I've been making pies, from apple to blueberry for some time, and really good pies at that. But I knew they could be better and crispier, so I took a pie tutorial class to work on my pie crust technique last weekend at The Brooklyn Kitchen in Williamsburg. The class was really helpful. Although my pies had always been good, the crusts were too thick and oftentimes not as crispy as the perfect pie would be. This didn't actually require changing the ingredients but changing the way that I work and prepare the crust. I had been making the dough in my mixer, which is fine, I suppose. But a pie crust, as I learned, is much better when worked by hand. The better crust, the more rustic crust, should be worked as little as possible. Thus, it is not necessary to beat in every chunk of butter using an artisan mixer. The crust will be better, and crisper, if there are chunks of the butter in the dough, as the dough needs to be combined just enough so that it will hold together when you roll it out. I was really pleased with the apple pie that I made using the refined techniques in the class. I plan to make another one very soon with the first fruits of spring in a couple weeks - for a strawberry rhubarb pie!
2 1/4 cups AP flour
hefty pinch of granulated kosher salt
pinch of sugar
1 cup (two sticks) of cold butter
1/4 cup ice water (can adjust slightly as needed)
It is very important that the butter be cold. You can use any cold fat source (butter, shortening or lard) but it must be cold. I've always used butter and when worked properly, it makes for a fabulous crispy crust in my opinion, so read on.
Cut the cold butter into cubes and scatter in the dry mixture. Gently incorporate the butter partially into the flour using your hands, snapping the butter cubes between the thumb and middle finger. Splash the ice water into the mixture. Do not put the water all in one place, but scattered throughout. Add more water if needed (a tablespoon or two) until the dough can just hold together when you squeeze it. Lumps of butter are not a problem here, but a blessing. Remember, you want to work the dough with your hands as little as possible, or so I learned. In the past, I had been overworking the dough.
Form two balls (one for the top lattice and one for the bottom). Wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for exactly 20 minutes for the fat (the butter) to firm up.
To roll out the dough, you will need a well floured surface. Roll with a rolling pin to 1/8 of an inch thick. I had not been rolling thin enough. Another important trick: if you have had problems with the dough sticking even with plenty of flour, be sure to rotate the dough. You should do one or two rolls only, then turn a quarter of a turn with each roll or two. If you are constantly turning as you roll, this will ensure that you can roll it to the desired 1/4 inch thickness. You will want to have a large circle (or as close to a circle as possible) that extends well beyond the borders of the pie dish. Use the pie dish to eyeball the size.
Use a pyrex glass pie plate. The Brooklyn Kitchen supplied those and I recommend this over ceramic ones like I previously used. It distributes the heat more evenly and doesn't require any Pam. Gently fold the dough circle in half and lift into the pie plate, then unfolding. Press into the glass pie dish, and trim the edges with a pair of pastry scissors. I had not been trimming before, which is fine (it's all about aesthetics), but this made the pie look so much more professional. Leave about an inch at the edges, and pinch upwards to form the rim of the pie (another trick I leaned how to do that the class).
For the fruit portion - you can use this to make any fruit pie, depending on what is in season. The key is that you always want to have about four cups of fruit, and resist the tendency to heap the fruit. The fruit should be about 1/4 inch lower than the pie pan. This is another thing I may have been over-doing in the past. This will ensure the fruit and pie crust cook at the same rates.
A basic fruit filling works best for me. It should basically consist of the fruit, some lemon, any spices you plan to use, and some sugar, being sure not to overdo the sugar. You want to showcase the fruit, remember, you are not making candy. That's my criticism of the Bill Yosses (White House pastry chef) apple pie (and the rare harsh criticism you will hear from me of the Obama administration). It just uses way, way too much sugar in the crust and in the filling. You just don't need it. Trust me.
Apple Filling (from Joy of Cooking)
2 1/2 lbs of apples (5-6 total) - I prefer macintosh or gala
3/4 cups of sugar
2-3 T AP flour
1 T lemon juice
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon (I may prefer closer to 1 tsp, to be honest and 1/4 tsp of nutmeg)
1/4 tsp Kosher salt
Prepare the filling and fill the pie with about 4 cups of the filling. You may have a bit leftover and as I leaned in the class, resist the temptation to put in ever last drop heaved over the top of the pie.
Glaze the top of the pie. You can use various combinations of eggs, egg yolks, cream and milk to achieve the desired color. I usually do a plain egg gloss. Brush on gently with a pastry brush. Sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon.
Needless to say, this tasted amazing and might just be my best apple pie yet!