As summer comes to an end and we move through fall, I watch the weather to decide when to harvest the apples from my Granny Smith tree. Just before the first freeze, the apples display deep magenta blush patches from absorbing long hours of sunshine. I like to leave the apples on for a late harvest when possible, because this allows them to be even sweeter and have a more distinctive flavor. Growing your own apples is super easy if you live in an area with the correct climate. This year I had a bumper crop, so I’m making pies for my family and neighbors. The tree I planted about six years ago will be large enough next season to make apple cider, something that I’ve been looking forward to for a long time.
Choosing your Apples
While I am using Granny Smith, it is not the only apple suitable for pie making. I sometimes use a mix of apple varieties to make an even more unique and flavorful pie. Some of the best apples are Cortland, Northern Spy, Braeburn, Ginger Gold, Hudson’s Golden Gem, Calville Blanc d’Hiver, Roxbury Russet and Mutsu. This is by no means a complete list of apples, and may differ from those available where you live, but look for an apple that is dense and not easily bruised. Softer apples, which are light and airy tend to break down and turn to mush when baked for a prolonged time.
Another key to making a great pie, is to have a great crust. A light, flaky crust that can absorb and hold the apples when they started to soften (and in some cases break down) is paramount to a great pie. Keeping everything cold is very important when it comes to “cutting in the butter” or fat into the flour. Although you can do this all by hand, I own a food processor which is useful in distributing the fats into the butter more uniformly.
First, I will freeze the processor blade, along with the lard and shortening after cutting them into smaller pieces. If you do not have access to fresh, un-hydrogenated lard, you can substitute a mix of unsalted butter and shortening if you wish. Why use lard at all? Quite simply, lard tastes better. Since I only make a fresh pie crust like this, three or four times a year, using lard is not a problem.
The next step, is to keep the water I’m using ice-cold. I will measure out one to two cups of water and ice cubes. From this, I will add the water I need to the mix.
Lastly, when you bring the dough together in a food processor, use the pulse feature and only process until the ingredients are mixed. Over-mixing can cause the dough to become too hard. Now, if you don’t have the time to make a crust from scratch, there are some half decent frozen pie shells in almost everyone’s grocery store. Just be aware it will not be as good as making it yourself. I’ve done this when I had only 15 minutes of prep time to make three apple pies. They still turned out great, but to me there is nothing better than a homemade crust. The pictures in this recipe are using a store-bought crust, but I have included the crust recipe for a homemade one below (without pictures).
For the pie topper, you can easily double up the crust recipe to form the second pastry dough topper. Just pinch the edges together and cut some slats out of the top pie crust to let out the excess steam. Don’t forget to brush the pastry dough crust on top with an egg or milk wash, so that it bakes to a golden brown. For this recipe I like to use a streusel topping made with butter, sugar and flour. This topping will allow you to over-stuff the pie with fruit, and allow for the excess steam to escape. In my opinion, it makes the pie a little more interesting since it is a whole new texture, and lends a little more flavor than a plain pastry dough topper. Try baking this pie with each type of topping to see which you prefer.
This recipe gives the time of 1 hour at 350 degrees. This was done in a convection oven. For a regular oven, also bake the pie for 1 hour at 350 degrees. You will notice that the pie is cooked, but the streusel topping is still a little pale. To solve this, increase the temperature to 450 degrees after the initial baking process. The streusel topping should be golden brown in 15-20 minutes. Since every oven is slightly different, keep a close eye on the pie during this process to make sure it does not burn.
Harvest Time Apple Pie
The first apple pie recipe ever recorded was by Geoffrey Chaucer in 1381 in England. The pie included apples, figs, raisins and pears, but no sugar. The Dutch version from the 16th century features a recipe more closely aligned to this one, and includes lemon juice, cinnamon and sometimes raisins. Regardless of who actually invented the dish, I think this version will be one of your favorites. Likewise, while this pie is extremely tasty on it's own, if you would like to Gild the Lily, a scoop of vanilla ice cream makes it even more luxurious.
Homemade Pie Crust or best store bought pie crust you can find.
