Things a Monkey Could Cook: Good Old Apple Pie

Well this week a very special pie-lover we know did us a major favor, and so my daughter and I knew it was time to crank out a really tasty treat in return....

And then—knowing that this Lancelot is partial to fresh fruit, but it being still a bit too early in the year for us to afford truly fresh—we turned without hesitation to that good old-fashioned pile of apples now ever-present in your average American groceteria.

Back to basics, I say, when seeking crowd-pleasers.

Good Old Apple Pie

  • approximately 6 cups thinly sliced apples
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon butter

Now it's your call on the amount of sugar you want/need to add, since no two apples are the same. You'll have to taste yours and decide; while this time of year their sweetness is more likely to be waning.

However, be advised that  I've already cut it way back by the standards of my old cookbooks. I also cut back on the butter, but I just have to put a bit in there or I miss it.

Compromise is queen.

Beginner tip: Buy more apples than you think you'll need, since you never know what lurks inside; while I used seven fairly large apples to make this pie.

Peel, core, and slice the apples as thinly as possible; and it helps to be good with a knife here, since it's the key to getting those apples nice and tender inside your pie before the outside is too dark.

Put them into a roomy bowl and add the sugar, flour, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Mix well, breaking up the apples even more as you go.

Let them stand while you make piecrust.

Pie Crust

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 cup shortening
  • ½ cup ice cold water

Now two things are essential to remember when making pie crust: you must measure accurately and you must cultivate a light touch, as over-handling develops the gluten—just like when you knead bread—and correspondingly toughens the finished product.

Also, before the days of hydrogenated shortening, cooks out on the farm actually chose to use lard because it made their crust so flaky; while those wary of shortening might instead agree with the spirit of Julia Child, who’d probably be quick to argue that starting with a properly chilled slab of premium butter is really the only way….

Combine the flour and salt with a sifter for best results, or mix them together with a fork; and if you’re a beginner and really serious about baking, I’d invest in a sifter.

Cut in the shortening with a pastry cutter or two knives—rubbing their surfaces together to blend the ingredients, just until your mixture resembles coarse meal.

The tiny bits of shortening that remain contribute to the flakiness—to the point where some say that a food processor can really blend the dough too well for this type of pastry; so if you really love pie and other sinfully delicious shortening-laden delights, you’d also better break down and buy a pastry cutter: a fist-sized handle, with U-shaped wires suspended from it, that’s not very expensive.

Sprinkle the water over the mixture one tablespoon at a time, mixing rapidly with a fork until the dough forms a ball.

Divide the dough in half.

Lightly shape and smooth one of the balls of dough with your hands until it feels truly cohesive, and then pat it into a smooth, flat round.

Roll the dough on a well-floured surface into a circle that’s 2 inches larger than the diameter of your 8 or 9-inch pie pan—starting from the center, and lifting the pin slightly upon reaching the edge. Turn it over at least once during the process, being sure to keep the surface—and possibly your rolling pin, if it’s wooden—well-floured. Even-up the edges as you go, but don't worry if it's not perfectly round, because you’ll be able to redistribute it a little bit after it's in the pan.

Fold the rolled crust gently in half. Lift it carefully into the pie pan and unfold. Press it firmly, without stretching, into the pan—from the center out—to get rid of air pockets.

Even-up the pastry around the rim; and if your circle is really off, you may need to trim it with a knife, while whatever you trim off should be kneaded back into the other ball of dough.

Pour the apple mixture into your awaiting shell.

Cut the tablespoon of butter into little dots and distribute them evenly all over the surface of the apples.

Roll out the second ball of dough a bit smaller than the first, and then lay this second crust on top of the fruit. Tuck the edge of this upper crust under the edge of the bottom crust and pinch to seal them. Then some cooks press this edge with a fork into a decorative pattern, while others flute it with their fingertips into the wavy pattern you see pictured here.

Make several little slits in the upper crust or prick it generously with a fork, to let the steam escape as it bakes; while at this point some may wish to cover just the edge of their crust with a band of foil to keep it from getting too dark.

However, I did this one without the collar—partly because I wanted to show you what it looks like if you don't. So it's once again your call, but if your fruit's not all that tender or this pie looks a little bit too dark around the edges for your taste, you might want to use the foil for the first half of the baking period.

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.

Bake in the center of the oven for about 40 minutes—until juice begins to bubble up through the steam vents and the crust is very brown.

And if you've enjoyed this recipe, you might care to click here to download my cookbook for free, where those hungry for entertainment might also care to sample some of my fiction as well.

Enjoy!

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