Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Apple Pie

My mother is an apple pie fairy: for as long as I can remember, she has made delicious, gooey magic in a buttery crust that my father, brother and I used to fight over tooth and nail. It's her signature dessert, and she still gets very eager requests from everyone who has ever tasted it.

I remember a college buddy of mine coming over to my house to prepare for an exam: he had once told me he hated apple pie, but to be polite, he accepted the slice my mother offered him, and it. Changed. His. World. He asked for a second helping, and begged her for the recipe. She's that good.

I had a craving for a homey, comforting dessert, and it so happened that I had some pie crust dough handy... What was I do? I had no choice but to make an apple pie!

My mother's apple pie filling is very minimalist: sweet apples, a dusting of sugar and some nutmeg. As delicious as that is, I wanted to try something a little different. Granny Smiths are my favorite apples, but they are quite tart, so I knew a bit of sugar would be required to balance out their flavor, and I love a hint of spices in a dessert, so some cinnamon, ginger, cloves and nutmeg found their way in my filling mix.

Here is my mom's pie dough recipe: it makes enough dough for 3 double-crusted pies. The extra can be frozen and used later, when you feel an urge for a lovely home-made pie (see my peach pie recipe for the step-by-step pictures!).

6 cups non-bleached all-purpose flour (5 ½ cups for the dough, and ½ cup for surfaces)
2 tablespoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
2 cups high-quality vegetable shortening, cut into small pieces
1 large egg, beaten
¼ cup white vinegar
1 2/3 cup whole milk, and extra for brushing

Sift 5 ½ cups of flour, the baking powder and the salt together in a large bowl. In a 2-cups measuring cup, mix the egg and vinegar, and add milk until you have 2 cups of liquid. Add the shortening to the dry ingredients, breaking it up with the fingertips or a pastry cutter and rubbing it into the dry ingredients until it is crumbly and mixed in. In 3 additions, add the wet ingredients to the dry, blending well with the hands between each addition: spread your fingers to scrape the bowl well while mixing. Blend until all the liquid ingredients are just incorporated, being careful not to over-mix. The dough should be moist and homogenous. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes, up to overnight.

Here is the filling:

6 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 granulated cane sugar
1 teaspoon freshly ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground clove
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 pinch salt

Mix the sugars, spices, flour and salt. Put the apple slices and the sugar and spice mix in a large bowl and mix by hand until combined.

Preheat the oven to 425 degree. To assemble the pie, sprinkle flour on the working surface and on a rolling pin. Take a fist-sized piece of the dough and form it into a ball. Place the ball of dough on the working surface and flatten it with the rolling pin. Work the dough in a roughly circular shape by rolling outwards. Once the dough is rolled out to the desired size, fold it in half, place it in the pie plate, and unfold. Gently press the dough into the plate and smooth it out. Brush the edges with milk. Roll out the top crust portion of dough. Fill the bottom crust with the apple filling.

Fold the top crust in half, create slits or cut outs to let steam escape, then delicately lift it, place it on top of the filling and unfold.

Using the fingertips, the back of a spoon or a fork, pinch the dough around the edges to join the two crusts firmly and trim off the excess dough with a butter knife. Lightly brush the top crust with milk. Place in the oven and bake for 25 minutes. Lower the heat to 350, and bake for another 20 to 30 minutes. Place the pie on a cooling rack, and cool at least 1 hour before serving.

Does anything scream "comfort" more than the smell of an apple pie, cooling on your kitchen counter? That spicy, fruity, buttery smell is the stuff of childhood memories and a slice of that beauty hit just the spot.

The filling was just sweet enough, perfectly balanced with the nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger and clove, with the Granny Smith's flavor still shining through gloriously. It was exactly what I needed: a warm slice of comfort.

I'm not yet the pie fairy my mother is, but I feel like I am well on my way to mastering this magical dessert!

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