So I made an apple pie, but not just any apple pie. The apple pie of my life. And that’s because of one beautiful thing: the PERFECT PIE CRUST. I have spent a good part of my life’s leisure time attempting – without success – to make that elusive crust that is both flavorful (butter) and manageable (vegetable shortening). A tender flake is also a must and this crust delivers there too.
Three essential ingredients have emerged from this process: almost equal parts butter and vegetable shortening + VODKA. Apparently, vodka tenderizes like vinegar, without an aftertaste. Also, in a chilly state, the vodka also buys you more time to work with the dough before things get messy. I should have guessed alcohol would make my personal pie party a hit!
This revelation was delivered to me at yet another cooking class, taught by Nicole Frickle. This time at the Kitchen Engine, a local cooking specialty shop that offered a class focused on pies alone (insert pure giddiness at this discovery). We made the magical pie crust in class, and used the crust for a basic pumpkin and a lovely cranberry crumble-topped apple. But those recipes are for another day. Today, I present to you a non-soggy, Good Ol’ Double Crust American Apple Pie. Nothing fancy or frilly, except perhaps the gigantic air holes, that were meant to be simple and cute, but appear a bit more like I mistook the top crust for a slice of swiss cheese.
So now – without further ado – the recipe as it was presented to me (with slight variation):
Nicole’s Pie Crust
2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter
1/2 cup cold vegetable shortening (plain, not butter flavor)
1/4 cup cold vodka (the cheap stuff, the alcohol burns off while the pie bakes)
1/4 cup cold water
Makes enough for 1 double crust 9 inch pie. Keep the vodka in the freezer until just before you are ready to use. Keep the butter and shortening in the refrigerator until just before you are ready to use. Cube the butter as small as you can with a sharp knife (or grate the butter in a cheese grater, a great technique), and then place the flour, sugar, salt, butter and vegetable shortening into the bowl of a standing mixer. Using the paddle attachment, mix the dough on low speed until blended. Then, slowly blend – or fold in – the vodka and water. Fold until just combined then divide the dough into two parts. Shape the dough into flat disks, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least one hour (but best overnight) before use. The dough can be refrigerated for up to a week or frozen for up to a month before use.
1. Keep a small bowl of flour near your work space. Roll the dough out onto a flat surface with a wooden rolling pin. I use a large wooden cutting board (uneven tile countertops, darn it) and a French rolling pin.
2. Generously flour your work surface and rolling pin. Do not be afraid to re-flour. Somehow, the dough can absorb it with out getting tough!
3. While rolling out the dough, constantly move it around, shifting it a quarter or eighth of a turn with each roll out. After you have rolled out a circle of dough, before perfecting the shape, pull up the dough, scrape and re-flour the work surface, and turn the dough over. This will keep the “final product” from sticking, stretching, or tearing when you are ready to pull the dough up and place it in the pie dish.
4. When you are satisfied with your circle of dough (thickness, uniformity), hold your pie dish over the circle. The dough circle should be approximately 1 1/2 inches larger than your pie dish. To move the dough from the work surface to the pie dish, roll the top edge of the dough over your rolling pin and use the pin and your hand to place the dough over the dish.
5. When fitting the dough in the pie dish, do not press on the sides. Gently lift the crust and turn the pie dish to get the crust in place. When the crust is in place, allow a one inch overhang on all sides. I use kitchen scissors to trim off the excess.
6. If using, roll out the top crust in the same manner. Make sure the crusts are sealed together (pinched) with the same one inch overhang. When you are ready to crimp the pie’s edges, push the overhang up, so that the finished edge is vertical and above the pie. While baking, the pie will sink a bit. This will allow the edges to “stay with” the pie and not crumble off as the pie sinks.
7. For a double crust pie, add air holes with a fork or sharp knife. Before placing the top crust on the pie, you may also cut out little shapes from the top crust with pie cutters (I did not have any on hand, thus the swiss cheese from a too-large-for-the-task donut hole cutter).
8. For a single crust pie, use a fork to punch air holes in the crust. Pie weights can help to keep the crust’s shape while baking.
9. Bake the pie directly on the center rack of the oven (and not a cookie sheet to catch overflow). This will allow the bottom of the pie to more fully bake and reach that desired golden brown flake.
Nicole’s Apple Pie Filling
7-8 large apples (use a mix of Granny Smith and red (whatever’s on sale, except Red Delicious), peeled, cored and sliced)
2/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup flour (or more, if the apples are especially juicy)
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Before rolling out the dough, mix the apple filling without the flour. Add the flour right before placing the mixture into the pie dish. This will allow time for the apples to release their juices, so that you can better gauge how much flour to use.
1. Add flour just until the apples are no longer watery. If the filling seems too dry, add a tablespoon or two of butter.
2. To prevent a soggy crust, rub butter on the bottom of the pie before adding the apples to create a “wax barrier.”
3. If you have poor quality apples, add a 1/2 teaspoon of salt to boost their flavor.