Easy as Apple Pie

by Chef Nancy Berkoff, RD, EdD, CCE


So, what type of apples do you like? Green or golden, pink or red? Sugary sweet or puckery sour? And how do you like to eat your apples? Piping hot, baked with raisins and walnuts? Cold and crunchy, right from the refrigerator? Or do you prefer one of America’s favorite desserts, apple pie?

Baking fruit pies from scratch is one of the easier dessert tasks. Depending on your time and your equipment, you may elect to bake apple pies strictly from scratch or indulge in a little speed scratch.

APPLE VARIETIES

The first step to making a fresh, aromatic pie from scratch is to learn about the countless number of apple options. After all, the flavor of your apple pie will be decided by the variety of apple you select. If you’d like to stick with cooking apples, look for Rome, Granny Smith, or Pippins. Cooking varieties handle heat well, as they have more fiber and less juice. This allows them to hold their shape when being baked, sautéed, broiled, or microwaved.

Red Delicious are the good ol’ standbys of eating apples, but they can be cooked for a firm, rather than soft, pie filling. Mix the Red with the Golden for a change of pace. If you like the sweetness of Red Delicious, you’ll like Cameo (very sweet with a nice crunch), Fuji (sweet and crunchy), and Gala (a cross between a Golden Delicious and the New Zealand Orange Red). For a more rounded flavor, sweet with some overtones of tang, choose Braeburn, Pink Lady, or Jonagold. Look in farmers’ markets or specialty produce stores for heirloom or antique varieties, such as Maiden Blush, Winesap, or MacIntosh, or for fairly new varieties, such as Honeygold and its brand new cousin, Honeycrisp.

MAKING APPLES INTO PIE FILLINGS

Apple pies can range from simple and traditional to modern and fusion. You can use one type of apple, a mixture of sweet and tart apples, or apple and pear combinations. Filling add-ins can include dried cherries, golden raisins, currants, dried cranberries, and finely chopped nuts. Depending on the season, you may want to branch out to fresh pear, nectarine, peach, apricot, or plum pies. You can follow the apple instructions in this article, just adjusting cooking times for the ripeness or softness of your fruit.

A rule of thumb for filling a 9-inch pie crust is eight to nine medium apples, tossed with 3/4 cup vegan sugar and 1/4 cup all-purpose or whole wheat flour. Spices—which can include ground cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, clove, cardamom, lavender, ginger, and/or dried orange zest—should total one Tablespoon all together.

Slice peeled and cored apples into even slices that are no thicker than half an inch. Thin, uniform slices help to ensure even baking. If fresh apples aren’t available, you can use frozen, thawed apple slices. When you’re ready to bake, place approximately half of the apples into an unbaked bottom crust and dust with half of the vegan sugar, flour, and spice mixture. Top with the rest of the apples, and sprinkle them with the remaining sugar mixture.

PIE CRUSTS

A great pie filling needs a great pie crust. If you’d like to make your crust from scratch, be certain to follow these guidelines:

  • There are four ingredients in a crust—flour, fat, liquid, and salt. Flour is necessary to form the structure and bulk of the crust, fat adds moisture and helps to keep the crust flaky, liquid keeps the dough somewhat pliable, and salt enhances the flavor and browns the crust.
  • Before making crusts, chill the fat (vegan shortening or margarine) and the liquid (soymilk or water). Chilling will prevent the fat pieces from dissolving into the flour. Stir the flour and salt together in a large bowl. Cut the shortening into the dry mixture using a pastry cutter or by pinching the fat into the mixture with your hands. The resulting mixture should have fat lumps no smaller than peas.
  • Pour in the chilled soymilk or water, a small amount at a time, mixing gently with a fork until the dough is wet enough to be packed into a ball. The dough should be handled as little as possible to prevent the blending of all of the fat lumps, as a crust without fat lumps will become dense and hard.
  • Split the dough into two equal amounts, roll them into balls, and wrap them in plastic before placing them in the refrigerator. Chilling for at least 30 minutes will prevent the flour from absorbing the fat and give the crust a lighter texture when it is baked. Well-wrapped, chilled crust can last up to three days in the refrigerator.
  • Generously dust a clean, dry surface with flour and remove one of the packages of dough from the refrigerator. Flatten the dough slightly and dust the top of the dough with flour before rolling it out with a rolling pin or wooden dowel.
  • Start rolling at the center of the dough and work outwards. Some people prefer to do this between sheets of parchment or waxed paper or plastic wrap because it makes rolling and cleaning up easier.
  • Quickly roll the dough into a circle, either 1/4-inch or 1/8-inch thick. The size of the circle should be approximately four inches wider in diameter than the pie pan. You don’t want to overwork the dough, as you’ll lose some of the flakiness. Roll the dough only as much as is needed.
  • Position the dough in the pan correctly by folding the dough in half and then in half again to make quarters. Gently pick the dough up and place so that the center point is in the center of the pie pan. Unfold the dough in the pan, and it should be perfectly centered. If the dough cracks a little during this process, press it back together with your fingers or patch the cracks with a bit of dough from the outer edges.
  • Press the crust firmly into the pan and trim any excess dough from the edge. Leave a 1/2-inch flap of dough around the edge for fluting or later sealing on the top crust.

