T-MINUS ONE WEEK UNTIL TURKEY DAY!
Are you ready?
Up until very recently, I had experienced nothing but failure when I tried to make pie crust on my own. Oh, I could cobble together something moderately respectable, but I would never have called it a success. So when my mom came to visit this summer, I dragged her to the kitchen to show me exactly how it's done.
There are a lot of different opinions floating around out there about pies. Butter, lard, or vegetable shortening? A combination? Food processor, pastry blender, or by hand?
Here are my conclusions, based on a couple of months of research:
Butter is best for flavor, but the crust does not hold shape as well as a combination butter-shortening crust. Read this article for a full run-down on the pros and cons of different fats (and, incidentally, a step-by-step photo recipe of my preferred method for making dough).
I like the food-processor method. It's consistent, it's easy, and it's fast. If you want to do it by hand, there's a great tutorial over here. I love the idea of doing it by hand. I really do. And I may change my mind in the future, but for now, this method is really working for me.
When I was baking test pies for the Bucktown Apple Pie Contest, I had this idea in my head that I should bake something extra-special into the crust. I blame Pushing Daisies for putting a bee in my bonnet.
I tried baking in a little maple syrup, a little lemon zest, honey... And none of them worked. Pie dough is a very delicate balance, and you can't just throw extra things in. The one exception I've found is Heidi's rye pie dough, which is hands-down the dreamiest, easiest-to-handle, flakiest, most amazing pie crust I've ever made or tasted.
The key ingredient, I've found, is patience. Don't cut corners, don't rush, and you'll come out the other side with a buttery, golden pie crust you can be proud of.
Southern Comfort Apple Pie
adapted from 20 Something Cupcakes
It's important that you use a deep-dish pie plate for this recipe, because the caramel filling expands while baking, and you really, really don't want hot sticky stuff bubbling out of the pan onto your oven. I baked my pie on a cookie sheet just in case, and my pie plate is ginormous.
Basic All-Butter Pie Crust:
This recipe makes enough for one 8- or 9-inch double-crust pie, two single-crust pies, or one 10-inch deep-dish single-crust pie.
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup very cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
4-5 tablespoons ice water
Place flour and salt in a food processor with the blade attachment. Pulse a few times. Place half of butter cubes into food processor and pulse a few times, until pea-sized clumps form. Add the rest of the butter, and pulse only two or three times, just to break it up a little and coat it with flour. The next step will take care of the bigger pieces. Add apple cider vinegar and water, one tablespoon at a time, pulsing a few times after each addition, and stopping the moment the dough starts to come together. If it gets too wet, it's impossible to work with, and really hard to fix. Dump the dough out onto a piece of plastic wrap, squeeze into a disc (or two, for two crusts), wrap tightly, and let rest in the refrigerator at least 30 minutes. All day is fine - the colder it is, the easier it is to roll out.
1/2 cup pecan halves, roughly chopped
1/3 cup sugar
3 tablespoons firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup chilled unsalted butter
Place sugars, cinnamon, salt and flour into a food processor fitted with the blade attachment. Pulse a few times until well incorporated. Add butter and pulse a few times more, until uniform small-ish pieces form. Remove to a bowl and stir in pecans. Set aside.
5-7 medium-size baking apples, such as Cortland
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup Southern Comfort liqueur
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Peel and core the apples, and slice into 1/4-inch thick slices. In a large skillet, melt 1/2 cup butter over medium heat. Add apples, and saute for about 5 minutes. Add sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg, stirring to combine. Using a slotted spoon, remove apples to a baking sheet, leaving as much liquid as possible. Add Southern Comfort to the skillet, and cook about 10 minutes, until alcohol is burned off and mixture is thick. Remove from heat and return the apples to the skillet, stirring to coat. Roll out pie crust to a 1/8-inch thick circle, and place gently in pie plate. Flute edges and prick all around bottom and sides with a fork. Pour apple filling into prepared crust, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace at the top. Sprinkle with pecan topping, and bake 50-60 minutes, until filling is bubbling and topping is crisp and brown.
Serve with unsweetened whipped cream.