Curious as to just how many apples I might be able to jam into a single pie, a few days ago I started yanking apples off of our tree in the name of kitchen experimentation.
When I had filled a colander with apples, I stopped picking and came inside to weigh my bounty. It turned out that I had picked almost exactly six pounds of apples, so I took that as a sign to proceed with great enthusiasm. Six pounds of apples? I could totally fit that into a pie.
I’ve been making pies for many years, and, until now, I have never really bothered to write down a recipe for apple pie. Apple pie is one of those pies that, being a pie baker, I always just sort of whipped together when I felt the urge. This time around, having taken the time to actually make notes about what I was doing, it turns out that I do, actually, have an apple pie technique.
Precooking the apples is part of that technique, as it keeps the apples from losing their shape and volume while they cook in the oven (a sad fate that results in a rather large empty space forming between your pie’s filling and your pie’s dough). A quick simmer allows the apples to slump just enough to eliminate the possibility of pulling a nearly hollow crust of shell from the oven later on. This may seem like a rather fussy and step to have to add in, but it really does produce the best pie possible.
As an added benefit, when simmered on the stove with a sprinkling of dark brown sugar, a kiss of cinnamon, a squeeze of lemon juice, and a pinch of sea salt, the apples produce pool of apple juice that then gets reduced on the stove and drizzled over the filling before you bake the pie. This step is nothing short of a secret weapon. This whole pie contains only ½ a cup of sugar, but by rendering the apples and caramelizing their juice, you’re creating a richness of flavor that belies even a hint of missing sweetness. In fact, I can’t think of a single thing about this pie that leaves me wanting. Except for, perhaps, ice cream, but that is certainly by no fault of the pie itself.
Sky-High Apple Pie Recipe
Flaky Tart and Pie Dough
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup (5 ½ ounces) very cold ice water
3 cups plus 2 tablespoons (1 pound) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup plus 5 tablespoons (10 ½ ounces) very cold unsalted butter
In a small bowl, add the salt to the water and stir to dissolve. Place in the freezer to keep super cold until ready to use.
Place the flour in the bowl of a food processor, or in a large bowl. Cut the butter into 1-inch pieces, then scatter over the flour. If using a food processor, pulse the mixture briefly until it forms into large crumbs and some of the pieces of butter remain pea-sized. If making the dough by hand, cut the butter into the dough using a pastry cutter. You will want the dough to have the same crumb-like look with some large pea-sized chunks of butter throughout.
Drizzle the salt and water mixture over the dough and, if using a food processor, pulse until the dough comes together into a ball but is not completely smooth. You should still see visible butter chunks. If mixing the dough by hand, drizzle the salt and water mixture over the dough while tossing with a fork. The dough should come together in a shaggy mass. Gently mix the dough together until it comes together in a ball but is not completely smooth. As with the food processor dough, you should still see visible butter chunks.
Divide the dough into 2 equal balls on a lightly floured surface. Shape each ball into a disk about 1 inch thick. Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours, preferably overnight.
When you are ready to make your pie, on a floured surface, roll out one disk of chilled pie dough into a circle about 1 inch larger than a 9-inch pie dish. Gently transfer the dough to the pie dish, easing it into the bottom and sides, and pressing gently into place. Using a sharp knife, trim the dough so it hangs over the pie dish by ½ inch, or, using your fingers, tuck the scraggly edges of the dough under itself and lightly press to adhere. Place the formed dough in the freezer for 30 minutes to 1 hour (this ensures the flakiest dough possible).
To prepare the other disk of dough to form the lattice pie top, on a lightly floured surface, roll the other disk of dough into a roughly 13 by 10-inch rectangle. Cut the rectangle lengthwise into 8 strips that are 13 inches long. Place strips of dough on a baking sheet and refrigerate while you prepare the pie filling.
Apple Pie Filling
6 pounds tart or tart-sweet apples
juice of 1 lemon
½ cup firmly-packed dark brown sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 egg white, lightly beaten
Peel, core, and slice apples into ¼-inch slices. In a large Dutch oven or similarly heavy-bottomed pot, combine sliced apples, lemon juice, dark brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Stir to combine, then cook apples at a low simmer over medium-low heat. Cook for about 15 minutes, stirring frequently, until apples are barely fork-tender and have released quite a bit of their juices. Using a slotted spoon, remove apples from Dutch oven, leaving the juice in the pot. Set aside the apples to cool.
With the heat still set at medium-low, bring the rendered apple juice to a simmer. Stirring frequently, allow the juice to simmer until it has thickened quite a bit and reduced to about 1/3 of a cup of liquid. Stir in vanilla extract. Pour into a small bowl and set aside to cool a bit.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Adjust an oven rack to the lowest position, and place a foil-lined baking sheet on the rack.
Place the slightly-cooled apples in the dough-lined pie pan. Mound the apples up in the middle, as there are a lot of apples to fit into this pie. Drizzle the apples with the slightly-cooled caramelized apple juice. Weave the long strips of refrigerated pie dough over the top in a lattice pattern. (There is a good tutorial on how to do this here but keep in mind that you will, obviously, be using fewer strips of dough.) Trim the edges of the lattice even with the lower crust, then fold under the edges and crimp into place using your fingers. Brush the top crust of the pie with the beaten egg white.
Place the pie on the heated baking sheet and bake until the crust is golden, about 25 to 30 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees, rotate the baking sheet, and continue to bake the pie until the juices are bubbling and the crust is a deep golden brown, about 30 to 35 minutes longer.
Remove the pie from the oven and allow to cool on a wire rack for at least two hours. The pie will set up much better and slice much more neatly if it is not served piping hot.