In an ode to the birthday of my birthplace I decided to use the weekend leading up to Independence Day* to complete the bake for the good old (but really very young compared to most countries) United States of America – apple pie. What other dessert could possibly represent the USA when the idiom – “as American as apple pie” is used to describe people who are American to their core**. Unconvinced? How about the fact that when US soldiers in WWII were asked why they were fighting, a common stock response was the slogan “for mom and apple pie.” I am more confident about the choice of apple pie to represent the USA than I am of the dessert choice for any country to date (which is saying a lot given there are not that many desserts to choose from in Tuvalu).
This is probably a good time to mention that I don’t like apple pie. If I am being more honest, I don’t like most pies. I think crusts inherently lack flavor and mushy fruit has a consistency that has always been off-putting. Thus, as much as I know apple pie was the right choice, I was not excited about the bake. However, despite my aversion to the end result, I bought a bag of apples, dug through the dark corners of the kitchen to find a pie pan, and got to work.
*This post was meant to come out on July 4th. It is currently July 20th. What can I say, life happened.
** Did you notice the great pun?
Apple pie is just like any other fruit pie in that it is tackled in two stages: Step 1: Crust; Step 2: Filling. For step 1 any classic pie crust recipe will do. I tried to follow one from Cooks Illustrated that uses vodka, but if you don’t have vodka at home or don’t believe in alcohol in desserts (in which case go ahead and skip next week’s blog) the recipes using only water will do just fine. Several recipes out there also mix up the fat by using lard, shortening, butter, or a combination. Go with whatever works for you, even if that is a pre-made store bought crust – no judgment here.
Now, you may have noticed that I said I “tried” to follow the recipe from Cooks. Why “tried”? I had the vodka. I had the butter and lard. I had the flour and the water. What I didn’t have was a food processor. Using a food processor is both my favorite, and the Cooks recommend, way to make a pie crust as it deftly mixes the ingredients without over-doing it. This results in nice chunks of butter remaining scattered throughout the dough and, when cooked, a lovely flaky crust.
Not only did I not have a food processor I also didn’t have a pastry blender – the go-to back up method. When faced with this lack of proper equipment I did the only reasonable thing and turned to Google. After much hunting through pictures of sad pie crusts I stumbled upon a method that called for grating cold butter. The theory behind this method is that adding already grated and chilled butter to the flour and water / vodka reduces the amount of mixing, therefore reducing the amount the butter melts and resulting in the same texture of dough as can be obtained with a food processor.
That is the theory. In practice, my crust turned out more crumbly than flaky. It’s a good thing I was never going to enjoy this bake otherwise I would have been disheartened before even getting to the filling.
Speaking of the filling, well, there isn’t much to say. Combine your apples and spices together and pile together on top of your lovingly created crust. Some recipes call for cooking the apples before baking, but as we know I am both lazy and don’t like pie, so I was not concerned enough about avoiding a soggy bottom to follow this extra step. I do, however, like the idea of allowing the apples to soak in their own juices and spices for half an hour, as suggested by Joy the Baker, and that seems just easy enough that I may actually try it next time I make apple pie (which, to be clear, may never happen).
The Moment of Truth
It’s fine for a pie. The crust was crumbly not flaky and the apples could have used a tad more spice, but the critics*** all enjoyed the result.
***Aka my family members – outspoken and prolific critics of food and many, many other things.
I followed Cooks Illustrated’s crust recipe and Smitten Kitchen’s filling recipe. I didn’t make any substantive changes nor do I have any extra fancy tips to add, so I will not reproduce either recipe here. Also, after extensive googling in preparation for this post, I’ve come to believe that all apple pie recipes are essentially identical so take your pick from whatever website / blogger / cookbook appeals to you.
For three months in 1943 the US food administration imposed a ban on sliced bread. Completely unrelated, the US is also the largest exporter of sperm in the world. It’s hard to believe that is not an intentional secret plot to colonize the world.