My dad used to say Jonathans make the best pies. For decades, legendary apple farmer, Frank Owen of southwest Ohio, sold me bushels of Jonathans from his orchards. Here north of Chicago this year’s first Jonathan apples came from southern Michigan. Jonathans may not be a trendy newfangled hybrid, but the snappy taste of their crisp flesh is irresistible. When it comes to pies, they can’t be beat.
Gather round now, all pie lovers, and learn the old-fashioned secrets. There’s no short cut for a great apple pie, but with a little practice, “it’s as easy as pie.” No prepared crust, canned filling or frozen pie will compete with what you make yourself. Only with a homemade pie will you be assured of the best ingredients, minimal sugar and delicate spicing that lets the true fruit flavor shine through.
With a food processor, making the pastry is a breeze. I always prepare more than I need for one pie and freeze the rest for the next baking. Bandaging the edge of the pie with a strip of clean cotton sheeting (buy a white sheet at the next rummage sale) guarantees that the edges won’t burn and juices won’t run over in the oven. Baking the pie the afternoon of your dinner will fill your house with fragrant anticipation. Be sure to make enough to have apple pie with a slice of aged cheddar for breakfast the next morning just like Washington and Jefferson. Now is the time for all good cooks to bake the all-American apple pie.
Basic Pastry For Fruit Pies
1 lb. all-purpose flour (3 ½ cups)
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 ¼ teaspoon salt
8 oz. cold unsalted butter (2 sticks)
1 oz. cold lard*, white shortening or butter (2 tablespoons)
5 fl. oz. ice water (10 tablespoons)
*Buy kettle-rendered white lard from a meat counter; avoid shelf-stable lard modified with preservatives. Good lard makes tender, flaky crust and is worth seeking out.
Note: The most accurate way to measure the flour and fat for pastry is with a scale, and the proper fat/flour ratio is vital. Once you start to bake using a scale, you’ll wonder how you ever managed without one.
To make pastry in a processor, place flour, sugar and salt in work bowl. Process just to combine. Slice over the cold butter and lard; process on and off three or four times until the butter is flaked into small pea-sized pieces. With the processor running, steadily pour the ice water in through the feed tube and continue to process until pastry rolls into a ball. Remove from work bowl, rock into a thick log. Wrap and chill at least an hour.
To make pastry by hand, whisk the flour, sugar and salt in a large shallow bowl. Slice in the cold butter and lard and rub the fat into the flour using floured fingertips or a pastry blender. When the butter is in floury flakes, drizzle over the ice water a little at a time, forking it evenly into the crumbly mix. Bring the dough together into a ball with both hands and shape into a log. Wrap and chill.
Makes enough for two 9–10-inch two-crust pies. (Make ½ recipe for one pie.)
15 oz. or half the above pastry chilled
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
½ teaspoon vanilla
2 1/4 lbs. (7-8) tart pie apples Jonathans recommended
1 tablespoon butter
little milk or cream for glaze
Choose a 9- or 10-inch glass pie dish with a lip so you can check the bottom for doneness at the end of the baking. Have ready a 3-by-50-inch strip of clean cotton sheeting to wrap the pastry edges.
In a large bowl combine ½ cup sugar, cornstarch, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg. Mix in peeled and sliced apples (7–8 cups) and vanilla.
Preheat oven to 400º
Cut the pastry log in half. Place the cut end down on a lightly floured surface and press the top with the heel or your hand or tap it with the rolling pin to make a 6-inch patty. Dust both sides of the pastry with flour and begin to roll using a gentle rocking, back and forth motion with the pin swiveling the dough a quarter of a turn with each rolling. (Here’s the tip to rolling a perfect pie crust.)
Keeping the pastry lightly dusted with flour, gently roll it into a circle 1/8-inch thick and larger than the pie dish. Fold the rolled dough in half and then in quarters forming a triangle. Place the point of the pastry in the center of the pie dish and unfold the pastry smoothing it into the bottom edges of the dish. Sprinkle a generous teaspoon of flour over the bottom of the pastry and pour in the sliced, sugared apples mounding them in the center. Slice butter over the apples. Trim any pastry overhanging the pie dish lip.
Roll the second patty of pastry in the same manner. Fold the dough in quarters and cut three small diagonal slashes on each edge near the center (see photo for result). Brush the pastry on the pie dish lip with water, unfold the top crust over the apples and moistened pastry edges. Gently press crust edges to seal. Use a scissors to trim the top crust overhang ½ inch below the edge. Fold the trimmed overhang under the bottom crust on the lip and crimp decoratively.
Brush the top of the pie with cream or milk and sprinkle generously with 2 tablespoons sugar. Rinse the cotton sheeting strip and squeeze out excess water. Bandage the edge of the pie letting the strip cover the top edge of pastry on the pie dish lip while the other half clings underneath. The damp cotton will adhere to itself at the end.
Place pie in the center of the preheated oven and reduce heat to 375º. Bake for 40–60 minutes or until piecrust is golden both on the top and the bottom. If the top browns too fast, cover with a sheet of brown paper or foil. If the bottom browns before the top, place the pie dish on a heavy sheet pan. The pie is done when the crust is golden and the apples test tender when pierced with a toothpick. Remove to a wire cooling rack. Unwrap bandage while pastry is warm. Serves 6–8.
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