A Newbie Kicks the Apple Bucket

It has always been on my Cooking Bucket List to make pie from scratch. Now that I have done it, I am left wondering why I waited to so long. It is really very easy. Before I undertook the challenge, the idea of making my own crust -without a stand mixer or food processor-  was terrifying. If you are like me: get over it. Making pie crust by hand is no big deal, people did it for years, you are totally able to do it.

The crust isn’t even the most pressing thing you should consider, you first need to decide on the filling. This is what I decided:

Apples! Twas the season and there is a pick-you-own-apple farm nearby. I figured if I was going to make pie from scratch then I better do it all the way. No store-bought waxed fruit filling for me! Oh no, I need fresh off the tree apples.

Apparently I had done this before as a child but have no memory of it; so lets just say this was my first time. It took only a few awkward moment of creepily stalking happy families to figure out the procedure. Take a long claw-ended stick thing and reach up to grab the apples.

They conveniently wind up in the canvas basket. Remove and repeat.

It also helps if you know which apples you are picking, or are familiar with varieties of apples. We were not. Poor bubby had to go all the way back to the barn and ask for directions, and you know how men hate asking for directions in apple orchards.

We were  hunting for Cortland apples, the best baking apples for the time of year, I was told (Northern Spy are better if you are making pies in late October). We found them and picked away. Be warned: you will have way too many apples before you stop having fun.

Here is a small fraction of the Concords we picked. They are washed and ready to become filling.

Apple Pie Filling (for 2 pies)

  • ~12-18 apples
  • 2 tbs corn starch
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • pinch of ground cloves
  • pinch of salt

Step one is to peel the apples. Doing this by hand would be insanity. I used a nifty gadget called the Rotato.

I first saw Rotato work its magic on a potato at my mother-in-laws’. I nearly cried. I hate peeling potatoes; I’m lousy at it, I waste half the potato, it embarrasses my mother. The Rotato is the solution to all my potato problems. It is also amazingly handy in apple peeling, removing about 90% of the peel. All that is left for you to do is to peel the ends, core and chop.

This is the hardest part of pie making! It is the most time-consuming, tedious, and requires the most muscle work. But if you put on some music and pour a glass of wine it’s not so bad. For two deep dish pies I did 20 apples and had only a bit leftover  … apples, there was no leftover wine.

corer I used

Here is what my pie-baking-master co-worker, who lead me through the process, has to say about how to cut your apples:

There are two theories about pie filling: 1) chunky pie filling and 2) finer pie filling.

Chunky pie filing is when you cut the apples in 8 pieces. This gives the pie a chunky look but it takes a bit longer to cook and flavour can be a bit milder because the juices tend not to penetrate through the entire apple pieces. Chunky filling also means there is more air in your pie which means that the upper crust can heave a bit and ultimately sink a bit during cooking.

Finer pie filling is when you cut apples very finely which means that you would slice them into shavings. This creates a more uniform flavour and there is little to no air inside which means that the crust is not apt to heave and sink.

I went with option 2, slicing the apples pretty thin, but I wouldn’t call them shavings.  In a large bowl, mix the remaining ingredients, careful to coat, cover and refrigerate.

Apple Pie Crust for 2 pies                                                                                                        Adapted from Regan Daley’s The Sweet Kitchen.

  • 4 cup unbleached, all-purpose or pastry flour
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup lard
  • 10 tabs unsalted butter (or 1 and 1/4 sticks)
  • 1/2 cup ice water
  • 3 eggs beaten: two for crust and other for gluing crusts together

I was very negligent with picture-taking, so I refer you to a much more complete set of instructions by The History Kitchen, to which I used to constantly during this process. 

When you make the pie crust it is important to keep everything as cold as possible. I chilled both my bowl and pastry blender before I started. The idea is to have the fats (butter and lard) not melt into the flour, but become little solid chunks suspended in it.

Sift flour and salt in large mixing bowl. Add fat to flour and blend well with pastry blender. You are done when you have a crumbly mixture where many different sized pieces of fat are coated in flour. These chunks are what make pie crusts flaky.

