Dutch Apple Pie

A close-up of that lovely apple-y filling, not to mention that gorgeous, crispy, crunchy strudel topping! You can also see the gnarly crust peering out from beneath the apples.

A close-up of that lovely apple-y filling, not to mention that gorgeous, crispy, crunchy strudel topping! You can also see the gnarly crust peering out from beneath the apples.

More apple pie! How can this possibly be a bad thing? (Health nuts: Silence!) Especially with some French vanilla ice cream and the company of your most ardent forks. Hee.

When I made the classic apple pie, I was a bit surprised to realise that the filling recipe yielded enough for two – not one, but two – pies. I could have mounded the filling a bit more in the original pie, I suppose, but there still would have been about a third of the whole batch of filling left. I decided to use only half of the filling in the classic pie, and figure out what to do with the rest later.

The answer sprang into my mind quite unexpectedly the very next day: Make Dutch apple pie!

Who's up for having a fork tattooed on her or his tushy?

Who’s up for having a fork tattooed on her or his tushy?

Dutch apple pie is my favourite kind of apple pie, anyway. It’s an exceedingly close contest between thick, flaky pie crust topping and crunchy strudel topping; but in my book, strudel wins. By a hair. The strudel topping of turns the apple pie into a cross between apple pie and crumb cake! Winning! The contrast between the crunchy strudel and soft apple filling is stellar, too. Recall that texture is an important part of taste.

Mmmm, taste.

Perhaps a happy caption?

Pie. Three letters, one word.

I added more cinnamon and pectin to this half of the pie filling, and also added 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract. I liked the boost to the cinnamon flavour, and I also think the increased pectin helped the pie filling gel a bit more. The vanilla, however, was just a tad too strong for me. It shadowed the cinnamon and apple flavours, and apple pie should taste primarily of apple! My HubblyBeast and our friends liked it, but I think 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract would be the perfect amount to give the pie a bright undercurrent of vanilla without being overly strong.

Tools. I use them. Thank you, opposable thumbs!

Tools. I use them. Thank you, opposable thumbs!

I had to think a bit about how to bake this pie, because the classic apple pie bakes for so long – this is done so that the top crust bakes properly – that were I to so bake the Dutch apple pie, the strudel would be burnt to a crisp. Even aluminum foil wouldn’t be enough to save one’s strudel from so long in the oven! I finally decided to bake the pie for as long as I would the crumb cake from which I “borrowed” the strudel recipe. (Really, I must get around to posting about that crumb cake. It’s the best one I’ve ever had, and the scary thing is it’s very fast to make!) The apple filling just needs to get to the point where it’s bubbling, and the strudel needs to bake just to the point where it’s golden brown. About thirty-five minutes in the oven at 350°F worked a charm. I was one happy kitchenchantress when this thing finally cooled to room temperature! Husband & I were standing over the pie with forks at the ready, like slavering beasts about to go in for the kill.

Guten Appetit!

A happy caption!

Huzzah!

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Dutch Apple Pie

Yield: one 9″ pie, 8 – 12 servings

Ingredients:

For the crust:
1 9″ deep dish pie pan
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more flour for dusting the rolling surface and rolling pin
2 TBS sugar
1 tsp. salt
12 TBS (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into roughly 1/4″ pieces & very cold
8 TBS (1 stick) vegetable shortening, cut into 6 – 8 pieces & very cold
1/4 cup vodka, chilled
1/4 cup ice water

For the strudel:
2/3 cups sugar
2/3 cups light brown sugar, firmly packed
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
pinch salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, melted and warm
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

For the filling*:
1 cup sugar**
1/3 cup light brown sugar, tightly packed
1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon*** (I found this amount of cinnamon to be barely noticeable, and will add 1/2 tsp. next time)
1 generous TBS cornstarch
2 tsp. powdered pectin
4 TBS unsalted butter, cut into 1/4″ pieces
2 1/2 lbs. Granny Smith apples, cored, peeled, and cut into 1/2″ cubes OR into slices 1/4″ thick
2 1/2 lbs. Golden Delicious apples, cored, peeled, and cut into 1/2″ cubes OR into slices 1/4″ thick
boiling water (3 quarts per 4 lbs. of prepared apples)
2 tsp. vanilla extract, optional

Method:

For the crust:
In a food processor, blend 1 1/2 cups flour, sugar, and salt until combined, about 5 – 8 seconds. Scatter the butter and shortening on top of the flour mixture and process until the butter and shortening are incorporated, and uneven clumps with no remaining floury bits are formed, about 15 seconds.

