I like pies just fine, but let’s face it, they’re full of calories and cholesterol.The best pie crusts, in my estimation, are made with butter (apologies to those who advocate lard — I just can’t go there). And butter is one of those wonderful foods that’s on my “only in very limited amounts” list.
One solution would be to make pies but not eat them.But another method, which seems more reasonable to me, is to make (and eat) pies only on special occasions.That’s how I came up with my one-per-season pie calendar.
Every season seems to demand one pie, a kind of homage to the fruit and its harvest time. For me, the lineup goes like this: rhubarb pie in spring, peach pie in summer, apple pie in the fall, lemon meringue in winter.I know, this doesn’t include Thanksgiving and pumpkin (or sweet potato) pie, so let’s just say that every good plan includes an exception. (My kids also insist that I’m supposed to make chocolate pecan pie for Thanksgiving, but that’s another story.)
Even though I’ve been making pies for a long time, I still have a lot to learn. So, to make the best possible apple pie, I turned for advice to Pie Queen Reeb Willms.
Reeb grew up in Farmer, Washington — which is too small to even show up on a map — in Central Washington. She’s from a family of wheat farmers and she learned to make pies from her mother, a local pie queen.
She wrote out the recipe and instructions for apple pie, below. Photos of her making pie (rhubarb) are from a “skillshare” workshop that Aviva put on a couple years ago, for people to teach each other their skills. It was held outdoors at Fairhaven College gardens, and Reeb taught a group of folks how to make pie.
Apple Pie Filling:
- 5-7 large baking apples, cored and thinly sliced
- Mix together in a small bowl:
- ½ cup sugar (I like to use course raw sugar)
- ¼ cup flour
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 2 ½ cups all purpose flour (I like to use whole wheat pastry flour)
- 1 tablespoon sugar (optional)
- 1 ½ teaspoons salt
- 1 ½ sticks cold salted butter – slice in pats over the dry ingredients
- fill a mug with ice water
Firstly, the filling.I like to prepare this first so that when I finish the pastry, I can fill the pie shell and pop that pie in the oven. At this point you can start your oven preheating to 425. Thinly and uniformly slice your apples into a large bowl. I don’t mind leaving the peels on, but if you do, just peel ‘em. Pour the lemon juice over the apples. Now add your sugar, flour, cinnamon mixture and stir it in until the apples are coated. Set aside. Now, the pastry.I’m going to give a lengthy description that can be skimmed by the seasoned pie baker.
First combine flour, salt, and sugar. Then slice the cold hard butter into the flour mixture. Now, if you have a pastry-cutter, that is good. Use it to cut the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles a course meal. If you don’t, don’t despair, this can be accomplished nearly as easily by simply getting your hands into that bowl and rubbing the butter into the flour, between your thumbs and fingers, until you achieve a coarse meal.
Now, get that glass of iced water, your tablespoon, and a nice big fork. Sprinkle iced water two tablespoons at a time over your flour mixture, stirring and fluffing the water into the flour with your fork each time. You’ll want to stir it well, yet not overwork the dough. Keep adding tablespoons of water and stirring until the dough has reached the right consistency. This will probably happen with 8-10 tbsp water, but maybe more or less. You will be able to tell this in a couple of ways: one, you will notice that most of the dough has begun to cling together in clumps with only a few bits of dry stuff on the bottom of the bowl. Two, you will know it in your gut that your dough is right. You don’t want it to be too wet since then it will be hard to work and less likely to bake off flaky. But obviously, not too dry either since rolling it out would be impossible.
Next, prepare a surface for rolling. I like to use a pie cloth, liberally floured. This is a cloth I made out a square of white canvas or duck cloth. You may hem the edges or not. The cloth will hold lots of flour in its weave creating a good non-stick surface for rolling out your dough. If you don’t have a pie cloth, don’t despair, just liberally flour a large cutting board or even your countertop. You may need to add flour under the dough as you roll to keep it from sticking.
Split the pie dough into two balls. Pat the bottom of the bowl with the balls to pick up any leftover dry ingredients. Now set one ball onto the rolling surface and squash it down firmly to form a sort of dough patty. Flour the top liberally and begin rolling, first one way, then the other until you have a nice big circle-ish shape that is about an 1/8 inch thick.
At this point you can center your pie dish upside down right on top of the pie pastry and trim the dough into a circle that is about an inch wider all around from the rim of the pie dish.
Grab your pie dish, and I know two handy ways to transfer the rolled out dough. One, gently roll the pie pastry onto your rolling pin until the pastry is draped over the rolling pin like a towel over a towel rack. Then in one smooth motion you can lay one edge of the pastry over the dish and unroll it the dough onto the dish. Settle it into place with your hands until it’s centered.
The other way is to make sure the surface of the pastry is well floured and then just fold the dough in half and then in quarters, pick it up and unfold it into your pie dish.
Now pour your pie filling into the shell. If you want to, lay a few pats of butter on the filling for extra buttery richness. Roll out your second ball of dough in the same manner and transfer it to cover the filling. With a sharp knife, trim the excess, leaving a good inch of pastry all around.
Then the fun part! Use your fingers to gently fold the top and bottom pie pastries together rolling them under as you work your way around the rim of the pie dish. Once you’ve gotten them sealed, you can shape the edge of the crust. I like to pinch the dough between my thumb and forefinger with both hands and gently pull one hand toward my body and one hand away creating that classic pie crust shape. This is hard to describe, but you can just find your own fancy way of finishing the edge so it looks pretty. Then with a sharp knife, carve a design into the top of the pie, a letter, a star, a heart, a bird, whatever your fancy, or just pierce a few slits. Then sprinkle with a little sugar and you’re ready to bake it off!
Bake the pie at 425 for 15 minutes, then lower heat to 350 and bake for 45 minutes. You’ll know it’s done when it’s golden brown and your kitchen smells heavenly. Let it cool for ½ an hour if you can be that patient. Enjoy!
I followed Reeb’s recipe nearly exactly (I used unsalted rather than salted butter and a little more cinnamon). My previous attempts at two-crust apple pies were too skimpy with the dough — Reeb’s recipe makes a generous amount, and it’s easy to work with. So I had more fun making it — and that’s important.
I sure was pleased with the way my pie turned out. I think anyone would be thankful to see this pie show up at a Thanksgiving feed!
Note: For those of you with pie problems, now’s the time to write in. Reeb’s agreed to be a pie doctor to diagnose your problems and provide help. So write ’em here, as well as any other comments….