Apple Pie

My sister, Laura, presents my mother, Helen, with an apple pie for her birthday
My sister, Laura, presents my mother, Helen, with an apple pie for her birthday

Apple Pie
On her birthday, instead of a cake, our mother prefers an apple pie.

Pastry for double pie crust (recipe and instructions below)

Ingredients for 9” pie
sugar 3/4 cup
flour 1/4 cup
nutmeg 1/4 t.
cinnamon 1 1/2 t.
tart apples, peeled and sliced, 6 cups
butter 2 T.

Mix dry ingredients, add apples and toss. Pour into prepared crust. Dot with butter. Top with upper crust, using lattice top if desired.
Bake pie on a cookie sheet at 425 degrees 15 minutes, then 350 degrees 40 minutes.

How to make a perfect Pie Crust
The one variable that will always make any pie better is using a homemade crust. This is the recipe my mother learned from her mother and taught to me when I was a teenager. It’s very difficult to express in writing what you should do to make a perfect pie crust. Find the opportunity to watch an expert pie-crust maker in action. It’s much easier to learn from watching than just from reading the recipe. I can still see my mother and hear her words of advice every time I roll out a pie crust.
If your pie crusts aren’t perfect at first, don’t give up. They usually still taste pretty good, even if they look ugly. Making a pie crust usually requires a certain amount of practice.

Basic Recipe for double crust pie:
2 cups cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup Crisco brand shortening, preferably Butter-Flavor
1 teaspoon salt
About 1/3 cup cold water

Mix flour and salt in large mixing bowl. Cut shortening into the flour with a pastry cutter, until mixture resembles cornmeal. Do not use your hands to try and mix it; the heat from your hands will melt the shortening, causing the pastry to be “heavy”, not light and flaky. As my mother said, You want to incorporate air into the mixture.
Add the ice water a little at a time and stir until it begins to hold together and form a ball. Be gradual adding the water. You don’t want to have too much water or the crust will be tough. Quickly gather the dough into a ball and flatten into two 4-inch-wide smooth disks, handling as little as possible. Wrap in a generous portion of plastic wrap, and refrigerate at least 30 minutes if it’s warm in the kitchen. Dough can also be frozen at this point. Store the wrapped disks of dough in a ziploc bag. Thaw in refrigerator several hours before using. My mother, sister and I often make twenty pie crusts at a time and freeze them.

To Roll Out Dough:
Remove dough disks from refrigerator. If stiff and very cold, let stand until dough is cool but malleable. I sometimes warm up cold dough by pressing it out a bit first with my hands, but NEVER knead the dough. If you press the dough out a bit first, repair any cracks along the edge that may start to form. You want all the edges to be smooth. The disk should be a uniform thickness.
Prepare a surface for rolling out. A large wooden pastry board is ideal. Place a dish towel underneath to prevent sliding of the board while you roll out the dough. If you do not have a pastry board, a plain kitchen counter can be used.
My mother’s trick: Just before unwrapping the dough, wipe the counter with a damp cloth. Before the counter dries, unwrap the dough disk and stick the plastic wrap down on the counter by pressing it and smoothing it against the moist surface. This will provide a smooth surface to roll on and also facilitate cleaning the counter later. Sprinkle the plastic wrap liberally with a fine dusting of flour. Turn the disk in the flour until well-covered, but shake off excess. You always want to be able to move or pick up the dough from the counter. If there is not enough flour, it will stick to the counter and you will have a big mess and a tough pie crust. It’s better to have too much flour on the counter than not enough.
Using a floured rolling pin, roll dough disk lightly from the center out in each direction, forming a circle. During the rolling process, continually repair any cracks along the edge by pressing them back together with your fingers. Small cracks will become larger as the dough is rolled, so fix them while they’re small. Also, continually check that the dough is not sticking to the counter. Pick it up and shift it around on the thin layer of flour, and turn it a few times as you roll to be sure flour is always between the dough and the counter. Coat the rolling pin with more flour at the first sign of sticking. If the dough is sticking, don’t roll one more stroke until you sprinkle more flour on it. A pie crust that sticks is going to tear up and then have to be re-rolled, which will toughen it. When your crust looks about an inch larger than the top rim of your pie plate, it’s ready for transfer.
To transfer dough into the pie plate, my mother and I use the folding method. To fold, pick up one edge of the dough and bring it to the other edge, forming a semi-circle. Then, repeat to form a quarter-circle. Pick up the folded dough with the point at the top, letting the rounded edges dangle downward. Pat the dough a few times to release excess flour. Then, place the point of the folded dough into the center of the pie plate. Carefully unfold the dough and smooth (don’t stretch!) into the pan. Let the raw edges hang over the outside of the plate for now. What you do next is determined by what kind of pie you are making.
For One Baked Pie Shell:
This kind of pie crust would be used for a pie with a cream or custard filling, or any already cooked filling. If you are making a single crust pie, tuck excess dough underneath so that folded edge is flush with pan edge. Flute the edge (described below). Prick crust thoroughly on the bottom and sides with the tines of a fork to help prevent air pockets that will puff up the shell as it bakes. Bake at 425*F for about 15 to 18 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool before filling. Proceed with recipe’s directions.

