiving turkey.) But other than, we stick to our tried-and-true favorites. Every year we contemplate forgoing the Balsamic Pearl Onions dish because it is so much damn work, but we don't really mean it. The menu is perfect as it is.
For dessert, we stick to two pies: apple and pumpkin. My husband is apple pie all the way, as was my father. My mom and I go for the pumpkin. Now, don't get me wrong: I appreciate apple pie as much as anyone. It's just that you are more likely to get apple pie than pumpkin pie at other times of the year. I never see pumpkin pie except at Thanksgiving, so that's where I focus my attention on that particular day.
To prove my point about apple pie being more common than pumpkin pie, I must tell you that I made an apple pie just this week. It was really about the apples. Last Saturday, one of the vendors at the Oak Park farmers' market was selling a half-bushel of apples — which is about 20 lbs. — for $20. That's an incredible bargain. Of course I had to do it. I used five pounds of the apples to make applesauce for my Hanukkah latkes. (And did you know that Hanukkah begins on Thanksgiving this year? That's another whole post.) We ate a lot of the apples out of hand. But that still left plenty of apples. And I knew I was just going to buy another half-bushel this weekend when I went back to the farmers market. (Yep, I sure did.) Thus, a Thursday night apple pie. But I considered it research for Thanksgiving.
I am an all-butter pie crust person. The main reason is because lard and shortening kind of freak me out. Also, my fruit dessert bible, Rustic Fruit Desserts, assures me that an all-butter crust is tried-and-true and by far the most flavorful. Choose a European-style butter with a higher butterfat context and include something acidic — here lemon juice — as a tenderizer. An all-butter crust will give you the flaky results you want as long as you handle the dough correctly: keep the ingredients cold, leave visible chunks of butter and don't overwork the dough. To that end, it is important to realize that making a pie crust from scratch is a multi-step process. You do one part of the process and then you chill the results. You do another part of the process and chill the results. You have to spread out the work. That can be a good thing, but it does require you to plan ahead.
For the filling, I recommend a mix of apples. But in general, firm, tart apples are best for baking. If you are shopping in a grocery store with limited varieties, Granny Smiths are a good choice as are Pink Ladys. But I hope that some of you are able to buy your apples at an orchard or farmers' market where you can find dozens of varieties. My favorite apple in the world is a Stayman Winesap. Other good pie apples include Northern Spy and Mutsu.
Whether you are an experienced pie baker or trying it for the first time, I hope you find this recipe to be clear and reliable.
Your Best Apple Pie
The crust recipe is adapted from Rustic Fruit Desserts. Makes a top and bottom crust for a 9-inch pie.
- 2.5 cups all-purpose flour
- 1.5 TB sugar
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1/2 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 1-inch pieces
- Juice of 1/2 lemon
- 1/2 cup ice water
- 7-8 apples, peeled, cored and sliced
- Zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
- 1 TB cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp. each ground cloves, allspice and nutmeg
- Pinch salt
- 2 TB flour
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1 egg white, lightly beaten
- In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar and salt for the crust and whisk together. Place bowl in the freezer for 10 minutes.
- Remove the bowl from the freezer and add the cold, cubed butter. Using a pastry blender, cut the butter into the flour mixture until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs and there are still visible pea-sized pieces of butter.
- Combine the lemon juice and ice water. Slowly pour the liquids over the butter-flour mixture and stir with a fork until the dough begins to come together. Gather the dough up into a ball and knead it against the sides of the bowl a few times until it holds together but do not overwork it.
- Divide the dough in half and form into two disks, 1-inch thick. Wrap in plastic and chill for at least an hour. (Can make dough up to 3 days in advance.)
- After dough is chilled, roll out the first disk, which will be the bottom of the pie.
- To roll out the pie crust, place the disk on a well-floured board or silicone rolling mat such as a Roul'Pat. Flour your rolling pin.
- Start in the center and roll out in each direction. Turn the dough every few strokes and flip it over from time to time as well to prevent sticking. Have your pie plate nearby so you can gauge when you have the correct size. You want the crust to be a bit bigger than the plate.
- Use a pastry scraper to peel the crust off your board or mat, roll it up carefully and transfer to pie plate.
- Unroll and fit crust into bottom of pie plate. Trim edges as necessary but make sure that crust covers the edge of the pie plate. Use excess dough to patch any cracks or bare spots.
- Chill the dough in the pie plate 30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 425.
- Prepare the filling by tossing apple slices with lemon juice, sugar, flour and spices. Taste and adjust sugar as needed.
- Remove second disk of dough from refrigerator and roll it out according to above method.
- Pour filling into pie pan making a mound in the center.
- Carefully place top crust on top of filling and pinch edges of the top and bottom crusts together. Use your fingers to create a nice, fluted edge. Cut three or four tear-shaped holes in center of top crust to act as a vent.
- Brush the top of the pie with the egg white wash. Sprinkle the top with Turbinado sugar if desired.
- Bake at 425 for 25 minutes.
- After 25 minutes, reduce heat to 375. It is a good idea, at this point to cover the edges of the crust with tin foil or use a pie crust shield to prevent them from burning.
- Bake pie at 375 for 30-35 minutes until crust is deep golden.
- Cool on a rack before slicing.