"Good apple pies are a considerable part of our domestic happiness." - Jane Austen
Miss Austen's words are certainly a truism in our household. Long gone are the days when I suffered pie anxiety, thanks to good dessert gurus like David Lebovitz and Rose Levy Beranbaum. But it was this recipe that put my tough-crust terrors to bed once and for all. Like others, I'm not always a die-hard fan of the philosophies espoused in Cook's Illustrated (like any good rebel, I actually continue to eat green beans despite Chris Kimball's hatred of them). However, sometimes the folks at CI really do hit the mark, like the time some clever cook thought of using vodka in the pie-crust.
Plenty has been written about this already. People have experienced varying degrees of success. All I can tell you is that I have yet to come out with an imperfect crust using this recipe, especially when combined with Rose Levy Beranbaum's baking techniques for two-crust pies filled with juicy fruit -- like apples. It's a stand-up crust -- flaky, buttery, flavorful as a dream, but refusing to become sodden under the weight of pounds of juicy fruit.
If you read this blog with any regularity, you probably know of G's penchant for apple desserts. So it is our tradition that on Valentine's Day, instead of the chocolate fondue or chocolate soufflé or molten chocolate cake that everyone else is whipping up for their sweetie, I make apple desserts. And G makes sure that my chocolate jones is met with a lovely big box of dark, delicious sweeties from this place. Usually I bake a killer crumble, or apple toffee bars, or maybe a heart-shaped apple upside-down cake. But not this year.
Several months ago, at Thanksgiving to be precise, I eschewed my usual dolled-up apple-toffee caramelized crunchy crumble-topped pie that I've made for the past few years. My father, whose advanced age means that he must be obeyed, had asked for a traditional two-crust apple pie. With a little help from the vodka bottle and another secret weapon, the cider jelly jar (and this must be a jelly made from absolutely nothing except pure apple cider), I made what my husband immediately dubbed the "Best. Apple. Pie. Ever." It was so good that I made another one, since we were expecting company for a belated Thanksgiving just a few days later. Company didn't come, and we had the second pie all to ourselves.
Most of the time he doesn't ask for much, that G, and tends to be pretty content with wolfing down whatever I come up with for dinner, most days -- as well as cleaning up the disaster-area of a kitchen I often leave in my wake. But every so often, he slyly mentions the possibility of my making another apple pie. So this year, I knew what I would bake for my sweetheart, Hallmark holiday or no.
It's going to be a while before those of us in the Northeast see fresh, seasonal, local fruit. But even apples that have been in storage for a few months respond well to this treatment. Give this lovely treat a whirl, and your longing for other fruit a rest for the moment. And you needn't even wait for a holiday.
adapted from Cook's Illustrated, Rose Levy Beranbaum's Best American Apple Pie, and probably other inspirational sources as well
1 recipe vodka pie crust for a double-crust pie (completed to the point of chilling the dough before rolling out)
3 to 3 1/2 pounds of apples (I used Empire yesterday, but I've used many other kinds, all with success, as long as they're tangy-sweet and flavorful), peeled, cored and sliced 1/4-inch thick
1/4 cup brown or muscovado sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup (Grade B organic, always)
1 tsp. Vietnamese cinnamon
1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
juice and zest of one organic lemon
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
2 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. pure apple cider jelly
1 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. cornstarch
Cream; bakers' large crystal/sparkle sugar
Remove the dough for the bottom crust from the refrigerator. If necessary, allow it to sit for about 10 minutes or until it is soft enough to roll.
On a floured pastry cloth or between two sheets of lightly floured plastic wrap, roll the bottom crust 1/8-inch thick or less and 12 inches in diameter. Transfer it to a 9 or 10-inch pie pan (I use a 10-inch; this is plenty of crust, but you will need at least 3 lbs of apples). Trim the edge almost even with the edge of the pan. Cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate it for a minimum of 30 minutes and a maximum of 3 hours.
In a large bowl, combine the apples, lemon juice and zest, sugar, maple syrup, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt and toss to mix. Allow the apples to macerate at room temperature for a minimum of 30 minutes and a maximum of 3 hours.
Transfer the apples and their juices to a colander suspended over a bowl to capture the liquid. The mixture will release at least 1/2 cup of liquid.
In a small saucepan, over medium-high heat, boil down this liquid, with the butter and the cider jelly, to about 1/3 cup (a little more if you started with more than 1/2 cup of liquid), or until syrupy and lightly caramelized. Swirl the liquid but do not stir it. Meanwhile, transfer the apples to a bowl and toss them with the cornstarch until all traces of it have disappeared.
Pour the syrup over the apples, tossing gently. (Do not be concerned if the liquid hardens on contact with the apples; it will dissolve during baking.)
Roll out the top crust large enough to cut a 12-inch circle. Transfer the apple mixture to the pie shell. Moisten the border of the bottom crust by brushing it lightly with water and place the top crust over the fruit. Tuck the overhang under the bottom crust border and press down all around the top to seal it. Crimp the border using a fork or your fingers and make about 5 evenly spaced 2-inch slashes starting about 1 inch from the center and radiating toward the edge (yesterday I cut a heart-shaped steam vent instead). Cover the pie loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate it for 1 hour before baking to chill and relax the pastry. This will maintain flakiness and help to keep the crust from shrinking.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees at least 20 minutes before baking. Set an oven rack at the lowest level and place a baking stone or baking sheet on it before preheating. Place a large piece of greased foil on top to catch any juices.
Brush the top of the chilled pie lightly with cream, and sprinkle with crystal sugar. Set the pie directly on the foil-topped baking stone and bake for 45 to 55 minutes or until the juices bubble through the slashes and the apples feel tender but not mushy when a cake tester or small sharp knife is inserted through a slash. After 30 minutes, protect the edges from overbrowning by covering them with a foil ring (I generally need to keep most of the top of the pie covered for a good portion of the baking time, but that may just be the vagaries of my extremely poor oven).
Cool the pie on a rack for at least 4 hours (ha!) before cutting. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Store at room temperature, uncovered. Reheat any leftovers gently before serving to crisp the crust.