With a spatula, scrape sides of food processor and redistribute dough evenly around the bottom of the processor. Add remaining 1 cup flour and process until the mixture has broken into pieces and is evenly distributed around the processor, 4 – 8 seconds.

Transfer mixture to a large bowl and pour the vodka and ice water over the dough ball. With a spatula, press and flip the dough with the liquids until the liquids are absorbed and a cohesive, sticky ball forms.

Wrap the dough ball in cling film and refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour.

For the strudel:
Mix together all ingredients save for flour. Fold in flour with spatula. Cover and set aside.

For the filling:
Mix the sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, cornstarch, and pectin in a medium bowl until thoroughly combined. Add the pieces of butter and toss to combine. Set aside.

Reserve the vanilla, if using, and add after the sugar mixture has been combined with the apples.

Place the apples you have cored, peeled, and cut into a large, heat-proof bowl (5 quarts, minimum; 8 quarts is best). Heat water to boiling in the stated ratio of 3 quarts of water per 4 lbs. of prepared apples. Pour the boiling water over the apples and let sit for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally so that all apples have a chance to be submerged in the water.

Drain the apples (I used a collander) and return them to the large bowl. Add the sugar mixture to the apples. Stir and toss to thoroughly combine. The butter pieces will melt, which is to be expected. Add vanilla extract, if using. Set apple mixture aside to cool completely.

Assembly and baking:
Once the apples have cooled to room temperature, and the dough ball has chilled for at least an hour, it is time to prepare the crust.

Preheat oven to 425°F.Generously flour a large, flat surface along with a rolling pin. Take the dough ball and place it on the floured surface; it will be sticky, so be patient. Roll dough ball out into about 1/2″ thickness. Carefully transfer the flat disc to the pie plate. Press disc so that it evenly lines the inside of the pie plate. Crimp edges so that they are more or less even and line the edge of the pie plate. Loosely cover with cling film, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes have passed, remove cling film and poke holes in bottom of crust with a fork. Place a large piece of aluminum foil loosely over crust, so that the entire crust is covered, and put pie weights in the bottom. (I use dried kidney beans for this, and they work beautifully.)

Bake crust for 17 minutes; remove pie weights and aluminum foil, and bake for an additional 4 – 7 minutes, or until lightly golden brown. Set aside to cool.

Adjust oven to 350°F.

Once the bottom crust has cooled, place pie dish on a rimmed cookie sheet to catch any drips. Add the pie filling, ensuring it is evenly distributed. Break strudel mixture into thumnail-sized pieces with your fingers and sprinkle evenly over the top of the pie, ensuring all of the apples are covered.

Cover edges of crust with aluminum foil. Bake pie for 35 minutes, or until apple mixture is bubbling (up to 45 minutes). You can check for this by cutting into the center of the strudel topping with a knife to peer into the pie. Do not overbake pie, or strudel topping will become hard, rather than crunchy, when cool.

Carefully take pie off rimmed baking sheet and place pie on cooling rack. Allow pie to cool completely to room temperature. This is important! The pie needs to cool completely so that it will thicken properly. If you cut the pie while it’s still hot, or even lukewarm, the juices will run out of the pie, and your hard work will have been for a pie that is still tasty, but not stellar.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to four days.

Notes:

*I found that this much in weight of apples made enough filling for two pies. You have two options:

1. Halve everything for the filling, and continue as directed for the rest of the pie.

2. You can keep the ratios as they are, and store half of the apple mixture in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator for up to three days, to be used for a second pie or for cake filling, ice cream topping, apple turnover filling – the possibilities are many, as the apple filling is absolutely scrumptious on its own before being baked into a pie.

**You may increase or reduce the amount of either type of sugar, depending on your preferences. Personally, I think you could add up to 1 1/2 cups of granulated sugar, plus 1/2 cup light brown sugar (firmly packed, of course), before the pie became too sweet; everyone is different, however, and you may prefer a milder tasting pie. The sugar ratios as presented created a pie that was quite balanced between the flavours of sugar and apple, still with a robust apple flavour.

***You can also add nutmeg, ginger, allspice, and other spices you feel would go well with apples and cinnamon. Be cautious with the amounts, as spices are stronger than they seem. I wouldn’t add more than 1/4 tsp. each of nutmeg, ginger, and allspice, as these spices, along with cinnamon, would quickly overwhelm the flavour of the apples.

