Wednesday, September 30, 2009

In Fall a Middle-Aged Woman's Fancy Turns to Apple Pie

When I was in high school, I used to show up at my friend Phebe's house in late September early October to find everyone in the midst of making pie. They had this wonderful large kitchen with a round table right in the center of everything on which Phebe, her mom, one or two of her siblings, their live-in babysitter, were rolling out crust, chopping apples, tossing it all with cinnamon, sugar and lemon juice. I loved showing up on those days, the air outside was snappy, the kitchen inside was warm and busy, and if there weren't enough apples, we'd run out to the small grove in her back yard and climb the ladders and pick more. Yeah, she had apple trees and a swimming pool in her back yard. I spent a lot of time at Phebe's house.

So Saturday morning, when I got up and let the dogs out, the air was cool and gentle and the tree in my neighbor's yard had it's first patch of red and gold leaves up at the very tippy top, and every molecule in my body cried out for apple pie. I wanted pie so badly, I sliced an apple, put those slices on top of my toast, sprinkled cinnamon sugar over the whole thing and stuck it in the toaster oven for a few minutes, just to get the apple pie essence. Which was kind of good, but no apple pie, my friend. And my house is not Phebe's (Phebe's house isn't even Phebe's anymore: now she lives in Santa Fe where the trees aren't much taller than me -- can one grow apples in the desert?) And there wasn't a passel of people in my kitchen talking laughing and throwing peeled apple slices or raw pie dough down each other's shirts, because that's what we did back then for hilarity. But it was a crisp day, and I was thinking that pie dough is something easily made, but which most people are really afraid of making and maybe it'd be a good thing to post about.

I sound blase in that previous paragraph, but the truth of the matter is that I really don't know what I'm doing when it comes to pie crust. In fact, it's been quite a while since I made pie crust, finding adequate, as I do, the red box of Pilsbury in my grocery refrigerator section.

Anyway, I pulled up because they make pie crust with vodka, and who doesn't love a little vodka in the middle of a saturday (even if you're not actually going to drink it for another 5 hours. I was indoctrinated, at an early age, that you must wait until 5pm for any alcoholic beverage).

Here's how the whole thing turned out:

Yeah, we ate half of it before I remembered to take a picture. Sue me.

Still, the crust is not exactly the uniform golden brown it is supposed to be. And in fact, even though everyone else liked it, I found it to be a bit dry.

Which means I'll have to make it again, because now I'm obsessed with pie crust, and I must make pie until I get it right.


I don't know about copy rights, so I don't actually know if I can reprint the vodka pie crust recipe from Cooks Illustrated, so I'm not going to do it. Here's the link, although it might not work because you have to have a membership & a login.

In any case, this is how I made the insides:

apples (I used about a six large jonathan apples) peeled, cored and sliced
1 TBLSP brown sugar (more or less - to taste)
1tsp cinnamon
quick scrape of nutmeg
juice of 1/2 a lemon
zest of 1/2 a lemon
1/4 cup calvados (love this stuff, I keep it in the fridge and splash it in all sorts of stuff)
pinch of kosher salt
1 egg beaten with a bit of water
sanding sugar (optional)

preheat oven to 425
I put all the ingredients in a large dutch oven and cooked them a little bit, stirring frequently, until the apples can be pierced easily with a fork, but not so cooked they fall apart. (Full disclosure: I got this idea from Cooks Illustrated as well because I like a piled high pie, but sometimes the apples in the center don't completely cook) Let apples cool in the pan. When they are coolish to the touch pour them, juices and all, into the pie crust and quickly cover with the top crust and pinch the 2 crusts together in a nice way. (I almost always fail to do this -- the darn thing never looks good). Brush the top of the pie with the egg and don't forget to make a few slivers in the top of your crust so steam can escape. I often forget this because I'm a spaz. Sprinkle the top of your pie with sanding sugar if you have it.

Bake at 425 for 15 min then lower to 350 and bake until your pie is that lovely golden color I dream about. Take it out and let it sit (if you can bear to do that) for 30 min to an hour. Or, just get a fork and dig in, burned tongue be damned.


  1. I love that you added Calvados to the pie!!

    Your pie looks truly a treat! MMMMMMMMM,...

  2. What in the world is Calvados? And oh, I do know what you mean, that apple pie longing that strikes as soon as the air turns crisp and you start looking for the sweaters piled on the back of your closet shelves. We had a small apple orchard when I was a child, and my mother and I picked them and made apple pie and apple sauce. Even the smell of the ones rotting into the mud on the ground was a good, autumn smell....

  3. calvados is an apple brandy -- really good in things like pork -- but I like to splash it into apple pie because it gives the pie this extra depth.


What are you having for dinner tonight?