Apple Pie Lab Experiment #1: Hey, It's Not That Hard After All
This weekend, for science, I'm conquering some myths about apple pie -- starting with the ones in my own head.
Mental Myth #1: Apple pie is boring.
Status: Debunked. It is the sexiest of pies. Check out this scientific proof:
Mental Myth #2: Apple pie is a humdrum flavor. Why bother when you can have something as luscious as Nutella, as piquant as lemon?
Status: Debunked. Background: I hate "apple pie" fragrance and flavor -- the smell of a thousand scented-candle mall kiosks, the taste of truly loathsome things like flavored coffee and Jelly Bellies.
It's been so long since I've had good homemade apple pie that I forgot one thing: Apple pie is not "apple pie flavor." Apple pie doesn't have to be goopy. It can be juicy, lemony, with the spice mix in the background. It can unleash the awesome power of apples. And the aroma of apple pie baking in the oven is nothing like potpourri. Even though I have zero nostalgia for apple pie from my youth, it smelled homey and comfortable and -- well, just really, really nice.
Mental Myth #3: Apple pie is scary and difficult to make.
Status: Debunked. I was really worried about making my first apple pie for several reasons. For one thing, double-crust pie in general daunted me -- you have to pile everything onto unbaked dough, and I'm pretty used to parbaking a single pie crust so it keeps its shape. I was sure the crust would bake unevenly, or puff, or lose its crimps, or get soggy with all that juicy fruit weighing it down. But I was wrong! It turned out gorgeously.
I used the recipe from Cook's Illustrated -- it's behind a pay wall, but you can find an adaptation at Kitchen Space, and a similar crust recipe at Smitten Kitchen. (This crust recipe replaces some of the water with vodka, which doesn't develop gluten and so stays tender and is really easy to work with. But if you want the flakiest, tenderest crust, I suggest you give Alanna's crust tutorial at Kitchen Parade a whirl.)
The Cook's Illustrated recipe had two key components. First, the filling was thickened with flour, not cornstarch or tapioca, so it didn't have the goop factor I was fearing. Second, it fiddles with the temperature: When you preheat your oven -- to 500 degrees, place a clean baking sheet in there to heat up. When your pie is ready to go in, place it directly on the hot baking sheet and lower the temp to 425. Cook it for 25 minutes or so, until the crust gets golden, then turn down again to 375 to cook through, for about 40 minutes more. This keeps your bottom crust nice and crusty.
My other big worry was the fruit. I'm a cream/nut/custard pie person. I was very anxious that the double crust would cause the fruit to get too hot and boil over. I cut four vents into the top crust and there was indeed some juice boilover. But it would have been contained to the baking sheet if I hadn't gotten sloppy and not centered the pie on the sheet during my final rotation. So I did have some oven cleanup and lesson learned, but otherwise, this was a fun, and easy, pie.
Tomorrow in Apple Pie Lab, I'm going to experiment with cutout and lattice crusts, and try variations (l still need to throw my unused cranberries somewhere).
What's your favorite apple pie recipe? Do you have any apple pie tricks to share?
Have you seen all the pies I've blogged so far this month? I'm talking about pie every day in November at the Month of Pies archive.