Do not touch the dough with your warm hands! It is a good idea to toss the whole bowl in the freezer periodically to cool down.

Beat the eggs and add to the ice water. A tablespoon at a time, add the watery egg to the blended flour mixture and continue to cut in with the blender. You may not need all the water, I didn’t, but apparently every batch of dough is different. You want the dough to be stringy and lumpy.

pastry blender I used

Now you are allowed to get your hands dirty! Gather the dough into 4 portions and  form into balls. Each ball should hold together well and be slightly tacky. Make two balls a bit bigger than the others. If you are making your dough ahead of time, wrap each ball in plastic wrap and refrigerate.

When you are ready to assemble the pies, bring the dough balls back to room temperature. Flour your rolling surface, and roll out a larger portion ball with a rolling-pin. Flip a few times and add flour as necessary to prevent sticking. Apparently a pastry knife would have been helpful, but a solid turner worked just as well for flipping the dough.

Roll out with gentle pressure from centre outward then turn 1/4 turn and repeat until the pastry is rolled to desired size relative to the pie plate. It should overhang at least an inch. If edges crack, use hands to pinch and correct.

For getting the delicate crust onto the pie plate you have two options. You can lift pastry using the rolling-pin and roll it on. Or you can do the much simpler newbie method of folding it. This way you are not messing around with winding and unwinding dough and it is a lot easier to get the dough centred on the plate.  

I can’t believe I am drawing for you, I suck at drawing, but there you go. The flower looking thing is the pie plate and taco is the dough. The process is simple enough. Fold your rolled out dough in half horizontally, and then again vertically so you have a corner. Position the point of the corner in the middle of the dish and unfold vertically, then horizontally.

Don’t push the crust into the plate, let it fall in naturally. You should have about an inch over hang from the well of the pie plate.

A note on pie plates: do your research! What kind of dish you use depends on what you want to use your pie for. Are you giving it away? Serving it on the table? Eating it by yourself hot out of the oven? There are many different factors to consider, so hit the books the internet. I found this Good Housekeeping article helpful and ended up buying these pretty plates from Canadian Tire. The result was a nice presentation, a crispy crust, and an easy cleanup.

Add sugar n’ spice mixed apples to the pie. Arrange pieces evenly to limit air pockets. The filling should be piled evenly but higher in the middle to create a classic pie shape. Beat the last egg and, using pastry brush, brush the edge of the bottom crust to help glue on the top crust.

Roll out top crust (smaller ball) as you did for bottom crust. Add top crust using foldy-method and trim the edges to an even 1 inch. I wish I had been neater about this. Press down on the pie edge to glue the two pastry layers together. Flour hands and using fingers, pinch layers and then roll toward the centre for a pretty rope look. Be as creative as you want with the edge.

Cut chevrons in the centre of the top pastry to vent steam during cooking. Sprinkle the top with a bit of sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg.

Insert the pies into a 400° F oven and bake for 10 mins. Reduce heat to 350° F thereafter for about 35 mins, but check on the pie frequently via the oven window. At about 35 mins open oven to confirm that pie filing is bubbling and boiling. Boiling is necessary to cook the corn starch which will thicken the filling enough so it won’t flow all over the place when you cut and serve it.

Depending on your oven, cooking will take 45 min to an hour. Just keep an eye on it and make sure you see it boiling and the crust is browning but not burning.

Remove pie when done and set on wire rack for a least an hour before serving.

As you can see, the cinnamon got away from me, but the pie was still delicious!  For the second pie I did a loose lattice top which was also very pretty. One pie was consumed almost immediately by my household, and the other was given to my mother who reports it was equally quick to go. Pretty good reviews for my first ever pies!

Like all things crossed off a bucket list, pie making was exciting and way less challenging than imagined. I am now left with a pleasant satisfaction and a gnawing wish to do it again. I’m sure none of my friends and family would mind, but then what about the other items on my Cooking Bucket List? Is this the year I dare try the ever daunting, ridiculously time-consuming, so many steps it looks impossible, complete with meringue mushrooms  …  Bûche de Noël?

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