I feel I could almost end the post right there, attach a recipe, and it would be a perfectly acceptable post… but I won’t do that, because one of the best things about food is sharing your experiences. When you eat at a particularly good restaurant, don’t you tell your friends about it? When someone asks you for a recommendation as to what they should eat at a specific place, don’t you offer a suggestion of something you’ve eaten before? Some restaurants live (and die) by this word of mouth advertising. There is a place near me that makes the best coconut cake I have ever eaten in my life (though the coconut cupcakes I featured a while back are a close second) and you can be sure that the real reason I recommend this restaurant to anyone is so I can rave about that cake. Then if they like the cake, they’ll tell me about it the next time I see them and we can both stand around for a while saying things like: ”I know, right?” and “It was, seriously, so good”.
For a while, several years back, restaurants like Marie Calendars and Bakers Square were recommended quite frequently by a lot of people, not necessarily for their food but for their pies. I recommended the Bakers Square Lemon Supreme pie to nearly everyone that ever asked me (and even those that never asked me) where they could get a good piece of pie. Secretly I always hoped they would go get one of those pies, then invite me over for a piece, but that rarely ever happened. Oh well… I tell myself I’m not bitter… These days in our part of the world, most of those bakery type restaurants where pies are made fresh every day have closed up shop, leaving the bulk of the fresh pie making business in the hands of local bakeries. I, for one, have no problem with this. Yes, the pie selection is sometimes limited, and yes, the prices are a bit higher when shopping at a good bakery, but the quality of the pie is considerably better as well, and you’re helping support your local businesses, which is always good. Here’s the thing though, let’s say you just want a simple pie for a weekend dinner, but you don’t want to drive to the bakery, or you did drive to the bakery but they needed advanced notice to make the pie, so you’re stuck doing what I think is one of the worst things about food, and that is… wait for it… you buy… a grocery… store... frozen… pie...! Now before you start sending me hate mail, telling me how good the frozen pies are from your grocery store, I will halfheartedly admit that it is possible that, somewhere out there, is a company that bakes and freezes a good pie that they sell via grocery stores - whose quality doesn’t suffer from the packaging, transport, or storage process (I personally have never found one of those places but, like I said, it is possible). If this is true in your area, consider yourself lucky. For the rest of you, if you’re relegated to purchasing a frozen pie made by one of those giant companies that produces pies by the thousand each and every day, trust me when I say… You’re better off buying a few bags of Pepperidge Farms Mint Milano cookies and serving those instead.
I think that similar to having a “classic blue suit” or “a little black dress” everyone should have a super simple, basic pie recipe in his or her or non-binary culinary closet. I also think that the super simple pie recipe of choice should be an apple pie. Why? I had a feeling you were going to ask that… Well for starters, because apples are available in most areas year round; Two: an apple pie will compliment darn near every meal, and C: apple pie is universally liked by, well… the universe (there is a small area of the Mutara nebula I have not tested this theory on yet, along with several other places here on earth); Final answer, it’s one of the easiest pies to make. I could probably come up with at least one more reason, but let’s move it along here.
The very first pie I ever made was a lemon meringue pie (admit it, you thought I was going to say apple, right?). I got the recipe right off the side of the box of cornstarch. I didn’t make my own crust though, instead I purchased ready-made crusts from the store. It came out pretty good and for a while this was my pie of choice to make. I liked making that pie because it was a simple recipe, and let’s be honest here, since I was successful at making it, I just stuck with it. Since then I have made countless pies and I can tell you I have definitely had my ups and downs. There have been times that I have been completely astounded that a filling set up perfectly like in a blueberry or peach pie, where I thought the fruit was so juicy there would be no way it would come together. Those were the days I was Super Happy. On the other hand, I once made a cherry pie that when it was finished baking it was filled with so much liquid that I ended up sticking a straw through the top crust and sucking out the juice. (Don’t worry, David and I still ate the whole thing). I had another cherry pie with a similar problem that I ended up turning upside down, peeling away the completely soggy bottom crust and served it like it was a pile of cherries in an edible bowl. I was still happy on those days because it was pie (sort of) just not as happy.
At some point, I think it was shortly after I started making my lemon meringue pies, I acquired my first cookbook, The Joy of Cooking, and it was in the pages of that cookbook that I found the basic apple pie recipe that I still use today. This is a simple, uncomplicated, no fuss, apple pie that has the classic apple pie flavors of cinnamon and nutmeg that you would expect. We’re not adding any caramel; we’re not adding dried cranberries; we’re not adding rhubarb. What we are after here is a simple, delicious pie that you’ll be proud to serve after any dinner and one that you can come back to again and again, even on short notice. Sure we could complicate things, but why? There is an elegance in simplicity. In fact, if you’re new to pie making and you want to buy one of those boxes of premade crusts, I won’t fault you, but I encourage you to make your own crust, it’s easier than you think. When it comes to choosing apples for the pie I use and recommend Granny Smith apples because I like the tartness in the apple, but you can use any firm apple you like or even a combination of apples. Besides the Granny Smith apples you could use, Golden Delicious, Braeburn, or Fuji, which are generally available year round. Just be sure your apples are well flavored, if they taste bland when you eat them raw, they won’t be getting any better after they’re cooked. To make this pie you will need a 9-inch pie plate, a food processor to make the crust (though you can do it by hand as well), a rolling pin and of course some general kitchen equipment like bowls, measuring spoons, parchment paper, aluminum foil, and that sort of stuff. Oh, and before we get to it… Here’s a tip if you’re making your own crust: the recipe calls for ½ cup frozen vegetable shortening so the night before you want to bake, place that in the freezer so it’s ready to go when you are, the next day.
