I went to the apple festival at Portland Nursery the other weekend and bought 23 pounds of apples. I made a pie for my birthday. I have never been a big fan of apple pie. I prefer almost any kind of pie better than apple, to tell the truth. But, apples are what I have, and since I don't own a mixer that would enable me to make my favorite apple walnut cake, a pie it was.
My pie turned out so well that I started wondering why I thought I don't like apple pie. I do like apple pie, if it is good pie: the problem is that the world is full of middling-to-bleh apple pies. Store bought pie is almost invariably tough in the crust, which is a major strike against it. They are also horribly sweet, which is strike two. The coup de gras is usually the fact that the 'apples' in said pies are not generally recognizable as such. They are an evil combination of mushy and fibrous. There is neither taste nor aroma to indicate appleness. There is goo, and not in a good way.
This is a better pie.
Use this crust recipe. You can use part whole wheat if you like the texture, or all white if you prefer. I did all white to keep it simple.
2 lbs mixed apples. I got several kinds, I don't remember what, but they were mostly firm and tart.
about 1/2 cup sugar
a pinch each of freshly grated nutmeg and cinnamon
2 cloves, ground
a dab of butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Begin to peel, core and chop the apples. As you are chopping them up, drop them into a medium-hot saucepan with the the butter. Keep adding apples as you peel, and stir in the sugar about halfway through the apples. Add the spices. Stir just enough to prevent the apples from browning very much. When you get to the end of the apples, some of them will be coming apart and some of them will be barely cooked. This is a good thing. Stir in the vanilla. Cover the pan and remove from heat while you roll out the bottom crust and arrange it in a 9" pan. Pour in the filling, top it with the other half of the pastry, and bake at 350 for about an hour or until the crust is as brown as you like it, that is, until you loose your patience and have to eat your pie right NOW.
1. Apples are about the perfect pie fruit, apparently.
2. This is because they have a large amount of pectin in them.
3. Which is important, because pectin has the curious property of gelling up when cooked with both sugar and acid.
4. That means that it's important to put at least a little sugar in the filling as you cook it, especially if the apples are tart. Not enough sugar means the pectin won't thicken properly.
5. It also means that you should cook the apples first, because if you just put the raw apples in the crust, the pastry will burn before the apples are cooked on the inside, and the apples have to cook in order to activate the pectin.
What is pectin anyway? The Wikipedia page has way more technical stuff than I want to know, but the gist of it seems to be that pectin is a kind of dietary fiber found in fruits. People use it for a lot of things, most notably in making jam, because soft fruits like berries contain little pectin and will therefore make a very thin, soupy jam without adding some in.