Over the years I’ve made a lot of pie. I grew up with multiple generations of pie bakers, all of whom had very high standards, especially where crust was concerned. I still use my great grandmother’s recipes, though as I’ve gotten older and more confident I’ve had the audacity to tweak them slightly.
It was in my quest to make the ultimate apple pie that I feel like my desserts achieved next-level status. One of my pie pet peeves is filling that bubbles out of the crust while baking, making a mess of my oven and wasting precious fruity flavor. At some point I started roasting the apples lightly beforehand, and the result was so supremely delicious that I’ll never go back to the old ways again. Roasting concentrates the flavor and removes a good deal of moisture, eliminating the tendency for the filling to bubble over and results in a slice that cuts cleanly. The addition of cider to the crust recipe just puts the whole thing over the top, layering flavors of apple goodness into every bite.
Best Ever Apple Pie
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
½ cup (1 stick) very cold butter, cut into small cubes
3-4 tablespoons ice cold apple cider or water
6 pounds firm apples, such as Fuji, Gala, and New Crop Golden Delicious
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
½ cup brown sugar (you may want to add more depending on the sweetness of the apples)
A pinch of salt
2 teaspoons vanilla (optional)
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 egg, optional
2 tablespoons raw sugar, optional
First, make the crust. Combine the flours, salt and sugar in a mixing bowl. Add the butter and work it into the flour with a fork or a pastry cutter. The mixture should be uneven, with pea-sized lumps amongst smaller specks of butter. The lumps create pockets of buttery goodness that result in a flaky texture when the crust bakes.
Add two tablespoons of ice-cold cider or water and toss with the fork to combine. Toss with just enough additional cider or water to make a lumpy mixture. It should look rather dry and barely hold together when you squeeze a bit of dough between your fingers.
Alternatively, you can make the dough in a food processor. Add the dry ingredients and pulse to combine. Add the butter, turn on the machine and immediately pour in the cold cider or water. Process until a loose dough forms. The sound of the food processor will change slightly when the dough comes together, and this is the moment to stop it. Avoid over-processing the dough.
Turn the dough out onto a piece of plastic wrap and use the sides of the wrap to gather the bits of dough together. Avoid handling the dough as much as possible because the heat of your hands will melt the lumps of butter, resulting in a less flaky crust. Shape the dough into a disc about one-inch thick, wrap in plastic and place in the fridge to rest for at least 30 minutes.
To make the filling, preheat the oven to 425 degrees (use the convection setting if you have it). Peel, core and slice the apples. Toss them in a mixing bowl with the canola oil and spices, then arrange them in a single layer on two parchment-lined baking sheets. Roast the apples in a preheated oven for about 20 minutes until golden brown and fork tender. Remove from the oven and cool completely. When cool, return the roasted apples to the mixing bowl and toss with the brown sugar, salt, vanilla (if using) and cornstarch. The prepared apples can be stored in the refrigerator for up to five days or frozen for several months (freeze in a plastic wrap-lined pie tin for ready-to-bake filling).
Set the apple mixture aside and preheat the oven to 425 degrees (not convection this time) while you roll the crust. It’s important to have everything ready so the dough can remain cold until the moment it goes into the oven. If the crust has been in the fridge for longer than 30 minutes let it rest on the counter for about 10 minutes to soften up before rolling.
Sprinkle flour on a clean, dry surface. Generously flour a rolling pin (a clean wine bottle will work if you don’t have a rolling pin) and roll out the dough into a rough circle about 12 inches around and about ¼-inch thick. Fold the dough in half and then into quarters, then place the folded dough into a nine-inch pie tin (a thin, metal tin is preferable to a heavy glass or ceramic type because it allows heat to be conducted quickly). Unfold the dough and center it on the plate. Spoon the roasted apple mixture into the tin, making sure to include any accumulated juices. Fold the overhanging edges of the dough into the center for a rustic look, or crimp the edges for a more finished appearance.
Beat the egg, if using, and use a pastry brush to “paint” the dough with the egg. Sprinkle with raw sugar. Place the pie in the hot oven and bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes, then turn the heat down to 350 and bake for an additional 60 minutes, until filling is bubbling in the center and has reached a temperature of 175 degrees on a thermometer.
Ashley Meyer is a Springfield food writer and the baker in residence at Custom Cup Coffee in downtown Springfield. This week she’ll be preparing hundreds of individual apple pies to serve as the featured dessert at the Illinois Stewardship Alliance Harvest Celebration at Erin’s Pavillion on Sunday, Sept. 29. The ISA is a statewide advocacy organization that promotes local food and sustainable farming. For more information go to https://www.ilstewards.org/event/harvest-celebration-2019.