Now that the crisp autumnal days are here and Thanksgiving is quickly approaching, my thoughts are turning to comfort baking and luxurious apple pies.
Apples are either tart, tart-sweet or sweet, and a mixture makes the best pie filling, though this doesn’t mean you can’t just use your favourite.
Tart apples include Granny Smith, which is crisp and quite sour, perfect when mixed with other apples or on its own, and Northern Spy, harder to find but a favourite of mine for pie baking, as it holds its shape.
Tart-sweet varieties are Mutsu, Pink Lady, Cortland and Braeburn, which has undertones of cinnamon and nutmeg and is one of the more popular baking apples. Be wary of Honeycrisp and Golden Delicious when it comes to baking. Golden Delicious needs a real goose of lemon to heighten its flavour, and Honeycrisp, one of the best eating apples, gets a bit watery when baked.
Sweet apples like Gala are good when mixed with other apples. Avoid McIntosh in pies: They turn to mush. Save them for applesauce.
Some prep tips: When making pastry, freeze the butter. It makes such a difference to the texture of the pastry. Don’t scoop the flour; spoon it into a measuring cup and level off, (There is a difference in weight to the two methods.) If you have a kitchen scale, weighing your ingredients gives the most foolproof results. Lastly, refrigerate your water and vinegar mixture to keep it cold.
Freeze 12 oz or 1 1/2 cups unsalted butter.
Measure 3 cups all-purpose unbleached flour into a bowl. Add 1 tsp salt. Pour ⅓ cup cold water and 2 tbsp white vinegar or lemon juice into a measuring jug and refrigerate until needed. Grate the frozen butter into the flour.
With your fingers, gently combine the flour and butter. When well combined, stir in ¼ cup cold water/vinegar mixture and combine. If the pastry feels too dry and crumbly, add another tablespoon or two. Gently gather pastry into a ball and divide in half. Flatten it into 2 discs and refrigerate, wrapped, for at least 30 minutes.
Peel and slice 3 lbs apples, mix with up to a ¾ cup of sugar, either brown or white, and 1 tsp or more of spices such as cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cardamom or ground star anise. Let your apples sit for an hour before filling the pie shell. When the juices emerge, stir in about 3 tbsp of thickener – tapioca starch, which is clear when cooked, is ideal, but cornstarch can also be used.
Sprinkle flour over a board or a Silpat baking mat. Flour the rolling pin lightly. Remove the pastry from the fridge and let it sit for 5 minutes. Roll out into a 12 to 14-inch circle depending on the size of the pie (14 inches for a 10-inch pie plate) and transfer to pie plate. Trim, leaving a 1-inch overhang. Roll out the second piece for the top crust. Pile high with fruit and cover with the second piece of pastry, crimping edges together. Cut slits for steam to escape.
Place pie on a baking sheet to prevent any juice dripping to the oven floor. Brush with a little cream and sprinkle with coarse sugar, if desired. Bake at 425 F for 15 minutes on the lower shelf to brown the bottom. Lower heat to 350 F, and bake for another 35 to 45 minutes, or until pastry is golden and filling is bubbling. If your pastry is browning too quickly, tent with foil.
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