“There are few things as American as apple pie, as the saying goes, but like much of America’s pie tradition, the original apple pie recipes came from England.” Time Magazine, A Brief History of Pie. But pie as we know it today is truly American. The medieval English made meat pies with lamb, beef, duck, and venison. They were sometimes encased in a dough-like crust to “preserve” the contents.
Although the Pilgrims did not actually have pumpkin, pecan, and apple pies at the first Thanksgiving in 1621, they did use “dried fruit, cinnamon, pepper and nutmeg to season their meats.” Sweet, fruit pies became more popular as the colonies grew and expanded.
Today, not only has our apple variety increased, but our apple pie varieties are countless. There are slab pies (yum), hand pies (mmm), fried pies (yummo), deep dish pies (*sigh*)–the list goes on. So what kind of apples are best for all these different delights? Not every apple is made equally, at least in terms of baking. I usually use Granny Smith apples, because they are very crisp and hold their shape well during baking. Here is a list of some other good apple options to try. Let me know what your favorites are!
Every year since my parents have been in The James Lee House, we have had a Christmas open house the weekend of Thanksgiving. The first year, we (myself, my mom, my dad, and Nathaniel) each made a different cheesecake for the event. This year, we decided to do pies! There are an endless number of pies to choose from, but surprisingly, there aren’t THAT many options when it comes to fall/winter pies outside of your typical pecan, pumpkin, and apples pies.
Nathaniel made a pumpkin pie that was to die for! I usually think all pumpkin pies taste the same and aren’t very exciting, but the flavor profile in this pie is so rich with ginger, cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg (and the sweetened condensed milk helped too).
I decided to make apple pie for our Christmas open house this year *gasp*. (I know you didn’t see that coming!) Most apple pies are pretty similar…..in their ingredients anyway. I went back to basics with this recipe and stuck to what I know is best, The Joy of Cooking. The crust recipe in this book is the one and only way to go. It is flawless and perfectly flaky using both butter and Crisco (the savior of Southern cooking–I’m talking about you, fried chicken). There are two baking options for apple pies in this book. The first is baking the pie with raw apples, and the second option is to cook the apples first and then put them in the crust to bake. The reason to cook the apples first is to ensure a snug seal between the crust and the filling, rather than an air pocket that often forms between the raw apples and crust as the pie cooks.
The only addition I made to the recipe from The Joy of Cooking was that I used 1/2 tsp of cinnamon and a 1/2 tsp of cardamom. If you want to get fancy with apple pie, start tampering with the usual spices. I love the aroma and subtle longing the cardamom gives. It’s just enough to be different and just little enough that it still tastes like the apple pie you know and love. (Oh, and I also did an egg wash for a pretty, glistening crust. 1 egg yolk plus 1 tbsp water. The crust turned brown quickly, so I covered the pie with foil after about 20 minutes through the rest of the cooking time.)
I usually don’t get fancy with pie crusts, but I’ve been seeing so many gorgeous pies on Instagram that I decided to get fancy. It’s Christmas time! Time to get fun and fancy free.
Basic Pie or Pastry Dough
adapted from The Joy of Cooking
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup chilled shortening
7 tbsp cup cold unsalted butter
Cut the butter and shortening into the flour mixture with a pastry blender (or 2 knives) or work it in lightly with the tips of your fingers until the dough has the consistency of small peas. Sprinkle the dough with:
6 tbsp ice-cold water
Blend the water gently into the dough until it just holds together.
Divide the dough in half, shape each into a disk, and wrap in plastic wrap. Dough can be made a day ahead or kept in the freezer for up to two weeks. If frozen, take out of the freezer to thaw before using.
On a floured surface, roll the dough from the center out in all directions. in order to keep the dough in a circular shape, each stroke should be a quarter-turn or so from the one that preceded it. Flip the disk over every few passes and re-flour the surface to keep from sticking to the surface or tearing. Roll the dough into a circle roughly 3 to 4 inches larger than your pan.
Transfer the rolled dough to the pan by rolling it loosely around the pin, centering the pin over the pan, and then unrolling the dough.
Trim the edges of the dough with a small paring knife, leaving an overhang of 3/4 inch.
adapted from The Joy of Cooking
Position a rack on the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 425ºF. Peel, core, and slice 1/4 inch thick:
2 1/2 pounds apples (5 to 6 large)
Combine apples in a bowl with:
3/4 cup sugar
2 to 3 tbsp all-purpose flour (used for thickening)
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/8 tsp salt
Let stand for 15 minutes, stirring several times, so that the apples soften slightly. Pour the filling into the bottom crust and gently arrange the apples to be as level as possible.
Cover the pie with the upper crust, trimming and folding the overhang under both layers. Crimp the crust with either a fork or using your fingers to create a scalloped edge. If covering with the full crust, make 3 slits (or use a cookie cutter) in the top crust with a sharp knife for ventilation. If you want a shiny, golden crust, brush with 1 egg yolk mixed with 1 tbsp of water.
Place the pie on a cookie sheet (to ensure cooking the bottom crust evenly), and bake for 30 minutes. (If the crust seems to already be the color you desire, cover the pie with foil to protect it from burning.) After 30 minutes, reduce the oven temperature to 350ºF, and bake until the fruit feels tender when a knife is poked through a steam vent and the juices have begun to bubble through the vents, 30-45 minutes more.
The pie is best the day it is baked, but it can be kept at room temperature for 2-3 days.