Which is the star of the pie?

Filling and crust each make apple pie a favorite

Filling and crust each make apple pie a favorite

October 05, 2005|by KRISTIN WILSON

Sweet, buttery and cinnamon-scented baking apples - the aroma of an apple pie is hard to mistake.

There is something about this famous fall dessert that makes mouths water and reminds the senses that harvest season is in the midst.

Yet apple pie is not as simple as it seems. Pies come in as many varieties as there are apples and nearly every pie lover thinks the "perfect pie" is something different. Some like apple pie deep, others prefer thin. Some top it with cheddar, others choose ice cream. Apple pie can be extra sweet and soft or more tart and slightly firm.

Ask an avid pie maker what makes a good apple pie and some will say the secret lies in the apples, while others say a perfect crust makes all the difference.


"It makes a difference what kind of ingredients you use," says Louise Yost, of Berkeley Springs, W.Va. Yost has been making pies for many years and won an award for her apple pie at the Martinsburg Apple Harvest Festival in 1984. She likes to use Crisco shortening and Robin Hood All Purpose Flour as the basis for her homemade crust.

In her kitchen, the Golden Delicious apple is the only one that makes the cut for apple pie filling. She also experiments with her crust, sometimes adding vinegar, sometimes using egg.

That crust is perhaps the most challenging part of crafting a perfect apple pie that not only tastes good, but also looks delectable. The delicate combination of shortening, flour and water can easily fall to pieces or become tough and hard.

"The more you play around with (the dough), the more tough it gets," says Cheryl Smith of Halfway. "The idea is to mix (the dough) with a fork to get the moist ingredients mixed with the dry ingredients and then quickly make it into a ball with your hands."

Janet Rohrer of Boonsboro says cold ingredients are the trick to making a manageable crust. "I use ice cold everything," she says. She makes sure the shortening is cold and refrigerates dough before rolling.

"I even have a friend who puts the flour in the refrigerator," Rohrer says. Cold ingredients seem to help the dough stay together better, she explains.

Once the dough is formed into balls, bakers roll the dough into a thin crust by sprinkling flour on a countertop and spreading the ball with a rolling pin. Smith likes her bottom crust to be about 1/8-inch thick when using a traditional pie plate. The crust can be thicker, depending on preference, but if the dough is rolled too thin it can be very difficult to move it into the pie plate without ripping it or making holes.

To make sure the dough will fit properly in the pan, hold the pie plate above the dough to measure. The dough should be large enough to go up the sides of the pan with a little bit extra to create an edge with the top crust.

"The one thing that makes a pie real tasty is to use more than one kind of apple," Smith says. She likes to mix Granny Smith and Yellow Delicious apples in her pies. "You can even mix more than two kinds of apples," she says.

It is important to pay attention to apple varieties when selecting fruit for an apple pie, local bakers say. Not all varieties will hold up during the baking process.

"You don't want to use Red Delicious in a pie, because they just go mealy," Smith says. "You don't want a pie that tastes like apple sauce."

In addition to Yellow Delicious and Granny Smith, try Cortland, Empire, Northern Spy or Stayman apples to make apple pie, Smith says. She also suggests asking about varieties at an orchard or farmers market since new varieties are being developed continually.

Rohrer bakes on a regular basis and pushes her pies to the limit - the baking limit.

She likes her pie to be chock full of apples, so she mounds up her apple filling as much as possible. If a pie is too "full" with apples, however, the filling can rise up and be pushed through the top of the pie or out the sides, creating a big, sticky mess in the oven.

One technique Rohrer suggests to help with spillover is letting apples sit in a cinnamon-sugar mixture for several hours before baking. Then, make sure the apples are drained to keep the extra-sugary liquid out of the pie.

The final step in making the perfect apple pie is the topping. Bakers have many choices, but the most traditional is a second crust. Roll out another ball of dough, cutting slits to allow for venting steam. Place the second crust on top of the mounded apple filling and "seal" by pinching the bottom and top crust edges together, Smith says. Other popular toppings include a latticework top crust, which is strips of dough woven across the top to create a quilted design; and a crumb topping made of flour, brown sugar and butter.

Apple Pie


3 cups flour

1 cup plus a few tablespoons shortening

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup cold water

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