My mom kept a tub of Crisco in the fridge. She’d toss some tablespoons of the cold shortening into a bowl of flour, cut it in, add some water, knead it together with her hands. She’d roll it out, line a pie plate. Fill it with cut up apples (skins on), cinnamon sugar, and dots of butter. Seal it with a top crust and bake it up. Delicious smell, delicious taste, with a modicum of effort. A terrifically simple apple pie.
The same cannot be said for the day long endeavor of a pie I made this weekend. I’ll temper my remarks by saying that I’m not a huge apple pie fan. I like it. If it’s there I’ll eat it. But I’m not going to order it at a restaurant (no tarte tatin for me) or at House of Pies. But every so often I do want a baked apple something. And I had a new cookbook I was eager to try from an author I really enjoy.
As to apples. Eating-wise, I only, ONLY, like McIntosh. Or the occasional Granny Smith. Baking-wise, I know the Delicious’s are meant to be the best, but I use Pink Lady. Because I like pink and because I like the quaint name. Just sayin’. You can use whatever apples you like.
Back to the pie…. I read the recipe, or at least I thought I did, but throughout preparation I felt like it kept surprising me…. “Wait, what, I have to freeze this? I have to reduce this? I have to chill it for how long?” Perhaps it was a combination of my vision problem and the fact that the recipe preparation was written in long paragraphs. Whatever it was, it seems I can no longer work that way. I need bullet points.
The instructions included lengthy macerating of apples, chilling of dough, chilling of pie, resting of pie, among other tasks and rests and waits. And in the end, after all that time and effort, the result was not as good as my mom’s 20-minute version and far less pretty.
But, I like to win so I rolled up my sleeves for round two, pulling a recipe long stored in my digital recipe box for a Honey Apple Pie with Orange Lattice Crust. There’s OJ in the crust and dried fruit with the apples. What could be bad? Well, in my case, I don’t care for too much honey. But I read that you can replace honey cup for cup with sugar up to one cup. So I did, and added a little extra OJ to the fruit for moisture. The pastry was easy and fun. The apples – I used Golden Delicious as specified – didn’t macerate well, no juices were released. I thought the baking would take care of that. But check after check after check, my pie was just sitting in the oven, barely breathing.
WTH? Then I checked my heat – started at 425 for 10 minutes then reduced to 350. Sure enough, my dodgy oven was hovering at about 325. I nudged it up, checked again after 10 minutes, et voila! Bubbling juices! I let it go for another 10-15 minutes. It browned, more bubbling juices. I feared for flavor after all that time in the oven, but it wasn’t a problem. The result is a pretty, not-too-sweet pie. If you make it, and I suggest you do, here are some adjustments:
- Orange zest in the crust in addition to juice.
- More sugar in the crust – as it, it’s great for a savory pie. It needs a bit more oomph.
- More dried fruit – it calls for 2 Tbs each of diced cherries, apricots and peaches; increase to 4 Tbs each, and soak in cognac along with the OJ.
- More spice in the filling. The cinnamon comes through subtly, the cardamom not at all. Jack up the spices to taste. You could also increase the sugar, although I like it not too sweet.
- Egg wash and sugar the lattice. It’s just prettier and tastes a bit more special.
A great effort, but still not a total win. So I made what always works, what I call “Apple Pizza” which is just a version of Ina Garten’s Apple Tart. I like how pretty it is. And it’s fun to make, especially if you have a mandoline. And, ps, this pastry is also dreamy to work with. You can’t go wrong.
A word on pastry: Get the slab. I always believed I was challenged in the pastry department. Years ago I bought a large plastic slab that had a rough surface. This was meant to be ideal for preventing pastry from sticking. It didn’t work very well, my results were not worth the effort. Then, a few years ago, I had a lovely large kitchen and an even lovelier large granite island. What ho pastry! Suddenly, I was better at this. Then, last year to combat my vintage tiled counters, I bought a marble slab. Now I’m a pastry ROCK STAR. Get the slab.
Adapted from Ina Garten
2 c flour
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
1 Tbs sugar
12 Tbs (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, diced
1/4 -1/2 c ice water
4-6 Pink Lady apples (depending on size; use any apple you prefer)
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 tsp cinnamon (or more to taste)
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) cold unsalted butter, small-diced
One large egg mixed with one Tbs of milk
Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment or Silpat, set aside.
Make the pastry: Put flour, salt and sugar in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade; pulse a few times to combine. Toss in the diced butter and pulse until the butter is the size of peas. With the motor running, dribble the 1/4-cup ice water down the feed tube and pulse just until the dough starts to come together. The dough should be a bit sticky. Add additional water as needed just until it comes together. Dump onto a lightly floured board and knead quickly into a ball. Flatten into a thick square, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Roll the dough to about 10 x 14 inches, and pinch the edges to make a slight rim. Put the rolled dough on the prepared sheet pan and refrigerate while you prepare the apples.
For the apples: Core the apples and cut into quarters. Using a mandoline set to 1/8-inch, slice four of the apples. Leave the peel on. Put your sheet of dough in front of you, short side facing you. Places the slices of apple in slightly overlapping rows across the pastry. Try to be as uniform as possible, snacking on the smaller bits of apple. Cut up another apple or two if you don’t have enough slices.Mix the sugar and cinnamon together and sprinkle over the apples. It will look like a lot. Be strong and try to use all of it. Dot with butter.
Brush the edges of the dough with the egg wash and sprinkle with Turbinado.
Bake 45 minutes to 1 hour, until the pastry is browned and the edges of the apples start to brown. Rotate the pan once during cooking. If the apple juices burn in the parchment, don’t worry, the tart will be fine! (Verbatim from Ina!)
When done, cool on sheet on rack. Loosen with spatula after 10 minutes. Serve warm. (This is also good for breakfast at room temperature.)
- Ina’s recipe calls for finishing with 1/2 cup apricot jelly or warm sieved apricot jam and 2 tablespoons Calvados rum or water. Heat the apricot jelly together with the Calvados and brush the apples and the pastry completely with the jelly mixture. Allow to cool.
- I occasionally make a larger rim of pastry and fill with a thin layer of pastry cream before placing the apples. Because pastry cream.