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What do you make on New Year’s Morning?

Apple pie for New Year's Day

If you’re me–as I was, this morning, and will be until I can find someone better and clearly cooler to be–you make pie to take for a brunch at the house where a childhood friend is visiting. We had a great visit at her mother-in-law’s and my daughter got to meet my friend’s kids and trade rolled eyes while us uncool parents hung out and swapped tales of child-raising woe and pride–all the usual things.

But this morning–there’s no denying it–was a little rough. I got up about two hours later than I’d hoped to, after worrying much of last night about what kind of fool was I to offer to bring apple pie for 15 when I’d never made an actual apple pie before, just pumpkin pie and various apple cobblers–which probably wouldn’t add up to the same thing. And my friend and her husband are the “accomplished cook” sort of couple that makes such a gambit even riskier. Sort of like going to that 30th class reunion, only crossed with a cook-off. I’m not southern enough to enjoy the prospect very gracefully.

So at 9 a.m. I was up, cranky, and snarling (effectively, as it turns out) at my nearest and dearest that if they wanted breakfast they were on their own; I had pie to figure out and only about 2 hours or so to do it in before we had to leave, and maybe I could be convinced to brew coffee after the pies were in the oven, but until then they were cordially invited to seek out the Starbucks and leave me to my fate. Which was about a pound of flour, 3 1/2 sticks of butter, 3/4 cup of sugar, some cinnamon and cloves and 11 huge Granny Smith apples.

I think I made more dough than I’ve ever made before in one recipe–double crust for two pies. Only other double-crust pie I’ve ever made was the medieval tart for my daughter’s class a month or so ago (and I was panicked enough that she had to remind me that it had worked out fine, so what was the big deal?).

When you scale up like that, will your recipe still work? will it be too tough or uneven? too dry? too stretchy? will it roll out right? –too much worrying for one morning before benefit of caffeine, I’ll tell you that.

I had actually checked out about 5 different baking books to compare notes on dough and apples and how much sugar for how many apples–and on and on. You will say–correctly–that I probably shouldn’t have bothered. Apple pie has got to be one of the big basics, and despite the fact that every one of the books had about the same ratios, none of them were exactly alike, and they all looked fine.

I don’t usually get like this, and if it had been an apple crisp, I certainly wouldn’t have worried about any recipes at all. But pie. Pie is a standard, and apple pie even more of a standard. Everyone knows what it’s supposed to look and taste like. It’s the only food Americans really get French about.

There’s nothing to do about that, except to take the chance and pick your friends wisely, so they’ll be thrilled you brought a homemade pie or two. Which is what I did. And it turned out much better than I had any right to expect. So if you’ve never tried it, and you actually like apple pie–this is not bad. Not bad at all.

The only other hidden wisdom in this post is how to schlep your pies, still hot, across Los Angeles at noon on New Year’s Day. Think Priority Mail ™–the USPS’s mid-sized flatpack box is just about right for a single seriously wrapped pie and will keep the now-puffed top layer of dough safe (or relatively safe) from caving in. I just hope that’s not an unauthorized use. I’d hate to be accused of tampering with the mails after tampering with Apple Pie.

Two pies up, one galette down.... Must be crazy to tackle this before coffee

Here’s the real recipe for 2 double-crust pies plus a little spare-parts galette from the dough scraps and leftover apples…

Two and a Half Fairly Decent Apple Pies (2.5…it’s a nice round number)

Dough:

  • 5 c. flour (600-ish g.) (say 2 c. flour if making only one pie)
  • 3 1/2 sticks cold butter in big 1/2″ dice (a little more than 1 stick, maybe 1 1/3, for 1 pie)
  • 2 T sugar (1 T)
  • pinch or so salt (same)
  • pinch baking soda (same or leave it out)
  • 1/2 c. cold water (maximum; use as little as will make the dough stick together as a dough) (1/4 c. for 1 pie)

Filling:

  • 10-11 large (4 inch diameter) Granny Smith or other sturdy and reasonably tart apples, about 7-8 lbs (4-5 apples at about 3-4 lbs would work for one pie)
  • 3/4 c. sugar if you want it moderately-to-lightly sweet; 1 1/4 and up if you want it like the syrupy commercial kind  (1/2-3/4 c. for 1 pie)
  • 3-4 T flour (2 T for 1 pie)
  • 1/2 t. cinnamon (1/4 t. per pie if you want it medium or 1/2 t. for really strong cinnamon, which is too much for us)
  • pinch or two of ground cloves or allspice
  • good squeeze of lemon juice (1/2 big lemon or 1 sm. lemon)
  • Sprinkling of sugar with or without eggwash for the pie top
  • flour for rolling out the dough

