Our friend Dianne makes the best pies ever: delicate, flaky crusts and yummy fillings. Back in the day she taught baking to 4H girls and we’ve talked about her giving me a lesson sometime. Last weekend it all came together. She e-mailed copies of recipes to me so I could prep.
The keys to flaky crust are keep ingredients cold and minimize touching. To meet the first goal I cut 1 1/2 cubes of butter into 1/4″ tabs and put them in the freezer about an hour before I was ready to make the crust.
Flour, sugar, and a dash of salt go into the food processor to get thoroughly mixed. Then toss in the butter and a little cold shortening. The shortening makes the dough easier to work with than butter; but we need butter flavor so we mix the two. We pulse the ingredients until they are “right”. This is obviously where the art comes in. The tabs of butter were broken up into small pieces and the dough was kind of gravelly. The last step is to drizzle in a mix of 1/2 cup ice water and 1/2 cup vodka which had been in the freezer. The frozen vodka helps keep the dough cold; the alcohol will cook off in the oven and doesn’t leave a flavor. When the is still pretty sticky we tossed it on our granite counter top which had been liberally dusted with flour. With a minimal amount of touching we folded it a few times then divided it into two pieces, wrapped them in plastic wrap and put them in the refrigerator while we concentrated on the apple filling.
We used a mix of 4 granny smith for tartness, 2 Jona Golds, and 2 Corts. Dianne sticks with the first two types but the recipe she sent me said Corts are great pie apples so I went off script. We peeled them, sliced them and tossed them with a mixture of sugar, flour, and cinnamon. Other spices are fine but I wanted to keep it basic for my first time. We tasted a few slices and were in heaven!
Then it was time for what I think is the hardest part of crust making: rolling out the dough. We took one chunk of dough at a time, put in on the floured counter top and rolled into a circle; well it was supposed to be a circle – I ended up with a rectangularish shape with very uneven edges. While trying to pull it up from the counter I ripped it in three pieces so we reformed a ball, put it in the refrigerator to chill out, and grabbed the other piece. I got it rolled out a little better but it was a challenge to get in the pie pan in one piece; a “little” patching was needed.
You can see a lot of finger marks in there – this is not the way to flaky crust. But it would still end up tasting great, if I say so myself.
The apples are piled into the pie pan and dotted with another 1/2 cube of butter cut into tabs.
I did better rolling out the top: I said “better” not “good”.
Dianne showed me how to flute the edges; another opportunity for improvement. After wrapping the edges in aluminum foil the pie went into a 450˚ oven; after about 30 minutes I removed the foil and waited until I could here it sizzle. Pro tip: put the pie pan on a sheet pan wrapped in aluminum foil to catch the sizzling, insanely hot, overflowing apple goodness that oozed out.
Now came the hardest part; we baked it on Saturday but I couldn’t eat any until we went over to Dianne and Herb’s house for dinner Sunday! Dianne made a fantastic harvest bean soup with a meaty ham bone and Great Northern beans. I’ll make it sometime and get the recipe up here – if it’s okay with Dianne. I whipped up a batch of vanilla ice cream in our Cuisinart counter top ice cream maker. I got the recipe from Dianne years ago. You can find the recipe here; half the recipe if you are using a counter top ice cream mixer.
This was a fun project. I may need to have Dianne audit me when I try again; there is a lot of experienced judgement in the process: when is the dough ready to come out of food processor, how to best roll out the dough. It tasted great – not as great as Dianne’s, but still very good – and I’ll definitely try again.