ack before being a loud and abrasive British chef got you a t.v. show, I worked in a hotel kitchen for just such a crazy Brit. I admit that he is still one of the best pastry chefs I had ever met, but at the time I wanted to slap him every time he stormed into the kitchen freaking out about the soufflé batter or the pie pastry.
That is where my pie journey began and has continued to evolve over the past twenty years. I can’t even believe it’s been that long and I’m not even counting any of the pseudo pies I passed off as acceptable when I was a teenager.
Every year since then I’ve been adapting, honing and modifying my process for making pies. I want to share some of the best techniques that I’ve learned about pie making and for today, I’ll focus on the apple pie, which is my favourite and happens to be perfect in the fall.
I prefer butter to lard or shortening. In short, butter makes a crisp crust that has a delicious sweet flavour and shortening makes a short or flaky crust this is too tender for a double sided pie. Some people like to combine the two but I prefer both the texture and the taste of just butter with the apples.
I like a combination of all purpose and pastry flour at a ratio of about 3 : 1 . Just all purpose flour will also work, but pastry flour alone will yield a pastry that is too soft. No matter what I am making I always chose unbleached flour because who wants to eat bleaching agents ? Mmmm, bleaching agents.
When making the dough, I always use ice water and cut the butter into little squares, that are very thin and chill them in the freezer while I’m measuring the rest of the ingredients. Then I work as quickly as possible to toss in the water with a fork. The key is to work as quickly as possible and not fondle the dough. It has to be said. The pastry must be chilled at least 30 minutes before rolling and 30 minutes after rolling for crisp results. So if you’re in a hurry, apple pie is not the thing to make.
I have made my best apples pies with Mutsu aka Crispin, Spy and/or a combination of these two varieties. The bottom line is, you want an apple that is firm but crisp with a slightly tangy finish. Some people find the Crispin a bit too tart for them but I love it. I peel, core and cut it into eighths , then into thin slices. The dilemma of the gap between the pastry and apples is just chemistry- the pastry begins to set before the apples fully cook and as they continue to cook and steam escapes, they keep falling inside the pie. I reduce that by slicing the apples thinly , so they soften more quickly. I’m not a fan of precooking the apples and thickening with starch or flour to prevent the gap. I also make sure I mound them super high and press them firmly down before sealing the top layer on.
The spice accents sweetness of the pie, are also up to you. If you follow my advice, your pie will not be too sweet or spicy but the apples will be the star. My mouth is watering right now at the thought of my next apple pie.
Let me know how yours turns out or if I can help trouble shoot.