I love pie. LOVE it. I request pie for my birthday instead of cake. And because I grew up with my mom's amazing homemade pies, I'm completely spoiled and a pie snob. Canned filling? Blech! Store bought pie? Just won't do! Pies seem intimidating, but they're really not very hard to make, and the difference is absolutely remarkable. Homemade pies bear almost no resemblance to the gooey, tasteless, slimy messes that pass for most pies. (Told you I'm a pie snob.)
Are you intimidated by the pie crust? It does take some practice. My first pie crust was utterly inedible, it was so tough! Buy a ready made pie crust if you must--I'll let that part slip. But I have a simple tip that changed my pie-crust-making life: vodka.
Yes, vodka. No, you don't drink it while you're making the pie (though *ahem* that's been known to happen).
How to make an Easy, (Practically) No-Fail Pie Crust
- 4 cups flour
- 1 1/3 cup butter or shortening
- 2 t salt
- 2 T sugar
- Enough water and Vodka, Ice cold
First, let me note that this is a double pie crust recipe (top and bottom). And that this makes a larger batch than most pie crusts call for. That's one of the tips we use in our family. Sure, you're going to trim off extra. But that's better than abusing the dough trying to stretch it out and make it fit. As an added bonus, you can take your pie scraps, sprinkle with powdered sugar, and bake them up for a tasty treat to tide over your family until the pie is ready to eat.
1) Stir together all the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Cut in the butter or shortening with a pastry cutter or a couple knives. Leave pretty large chunks (small grape sized) to get a nice, flaky crust. Fill a separate bowl or cup measure with a mixture of 2 parts ice water to one part vodka.
Yes, I buy the incredibly cheap giant container of vodka in a plastic bottle. I use it for cake decorating and the occasional pie crust, so there's no need to buy the good stuff. Yes, I bought the one called Borg so that if I ever did decide to drink it, I could wake up the next morning with an awful hangover and say, "I was annihilated by the Borg." Yes, I am that geeky.
2) Time to mix the wet and the dry. The whole reason for using vodka in the liquid mix is to make this step easier. Flour needs water to develop gluten (that's what can make pie dough so tough). Cold inhibits gluten production, too, which is why we use ice water (and some people freeze their flour and butter and bowls). But subbing some of the water with vodka is absolutely brilliant--without that water, the gluten can't develop! I still handle my pie dough gently, just barely incorporating the liquid, but having the vodka in there makes a huge difference in the amount of abuse that the dough can take.
To mix, add the ice water/vodka mixture to the dry ingredients, only a couple tablespoons at a time. Use a fork to mix the liquid and some of the dry ingredients together as gently as possible. Do this a few times, and you'll end up with a decent lump of pie dough in your dry ingredients. Take the dough out of the dry ingredients with your fingers, shaking off excess flour, and set aside on a floured surface. Continue adding icy vodka water and making lumps of dough, until all the dry ingredients are gone, your bowl is empty, and you have a lovely pile of pie dough on the counter.
Ta da! You did it! It wasn't as hard as you thought, was it? Now it's time to make the rest of the pie!
Divide the pie dough in half and roll out on a floured surface. It will be bigger than you need, but that's ok! It's better to cut off the extra than to over-roll the dough.
I'll let you use store bough pie crust if you must, but the filling is where I'm really a stickler. Overly sweet, overly processed, utterly slimy and tasteless canned fillings just won't do. Especially for apple pie. Get yourself some apples, people!
You'll want about three pounds of apples for one pie. Here's another secret to a great apple pie: use a mix of apples, not just one variety. Some apples cook up softer, some stay more firm, some are tart, some are sweet. It's a subtle thing, but having that mix of flavors and textures makes the mouth happy.
Homemade Apple Pie Filling
- about 3lb apples, a mixed variety
- 1 T lemon juice
- 3/4 C sugar
- 2 T AP flour
- 1/2 t ground cinnamon
- 1/8 t freshly grated nutmeg
- 2 T butter
Peel your apples and slice thinly. In a large bowl, toss the apples with the sugar, lemon juice, flour, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Place in your bottom pie crust.
That's right, heap them in there. Then chunk up your 2 T cold butter and sprinkle on top of the apples. Don't worry about being too precise. This is pie, people. Homey.
Roll out the rest of the pie dough, and set on top of the pie filling. Use a knife or a pair of kitchen scissors to cut away the excess dough (don't forget to make those into your cinnamon sugar pie crust cookies!). Pinch the edges of the top and bottom crust together, creating a nice ruffle to help keep the juices in. Now pop the unbaked pie into your fridge while you preheat the oven. Giving the pie crust extra time to chill after being formed will help keep that ruffle standing tall instead of drooping while it bakes.
Preheat the oven to 375 Fahrenheit. Once the oven is up to temperature, take the pie out of the refrigerator, brush the top with a little bit of water, and sprinkle with sugar. I like to use larger sugar crystals (available at cake decorating stores) for a little bit of extra crunch and sparkle. Cut a few slits in the top crust to let the steam escape while the pie bakes.
Bake for approximately 30 minutes, until the top is golden.
And there you have it. THAT, my friends, is a pie worth eating.