- 1 3/4 cups cake flour, sifted
- 1/3 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 6 tbsp lard, cut into pieces and frozen for 20 minutes If you prefer you can substitute butter
- 3 tbsp shortening, cut into pieces and frozen for 20 minutes
- 2 tbsp egg, liquid or beaten until it's not stringy
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- 5 tbsp water, cold from sitting in ice cubes
- 4 oz unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1/3 cup sugar, granulated
- 1/3 cup brown sugar, packed
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 1 1/2 cups cake flour If you do not have cake flour you can substitute all-purpose flour
Apple Pie Filling
- 9 whole apples, granny smith or a combination of baking apples Peeled, cored and sliced about 8-10 cups
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- 2 tbsp flour
- 2 tbsp cornstarch
- 3/4 cup sugar, granulated
- 1 tsp cinnamon, ground
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg, ground
- 1/4 tsp allspice
- 1 tbsp rum
- 1/8 tsp salt
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 tbsp butter, cut into small pieces
For the crust, add all of the dry ingredients and lard + shortening to a food processor. Pulse the food processor for a few seconds until the fat is cut into the flour.
Once the lard and shortening have been incorporated, add the beaten egg and the lemon juice. Pulse to incorporate.
Add 2-3 tbsp of the ice-cold water to the dough. Pulse briefly to incorporate. Add the remaining tbsp of cold water and pulse to mix in.
Turn the pie dough onto a clean working surface, and pull the flour together. Have a small amount of flour nearby as well as the ice water. The absorption of the flour will vary, so you may need to add a little flour if it is slightly sticky, or a little water if it is too dry to come together.
Form the dough into a flat round circle, about 3/4 inch thick. Dust with just a small amount of flour, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate. Do not overwork the dough. Let the dough rest in the refrigerator approximately 45 minutes to an hour.
After the dough has rested, roll out a 13 inch circle on a lightly floured work surface, for a standard sized pie pan. (Be sure to flour your rolling pin first if it is wooden as opposed to marble.) Check to see if the dough is sticking underneath. If it is, add a pinch of flour so it will release from the work surface. One the dough has been rolled out to cover the pie pan, carefully roll it around the rolling pin and then unroll it over the pie pan. Gently lift the dough to fit down into the pan while lightly pushing it into place.
Take a fork and lightly prick the bottom of the crust all over. With a pair of scissors or knife, trim all but about a half inch of the dough from the side of the pie pan. Pinch together the excess on the rim with your fingers to create a nice edge around the dough to finish.
For the streusel topping, add all of the ingredients to a stand mixer on low. If you don't have one, you can easily use your hands. Mix the butter, sugar, and cinnamon together thoroughly. It's that easy. Reserve until you need it.
Apple Pie Filling and Baking instructions
Preheat a convection oven to 350 degrees. If you have a regular oven please see Recipe Notes!
Peel, core and slice the apples. Once you slice a few apples, toss with a little lemon juice to keep the fruit from oxidizing. Continue until you have all the apples prepped in a large mixing bowl and toss with the remaining lemon juice.
Add all of the remaining ingredients, except the butter. Toss the spices, sugars, and flours with the apples until the mixture is thoroughly combined.
Sprinkle the bottom of the ready-made or homemade pie crust, with a little of the streusel topping. Add 1/3 of the sliced apples and dot with a few pats of butter. Sprinkle all of this again with a little streusel topping. Add the remaining apples to the pie shell. The apples should be piled high.
Set the pie onto a sheet pan, and using both hands, add the streusel topping and pack it around the pie. Continue packing the streusel topping around the mound of apples until it is completely covered.
Remove the pie briefly from the sheet pan, and pour off excess streusel topping back into it's bowl. Once the sheet pan is cleaned, returned the pie to the sheet pan and place into a preheated 350 degree convection oven for one hour.*
Bake the pie for one hour and look for the streusel topping to start turning golden brown. Some apple juice may boil over the pie, but this is fine.
Once the pie is cooked, remove it from the oven and allow to cool to room temperature before slicing. If you slice the pie while it is hot, the filling will ooze out.
*The 1 hour baking time is for a convection oven. If you are using a traditional oven, increase the temperature to 450 after 1 hour. The pie should get golden brown in about 15-20 minutes, but keep a close eye on the progress so you don't burn the topping.