Once the pie is filled, you’ll want to top it with a second crust. To make a standard top crust, roll the dough out and lay it carefully over the pie. Seal its edges to the lower crust by using a small amount of water as an adhesive. Use your fingers to pinch the edges together.

If you’d like a latticework pie, follow the following steps:

  • On a lightly floured surface, roll refrigerated dough out to a 1/4-inch thickness.
  • Carefully cut the dough into strips approximately 1 inch wide, keeping all the dough strips the same width.
  • Moisten the edge of the pie with a small amount of water and begin laying the strips across the pie one at a time. Press the ends of the strips firmly to the edge of the pie and remove any excess length.
  • Once the pie has been covered with strips, the top can be brushed with a cinnamon-sugar combination. Your pie is ready to bake.

Tarte Tatin

Tarte Tatin is apple pie, all grown up and back from a Continental tour. It is really an upside down apple tart. As with many culinary discoveries, the Tatin is thought to have been a delightful accident. The story goes that Stephanie Tatin, half of a sister team running the Hotel Tatin in Beuvron, France, was having a bad kitchen day back in 1889.

She started to make a traditional apple pie but left the apples cooking in butter and sugar for too long. Smelling the burning, she tried to rescue the dish by putting the pastry base on top of the pan of apples and quickly finishing the cooking by placing the whole pan in the oven. After turning out the upside down tart, she was surprised to find how much the hotel guests enjoyed the dessert.

To create your own Tatin, peel some tart apples, such as Granny Smiths, rub them with lemon juice, halve them along their equators, and core them. Place slices of nonhydrogenated vegan margarine on the bottom of a pan that can handle the stove and the oven, and sprinkle with vegan sugar. Place the apples on top of the margarine and sugar, with their stem ends up, going round the pan.

Bring to a simmer on top of the stove. Keep cooking until a fragrant, light mahogany caramel bubbles up in between the apples. Then, place the pan into the oven and bake until the apples are tender. Remove the pan, and let the apples cool. Top with either your own pie dough or puff pastry, and return to the oven for 15 more minutes. Let the tart cool, and flip out onto a serving platter. You should have tender, caramel soaked apple halves and a crispy bottom crust. Top with a dollop of vegan whipped cream, and start dishing.

QUICK APPLE PIES

If you’d like to do a bit of hands-on baking but don’t feel like rolling out the pie crust or peeling apples, purchase frozen or refrigerated vegan pie crusts and canned apple pie filling. Vegan frozen or refrigerated crusts are time savers and ensure consistent quality. Toss the canned filling with your favorite aromatic spice blend and chopped walnuts, pecans, raisins, dried cranberries, or diced dried figs. Top with a second crust, with a crust cut into lattice strips, with streusel topping, or with a combination of vegan brown sugar and nonhydrogenated vegan margarine. Prepare ahead of time and refrigerate until ready to bake.

BAKING YOUR PIE

Preheat the oven to the temperature recommended in the recipe. If a recipe calls for the pie to go in at a high temperature first and to finish baking at a lower temperature, do it! The two-temperature method helps high-fat crusts be-come flaky and tender. Remember that convection ovens, those with a fan, bake approximately 25 degrees hotter than traditional, or conduction, ovens. Adjust temperatures accordingly.

Baking a pie with a raw fruit filling will take at least 30 minutes total cooking time. Apple and pear pies usually cook for approximately 45 minutes. Softer fruit, such as nectarines or plums, will probably take less time. If a canned filling is used, the pie will normally bake at a higher temperature for a shorter period of time to thoroughly bake the crust and heat the filling up. To check if the filling is done, insert a knife into the center of the pie. If there is no resistance, the pie is done. To check if the crust is done, insert a knife into the crust. If you feel the knife puncture the crust, it’s done. If the pie is not quite done but the top or edges are becoming too dark, loosely cover the top of the pie with aluminum foil to shield it from the heat.

When you remove the pie from the oven, place it on a rack. This allows even cooling so your pie won’t sag to one side. As the pie cools, the filling will settle, and the top will even out.

Don’t even attempt to cut hot pies. Your pies should cool to room temperature before your serve them. And never reheat pie in a microwave. Microwave ovens will make the crust soggy. If you want to reheat pie, use a broiler or a very hot (425 degrees), preheated oven.

Accessorize Your Pie

Apple pie can stand well on its own, but a little bit of company will enhance it even more.

  • À La Mode — Top hot or warm pie with a generous scoop of spicy cinnamon-flavored vegan ice cream or lemon and ginger sorbet.
  • With a Dollop — Top warm or cold pie with whipped silken tofu flavored with vanilla, rum, orange, almond, ginger, or lavender extracts.
  • Cheese, Please — Serve pie in a pool of vegan cheese sauce, topped with melty shredded vegan cheese, or accompanied by a petite wedge.A La Mode or Cheese ….which is your favorite?  Give me ice cream first, I think!  I love cheese with crackers.  Which did you have with yor apple pie?   Mary

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