For Unbaked One-Crust Pie Shell:
This kind of crust would be used for a pecan pie or pumpkin pie. Do not prick the crust before filling or it will seep under the crust during baking. Pour filling into pie shell and proceed with recipe directions for baking.
One crust pre-baking (Baking Blind):
I often use this technique when making a custard pie or a quiche, to prevent the crust from becoming soggy. Line the unbaked pastry shell with foil, and fill with about one cup dried beans or rice. (I save these dried beans specifically for baking blind. They cannot be cooked after they’ve been used in this way.) You can bake until the crust is completely done, but remove the foil and beans a few minutes before the baking time is over to allow the crust to brown evenly. If a liquid filling is to be added, (such as a quiche) you only need to pre-bake about 10 minutes before adding the filling and completing the baking process.

For Unbaked Two-Crusted Pie:
Most baked fruit pies have two crusts. The top crust can be either solid or lattice.
Use both crusts from recipe above. After rolling out the bottom crust, place in pie plate and gently press dough into sides of pan, but don’t tuck under the edges. Spoon in the prepared filling. Carefully place top crust over filling. Tuck the double rim of dough underneath itself so that folded edge is flush with pan edge. Flute edging, pressing to seal. Vent the top crust by pricking with the tines of a fork or making slits with a sharp knife in several places. This allows steam to escape during baking. Proceed with recipe directions for baking. It’s best to bake a fruit pie on a cookie sheet or pizza pan to prevent drips in the oven.
For a Lattice-Top:
Leave overhang on bottom crust. After rolling circle for top crust, cut into strips about 1/2-inch wide. (Use a pastry wheel for decorative strips.) Place every other strip across filling in pie plate, leaving gaps in between the strips. Use the short strips on the edges of the circle and the long strips on the middle of the circle. Now place the remaining strips at an angle across the laid strips. Some people weave lattice strips, but my mother and I do not. We simply lay the second half of strips across first strips. Fold strips and edges under together, building up a high edge. Seal and flute. Proceed with recipe directions.

How to Flute the Edge:
Start with a sealed and smoothly turned under rim. Place index finger on inside of pastry rim and thumb and index finger on outside. Reverse the position if it is more comfortable. Don’t pinch the thumb and index finger together. Keep them at a uniform distance while pushing into them with the index finger of the opposite hand. This will form a soft V-shape. Move along entire edge repeating the motion until you have a zig-zag design.
Additional Pastry Tips for Success
A pastry blender is a great help to cut in shortening evenly. If you don’t own one, purchase one! It’s the “cutting in” of the shortening into tiny lumps that gives pastry its flaky texture. A food processor can be used to make pie crusts, but don’t overblend the shortening or the crust will be very hard to work with.
Do not overwork the dough. Less handling makes a more tender and flaky crust.
Brushing the top crust with milk, then sprinkling with granulated sugar will give a sparkling appearance and a pleasing crunchiness.

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