If you don’t already know, I have suffered from 3 big baking fears: Cheesecake, Bread and Pie Crust. In a recent post, which you can read on my old blog site here, I noted that I had conquered fear #2 – bread (specifically, yeast bread). I successfully baked a loaf of cinnamon bread from scratch, and without the help of a stand mixer or bread machine.
Well, we were away on vacation last week in Central Oregon. The weather was not cooperating as we appear to be in some kind of extended winter here in Oregon. So, I did what any good baker would do under the circumstances, I baked. My goal was to bake at least 1 item every day to share with everyone on vacation. The cinnamon bread was one of the first. I was so pleased with the results, that I knew I had to try another one soon, while to muse was upon me. So, with a not quite complete kitchen at my disposal, I set out to complete the trifecta of baking fears – pie crust.
Now, I grew up eating one of the finest desserts I have ever had, even to this day. That is my grandmother’s apple pie. It wasn’t fancy, but it was wonderful. Of all the foods from my childhood, her apple pie carries more memories, more longing than anything else. Unfortunately she died at a relatively young age, so the chance to eat that pie again was gone with her. You see, no one else in the family could duplicate the recipe. They told me it wasn’t so much about the recipe itself (apparently clipped from a newspaper many years before), but it was about her technique. My grandfather and my mother, both attempted to recreate her pie, but just couldn’t do it. They mentioned the crust was the big part of the mystery. I was told how she would keep a bowl of ice water near her workspace to keep her hands as cold as possible while she worked with the dough. She didn’t have a food processor or a stand mixer to help her with the process. Everything she did, she did by hand.
Years have passed and while I’ve had some good apple pies in the 25 years since she passed away, none have compared with the taste and texture of hers. Flaky and tender, tart and lightly sweet, with apples cooked all the way through, though not mushy. She had it right – every time – she was consistent.
Not knowing for certain what recipe she really used, I did my research to learn about the best pie crusts. What I learned was that a combination of fats: butter and shortening, appeared to give the best results for texture and taste of the crust. And, as my grandmother obviously knew, I learned that keeping that fat solidified up to the point of baking was an absolute necessity for the final outcome. As for the filling, I knew it was simple, no fancy ingredients or flavors, just the basics. I also knew her favorite cooking apple was Granny Smith. Granny Smiths are available most of the year, hold up well during baking and are just the right amount of tart to offset the sugar in the pie.
I finally settled on a recipe from the Williams-Sonoma ‘Essentials of Baking’ Cookbook. I love this book. The photography is some of the best I’ve seen in a cookbook. Their instructions and step by step details are wonderful and easy to follow. Page 177 contains a recipe for Double-Crust Apple Pie. The ingredients seemed similar to the recipes I suspect are close to my grandmother’s recipe – simple, though the Brown Sugar, I suspect was not something she used – oh well, I need to have my own version anyway. On page 160, they have a recipe for Flaky Pie Crust, which includes instructions for preparation by hand, food processor or stand mixer (way to go Williams-Sonoma, nice touch). I set out to tackle my pie.
I followed everything very carefully, being certain to keep my butter and shortening as cold as possible. I prepared the recipe with a food processor, which I happened to have on hand. It came together rather well. I thought at first I had too many apples and they wouldn’t cook through. Not so, they were perfectly done. The crust was beautiful. Tender, flaky, tasty. My testers loved it. They wanted more. As for me, I can say this was the closest pie in flavor and texture to my grandmother’s I have tasted. It was tart, not too sweet, apples cooked perfectly. It took me back to her kitchen all those years ago where she and I would spend a quiet morning looking through the paper (the funnies for me, entertainment for her) while we sipped coffee and ate a piece of pie from the night before. I miss those times, but I think it helped to shape me a bit into the person I am today. I love quiet mornings over a cup of coffee and a pastry. Talking, reading, just enjoying the quite time of the day. Now I can a slice of that wonderful memory back again. She is missed, but once in a while, that wonderful little pie will brighten that memory again.
You can find the recipe on my page here: Double-Crust Apple Pie and Flaky Pie Pastry