[ Modest ] Make

Day 42: As American as Apple 3.14159…
11 October, 2009, 11:22 pm
Filed under: dessert, masterlist | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Item 26: apple pie (with lattice crust)


Long time no see! Ugh, life has a way of sneaking up on you and disrupting your blogging and cooking schemes. And by “life” I meant parents visiting and treating me to various restaurant and home-cooked meals. No complaints there! In fact, I learned a few tricks and tips from my mom, who’s a fabulous cook, that will come in handy for future cooking endevours.

Unfortunately, the one thing my mom cannot teach me is pie-making. Pie is a pretty foreign concept in Chinese cuisine and my mom didn’t growing eating or making it. So we did not have the luxury of inheriting a fantastic pie dough recipe. But everybody I know (and strangers on the internet) have been raving about the Cook’s Illustrated vodka dough recipe. With apples in season, and a Canadian Thanksgiving dinner to host, now’s the best time to tackle the apple pie on my list.

(Sidenote: Speaking of Cook’s Illustrated, do you know America’s Test Kitchen is located in Brookline? I know because I’d creepily [read: pathetically] poke my head around the area every so often, hoping for a glimpse of Chris Kimball, back when I was living in Boston. True story.)

vodka pie dough

As you can tell from this picture, the secret ingredient in the CI pie dough recipe is vodka! Don’t worry, the pie crust is not boozy at all. The alcohol provides the necessary moisture to bind the flour and butter, but unlike water, it will inhibit gluten formation (the thing that results in tough pie crust.) The vodka will completely evaporate during the baking process. Vodka is flavourless, so its presence won’t affect the flavour of the crust. Alton Brown has an apple pie recipe that uses apple jack instead of vodka. The basic idea is the same though.

Another key is to use COLD butter. You’ll end up with a shortbread mix if you’re not careful and overwork the butter into melted lumps. I used a pastry cutter and I was careful to not touch the dough. (Your hands are warm enough to soften the butter. If you really have to  touch the dough, you can cool down your hands slightly by running them under cold water.) I blended my flour/butter mixture until I ended up with flecks of butter the size of cottage cheese. Then I added the vodka and water.

lattice top

Difficulty: There’s a reason why people are willing to pay $9.99 for cold, half-stale pies at the grocery store. Because pies are not easy. At all. It’s tedious. I had to make the dough ahead of time and chill it before I can roll it out. The apples had to be peeled, cored, sliced, soaked in lemon juice, properly drained, seasoned … before they go into the pie. Pick up the wrong kind of apples and your pie ends up with an applesauce filling. It’s doable, but it’s time consuming and requires a lot of planing ahead.The dough is definitely the most finicky element and my arm is still sore from blending the cold butter into the dough. But having the proper dough recipe certainly helps.

Room for Improvement: I baked the pie at 400F for 30 minutes, and then reduced it to 350F for 40 minutes. The pie crust was great straight out of the oven. But it’s a little on the hard side once it cooled. I’ll reduce the second half to 30 minutes if I ever make this pie again.

The pie in the background is a store bought pumpkin pie.

The pie in the background is a store bought pumpkin pie.

Tastiness: I used a mixture of Northern Spy, Cortland and Gala apples for the filling. Aside from peeling far too many apples (I have enough leftovers to make a full recipe of apple crumble), I’m happy with the mix. People online complained that cortlands can get a bit mushy, and I agree. But I like a mixture of firm and mushy apples in my pie. Cortlands also have a floral, fruity aroma when fresh. But that was no longer noticeable after I added the other apples and spices. If you want to simplify things and use only one type of apple, I’d recommend northern spy. It’s a firmer apple that delivers a bright tang. Remember to adjust the quantity of lemon juice according to the variety of apple(s) you choose.

Worth the effort? Somewhat. I’m not a big pie person. This is delicious and worth making if you have company over or if you have to bring something impressive-looking for a potluck. But this pie serves 8—or 12+ if your dinner guests have been tearing into a Thanksgiving meal of appetizers, soup, salads, roast chicken and sides and simply have no room left for dessert—which is a lot of pie for someone who lives on her own.

Items I purchased specifically for this recipe: tart pan with removable bottom and a rolling pin.


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[…] none of that bitter pith at all. It was a godsend when I needed to peel all the apples for my apple pie and apple butter. For this recipe I just laid a few strips together and then sliced them into thin […]

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