Here is how I make this apple pie:
For the crust
2½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes (keep cold)
½ cup frozen non-hydrogenated, solid vegetable shortening (such as Crisco), cut into ½-inch cubes (keep in freezer until ready to use)
5 tablespoons (or more) ice water
1 to 2 tablespoons of milk or cream for brushing the top crust just before baking.
2 tablespoons sugar mixed with 1½ teaspoons cinnamon for sprinkling on crust before baking.
For the filling:
2½ pounds Granny Smith apples
1 tablespoon lemon juice
⅔ cup packed light brown sugar
⅛ teaspoon salt
1½ tablespoons cornstarch
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
1½ tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 10 to 12 small pieces (keep cold)
For the crust
Put the flour, the sugar, and the salt in the food processor and pulse (using on/off turns) a few times to get it combined.
Add in the cold butter and frozen shortening and pulse the machine only until the mixture resembles coarse meal. There can still be pieces of butter visible in the mixture but they should not be too much larger than the size of a pea.
Transfer the mixture to a medium sized bowl and add 5 tablespoons of the ice water.
Mix with a fork until the dough begins to clump together, adding more water by teaspoonfuls if it’s too dry. It won’t form a perfect ball of dough here, just clumps of dough balls will start to form.
Gather the dough clumps together and form it into a ball, then divide it in half.
Flatten each half into a round disk about ½–inch thick and wrap each separately in plastic wrap.
Refrigerate the dough discs for at least 1 hour.
When chilled, take one disc and place on a floured surface. Dust the top of the dough with flour as well as your rolling pin.
Roll the disc from the center towards the edge then lift and turn the disc a little less than a quarter of a turn and roll again, from the center to the edge. Keep lifting, turning, and rolling always from the center to the edge, until you have a circle that is about 12-inches in diameter.
Fit the crust into a 9-inch pie plate, trimming the dough as needed so it overhangs the top of the dish by about ½-inch, then place in the refrigerator until ready to fill.
Roll the second piece of dough into a 12-inch circle as above and place on a parchment lined baking sheet and refrigerate until shortly before you’re ready to fill the pie.
Preheat the oven to 450°F, with a rack in the center position and a foil lined baking sheet on the rack below to catch any drips that may occur.
For the filling
Peel, core, and then slice the apples into ¼-inch slices, placing the slices in a large bowl.
Drizzle the lemon juice over the apples and toss gently to coat. This helps prevent browning of the apples and will add a little tartness if your apples are sweet.
In a small bowl combine the sugar, the salt, the cornstarch, the cinnamon, and the nutmeg, mixing well and making sure there are no hard lumps of sugar in the mix (you can use a sifter for this if you have one). Tip: you can decrease the amount of sugar to ½ cup if you’re using sweet apples
Sprinkle the sugar mix over the apples and toss until the apples are evenly coated.
Transfer the apples to a strainer set over a bowl and allow the apples to sit for 15 to 20 minutes. Reserve this juice we’ll add some to the pie later. This waiting process allows the apples to macerate a little and let out some excess juice.
*optional – Pour the reserved juices into a small pot set over medium high heat and allow the juice to come to a boil, lower the heat so the juice keeps a vigorous simmer and reduce it until it is a thick syrup consistency. This will concentrate all those apple juice flavors. Use as directed below.
While the apples sit, remove the pie crusts from the refrigerator and allow them to warm and soften slightly.
When the apples have rested, place them into the crust. You don’t need to layer them in there all nice and neat but be aware of apple pieces that are sticking up at odd angles, as those can cause large air pockets in the pie when they cook. If you want to layer the apples so they all fit in even, flat, layers you can, but unless you’re really trying to impress someone, there’s really no need.
Drizzle 2 tablespoons of the reserved apple juices over the apples.
Next, scatter the diced butter over the apple slices.
Place the second pie crust on top of the apples and trim the edge as needed, so that it overhangs the pie by about 1 inch all the way around.
Gently lift the edge of the bottom crust up and tuck the top crust underneath it and down into the pie plate, pressing the edges together gently.
To completely seal the edge you can use the tines of a fork, pressing them into the edge of the crust all the way around or flute the edge by pinching the dough together between your thumb and index finger to create a point, while using your other index finger to create a small dimple.
Use a sharp knife to cut five slits through the top crust about 1¼-inches long starting about an inch away from the center of the pie, cutting towards the edge and spaced evenly around, to allow steam to escape while baking.
Brush the top crust lightly with the milk taking care not to seal the cuts you just made and sprinkle with the cinnamon sugar. You don’t need a lot of milk, just enough for the cinnamon sugar to have something to stick to.
Place the pie on the center rack in the oven and bake for 10 minutes.
Reduce the oven temperature to 350°F and bake for 45 to 50 minutes more. The crust should be golden and juices should be thick and bubbly.
If the edges of your crust are getting too brown you can crimp some aluminum foil lightly around the edges to help protect them from over browning.
Allow the pie to cool to room temperature after baking. This is important as the cooling time allows the juice to fully set. Cutting into a fruit pie fresh out of the oven will only end in disaster. In fact I think you’ll find this pie is actually better the next day. Let the pie sit at room temperature and reheat it in a 350°F for 10 minutes before serving. If you have leftovers or are keeping the pie longer than a day store it in the refrigerator then reheat and serve.
I would eat this pie warm, room temperature or even cold right out of the fridge with ice cream or whipped cream or just plain. If you want to be fancy you can reheat a piece with a thin slice of cheddar cheese on top… any way you try it it’s a pretty good pie.
Take 2 minutes to watch our time lapse on this apple pie: