This past weekend brought with it the coveted annual tradition of apple picking. There’s nothing quite so delicious and picturesque and taking a stroll through the rows upon rows of an orchard painted in golden sunlight and reaching up with a delicate yet confident grasp to pluck one of nature’s finest offerings. The cool, crisp, sweet flavors of Fall can’t actually come any fresher than in that moment, and with each bite there is satisfaction, gratitude and some other-worldly sense that washes over you, tempting and urging you to fill your bags, baskets or wagons with what will likely be way more apples than you can eat before both they and your stomach start to turn. Unless, of course, you’re into baking. Which I am. And which I will do.
A friend of mine (I’ll let you guess his name), who shared in the experience with us this year, also seems to have an affinity, nay – an appreciation, for the finest of baked goods, particularly in that moment: apple pie. And so as you might imagine, we got to talking about what goes into a pie that makes it special, other than the selection and variety of apples, of course. We regaled on stories of whether or not raisins have a place in pastry, what business cheese has on top of what is already a perfect desert, debated the age old question of lattice vs. dome, and whole-heartedly agreed that cream, both iced and whipped, are the only truly acceptable sides. The conversation then took its focus on the process and, since we both stood there with multiple bags of freshly picked apples in our hands, the question of ‘how many can fit into a single pie?’ My answer to that is 21, but as for the answer to the question of how to achieve that, is one I began to explain in the moment before pausing and realizing that: ‘Wait! This is great content for a blog!’.
Before we really get into the real ‘core’ of this whole thing, let me first provide a bit of context and disclaimer around my approach to cooking in general, but more specifically – baking.
I openly admit to being a member of the churches of Bourdain, Child, Picard, Chang, Blumenthal, Choi, and countless others whose books I’ve read, recipes have inspired me, and whose philosophies have shaped me – either by abiding by them or avoiding them altogether. The most notable inspiration in the recipe below comes from the attention I gave later in my years to Keller; a true master of detail and excess in the most curious of ways. As with any inspiration, however, I have taken the roots and applied some variations where I deemed fit and suitable, and I suggest to you that there’s no harm in taking that same approach. Don’t want to add the ginger powder? Don’t have vanilla sugar? That’s just fine with me, you can generally substitute with what works for you, just remember that baking is a science and your decisions will have an impact in the final product, so substituting flavour is one thing, but substituting ratios, fats, or flours will yield something else entirely. Beyond that, there are two important things I wish to address, and they are things I shrugged off early and learned late in my cooking ‘career’ as being rather critical to the process:
- If you really want to up your baking game, then ditch the measuring cups and invest in a scale. Measuring utensils are subjective, whereas weights are finite. 18 grams is always going to be 18 grams. ‘2 large eggs’ is not going to always give you 100 grams of out-of-the-shell-product; that’s a lot of pressure to put on a chicken to promise that output. Regional temperatures vary, machines presses are not all identical, and your interpretation of a 1/4 cup of packed brown sugar is likely going to be a little different than mine. Do yourself a favour: when it comes to baking, use a scale and wow your guests. I would also say to use this when measuring snacks for your kids. They want to complain that the portions of cheesy puffs you just doled out aren’t fair? Just get out the scale and prove those rug rats wrong!
- Flour type truly makes a difference. I used to think that All Purpose Flour meant exactly that, and I suppose to many applications it does. BUT if you want the best results in your finished product, then begin to seriously think about what type of flour you’re using and when. Pizza dough doesn’t cook at the same temp or have the same texture as angel food cake. Think about that for a moment and do some research on the different proteins and effects that your flour selection can yield.
And so, without further ado, my friend, I provide you with the following recipe. I hope it finds you well.
- 275 grams all-purpose flour
- 175 grams ’00’ pastry flour
- 22 grams granulated white vanilla sugar
- 2 grams kosher salt
- 1 pinch baking powder
- yeah, yeah, I’m breaking my own ‘always use a scale advice’ pretty quickly into this recipe, but you only need like, less than 1/2 gram, and that’s a pain to measure, so just, you know: use a pinch.
- 200 grams very cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4 inch cubes
- 72 grams very cold lard, cut into 1/4 inch cubes
- 52 grams cold water
- 18 grams white wine vinegar
Using a sifter, combine the flours, sugar, salt, and baking powder in a large bowl, and mix evenly. Incorporate the butter and lard into the flour mixture with your hands, breaking the fats into pieces no larger than the size of a pea.
Make a ‘wel’l in the bottom of the bowl, and pour in the cold water and white wine vinegar. Incorporate the liquid into the mixture with your hands, but be sure not overwork it..
Turn the mixture onto a clean work surface and use your hands to form it into a dough, bringing it together and kneading it just enough to ensure everything is evenly mixed in.
Divide the dough equally into two parts. Shape one of the halves into a circular disc, ~ ½ inch thick. Shape the other half into rectangle of equal thickness and place both halves on a parchment-lined sheet pan, covering with a second sheet of parchment. Chill the doughs in the refrigerator for 10 to 15 minutes.
Roll out the circular disc between 2 sheets of parchment paper, rotating the dough by quarter turns to maintain the circular shape. Roll the dough to a thickness of ¼ inch. Gently slide the rolling pin across the surface of the dough to smooth out any unevenness or ridges. Set aside on your sheet pan.
Roll out the rectangular piece of dough between 2 sheets of parchment paper, maintaining the rectangular shape. Roll to a thickness of slightly less than ¼ inch with a length of 11 inches. Gently slide the rolling pin across the surface of the dough to smooth out any unevenness or ridges. Set aside on another sheet pan.
Refrigerate both sheets of pie dough for 10 to 15 minutes before use.
- 2 sheets pie dough (from recipe above)
- 125 grams granulate white vanilla sugar
- 15 grams cornstarch
- 2 grams cinnamon powder
- 1 gram ginger powder
- 21 apples, specifically and purposefully
- again, I’m breaking my own rule here but it’s only because I’m trying to prove I can beat my record of 20 apples from last year. to follow this recipe proper, use 900 grams of grated apple and 600 grams of diced apple, which is roughly 18 whole apples.
- 1 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise, do not scrape out the seeds
- 50 grams fresh lemon juice
- 50 grams egg white, lightly whipped
- granulated white sugar for dusting
- 8-inch pie plate
- pie weights (I use dried beans)
Preheat the oven to 350°F
Remove the circular sheet of pie dough from the refrigerator. Place the sheet of dough centered over the pie tin. Gently lift the edge of the dough to let the dough naturally fall into the corners of the pie tin. Do this for the entire circumference of the plate.
I have found that using a shot glass has helped me to ensure I get the dough settled nicely into the ‘corners’ of the plate by using it to gently press and roll as I go. But that’s me…you do you.
With your thumbs and index fingers, crimp the pie dough using the extra dough hanging over the edge of the tin to make a nice pattern around the edge. Cut away the excess dough with a paring knife. Transfer the lined pie tin to the refrigerator to chill, set, and rest for 10 minutes.
Remove the lined pie tin from the refrigerator and cover the inner dough with 2 layers of plastic wrap (yes, yes, plastic wrap…it’s going to be ok, I promise). Fill with an even layer of baking beans up to the top of the pie tin. Fold the excess plastic wrap over the beans to expose the edge of the pie crust. Bake at 350°F for 30 minutes until the crust is a light golden brown.
Remove the pie crust from the oven. Leave the oven on at 350°F
When the baking beans are cool enough to handle, remove the plastic wrap filled with baking beans. While the crust continues cooling, make the pie filling.
In a bowl, combine the sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon and ginger. Mix well and set aside.
Peel and grate 11 apples on the large teeth of a box grater. Immediately place them in a sauté pan with the vanilla bean and lemon juice. Cook the mixture on medium heat, stirring occasionally for 15 minutes until there is little to no visible moisture on the bottom of the pan.
While the grated apple is cooking, peel the remaining 10 apples and dice them into a rough ¼-inch dice. Once the grated apple has finished cooking, add diced apple to the pan. Continue to cook the mixture for another 10 to 15 minutes, stirring often, until the apple dice has minimal resistance when pierced with a paring knife.
Remove the pan from heat and remove the vanilla pod. Add the sugar/spice mixture and stir to fully incorporate. Place the mixture into a bowl and allow the filling to cool to room temperature, approximately 20 minutes.
Fill the baked pie crust with the apple filling and use a rubber spatula to smooth out the top of the filling. Cut the second sheet of pie dough into ½-inch-wide strips (I sue a pasta roller for this). You will need 12 to 14 strips. Weave a lattice with the dough strips spaced ½ inch apart over the top of the pie, allowing the excess dough to drape over the edge. Trim the edges of the lattice 1/4-inch beyond the edge of the crust. Brush the lattice with egg white and dust with sugar.
Bake the pie an oven at 350°F for 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool at room temperature for at least 4 hours before devouring it with your closet friends and family.