1. Make pie dough. Note to self–DON’T try to fit it all in the food processor at the same time–do it in batches; about half the flour mixture and half the butter at a time. Yeesh. Pulse flour mixture and butter cubes for each batch just until the butter is the size of corn kernels (this description is from David Lebovitz’s Ready for Dessert and makes the most sense of the ones I’ve seen), then combine the batches in a big bowl. Sprinkle on a few spoonfuls of water from a measured half-cup and squeeze the dough crumbs together just a few times to knead the water in. Sprinkle again as needed and squeeze again, just until the dough becomes dough. Then divvy it up into 4ths, put the pieces in plastic bags and freeze about 1/2 hr. Meanwhile…

2. Peel, core and cut up way too many apples in quarter-to-half-inch-thick wedges. Use a huge salad bowl so you have room to mix in the other ingredients just before they go in the pan.

Go ahead and preheat the oven to 375F.

3. Roll out the four pieces of dough fairly thinly to about 15″ circles (I use plastic wrap for rolling–it’s easier to roll out dough between two sheets of it and peel it off into the pan). Lay the two bottom rounds in the pans, press the dough down into the corners of each pan, prick a few times with a fork and cut off most of the overhang at the outside edges. Save the scraps to reroll for a littler open-face pie or tart with any leftover apples.

4. Sprinkle the sugar on the apples in the huge work bowl (more if you like it sweeter–3/4 c. was actually “just sweet enough”, not diner-style syrupy), add the flour and spices and squeeze on the juice of half a big lemon. Mix everything with your hands until it looks right and all the apple slices have a decent coating of cinnamon-sugary grit on them.

5. Mound the apples up in the bottom crusts to about twice as high as the top of each pan–maybe 4 inches high in the middle, no kidding. Basically as high as you can pile them without them skidding back down. If this is the first time you’ve done this, it’s gonna look so wrong, but trust me, it does cook down to something sane.

6. Now for the top layer of dough. Lay the other two rounds of dough over the apples in each pan, stretching just a little so the dough covers everything tightly and reaches the edges of the pan. Pinch the top together with the outside edge of the bottom crust (crimp with fingers or a fork if you’re in a decorative mood). Then make a few decorative cuts in the tops, sprinkle on a little sugar, and put the pans on a cookie sheet or foil to catch any drips during baking.

6b. Make the little spare galette by rolling the scraps out thinly to another pie-sized circle, lay it on heavy foil or a baking tray and put on the last handful or so of apples. Turn up the edges of the galette and if burned edges on the apples bother you, lay a piece of tinfoil loosely over the pie, otherwise put the galette in the fridge to wait or the oven to bake with the “real” pies.

7. Bake for about 45 minutes at 375F, or until the pies start to smell good, the juices are thickened and brown, and the pastry is a fairly decent golden brown. The juices may actually foam up a bit through the slits in the pie tops–don’t panic, it’s no big deal (unless you confused flour with dish detergent, but you wouldn’t do that, I know you wouldn’t).

8. Take the pans out of the oven carefully and let the pies cool down as much as you can before wrapping them. You may find, as I did, that the top crusts remain puffed and domed and that the apples have fallen inside. Apparently this is just fine. None of us were too scared to eat them.

CARB COUNTS: With 3/4 c. sugar for the filling and 2.5 pies completed, maybe 1/10 of a double-crust pie, about a 2″ wedge, is about 50 g. carb. Seemed about right today.

Happy New Year!

Spare-parts apple galette made from the dough scraps and extra apples for full-fledged pies

2 Responses

  1. I salute you. Pie is the one thing I fear to make. There is a deficiency in my family of the pie crust gene. I can barely make pre-made ones work.

    But the Priority Mail box is a good tip.

    • Happy New Year and fear not the pie. You think any of my relatives ever made pie? From scratch?! My mother learned her mother’s secret early: buy it at the store, take off the plastic and cardboard bits and heat it up. My grandmother used to cheat even more by putting cheddar cheese on top and melting it–she was a ’40s kind of gal, I guess, but I was mystified as an eight-year-old watching her do it and still am. I only tried to tackle homemade pie dough because 1) I’ve always hated the memory of scooping Crisco from a can in my mother’s kitchen and 2) the idea of the flattened butter melting away and leaving layers as the dough bakes seemed so cool when I was a kid. I must have seen “Snow White” too many times–everyone else is fixated on the dwarves and the Evil Queen; I always wonder how she could make pie and not have the health inspectors shut her down for having the woodland creatures helping out without washing their beaks or hooves or claws first…

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