Sources: Crust from Cook’s Illustrated All-Time Best Holiday Baking, 2013; apple pie filling an amalgamation of Cook’s Illustrated All-Time Best Holiday Baking, 2013, Leite’s Culinaria, and Serious Eats; many helpful tips found at Serious Eats; strudel topping from Dave at Doodledee.com (unfortunately, link is no longer working)

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Classic Apple Pie

Geometric bliss. It's not that I loathed geometry per se; it's that class wasn't taught using an apple pie as an example.

Geometric bliss. It’s not that I loathed geometry per se; it’s that class wasn’t taught using an apple pie as an example.

A well-made apple pie is an ethereal delight, gustatorial heaven. In a bit of cosmic justice, the wonderful qualities of apple pie are directly correlated with the difficulty of properly making an apple pie. I’m actually coming out and saying that apple pie is one of the hardest desserts to get right. An apple pie should have tender apples, a thick, sweet filling, and a flaky bottom crust. I’ve never had an apple pie, until this one, that didn’t feature crunchy apples and a soggy bottom crust, and whose filling didn’t run copiously when you cut into it. Not even purchased apple pies could meet the basic criteria of tender apples, flaky crust, and thick filling.

Several years ago, I decided to attempt an apple pie, reasoning that I was a competent enough baker to get things right in the realm of apple pie. You can see where my hubris was taking me, right? I ignored the legions of bakers before me who’d turned out crunchy, runny apple pies, and figured I could somehow do better. I used the Pioneer Woman’s Caramel Apple Pie recipe, because I was young and in love and thought that she could do no wrong. Her recipe instructs you to mix raw Granny Smith apples with lemon juice, flour, sugar, and salt; this serves as the pie filling. You top the raw pie filling with a crumb topping that consists of flour, butter, brown sugar, and raw quick-cooking oats. Because the oats will cook themselves in the flour mixture?… Her recipe directs the clueless baker to pour up to two cups of caramel sauce over the baked pie. I even made my own caramel sauce to pour over the pie.

I’ll wait for those of you who are crying from laughter to dry your eyes.

I adore this ceramic knife. It cuts through apple pie like it's a dream. Wait - apple pie IS a dream! Herp!

I adore this ceramic knife. It cuts through apple pie like it’s a dream. Wait – apple pie IS a dream! Herp!

Even without the tidal wave of caramel sauce spilling over the pie and onto every horizontal surface within ten feet (I exaggerate… slightly), the pie was a disaster. The apples themselves were crunchy, even hard – they tasted as though they were completely uncooked. Even after allowing the pie to cool to room temperature, the filling was so thin that it ran completely out of the pie when I cut out a slice. I’ll spare you the details of the crumb topping, and will only say that raw, hard oats are not appealing. The whole thing was a bizarre juxtaposition of soggy and hard.

I tried the recipe again, using a regular pie crust to cover the pie instead of that disgusting crumb topping. I even left out the caramel sauce, seeing as how parts of my kitchen were still coated in the stuff from the last time. (I kid about the coating. But really, that caramel wound up in the strangest places!) And the pie was still disgusting, so much so that I threw it out. I vowed I’d never again try an apple pie, because it seemed like no one could get the thing right. And mine was by far the worst I’d ever tried.

A close-up of the flaky crust this recipe produces. It's buttery, light, tender, and flaky. Go on. Stare at it! It's very vain, and will appreciate your pondering of its flakesomeness.

A close-up of the flaky crust this recipe produces. It’s buttery, light, tender, and flaky. Go on. Stare at it! It’s very vain, and will appreciate your pondering of its flakesomeness.

Well, ducklings, I’m nothing if not stubborn, so after six years (seriously) of apple pie abstinence, I tried again. I looked to the folks at Cook’s Illustrated for guidance, because they test the everloving hell out of their recipes, and they experiment with all sorts of ways to cook a given dish; consequently, they have amassed a large body of knowledge regarding kitchen science. From Cook’s Illustrated, I’ve learned that the pectin found in apples breaks down at high heat – the kind of heat that an apple pie is subjected to during baking. However – and this is weird, but cool – this pectin converts to a heat-stable form if apples are gently heated to between 140°F and 160°F for about 10 minutes. You can then bake the apples as needed for a pie, and the pectin doesn’t break down. Hence you get apples that maintain their shape, yet are soft and tender. Huzzah! Oh, and the reason pies usually contain tart apples? Tart apples have more pectin than sweet apples, so they maintain their structural integrity during baking better than do sweet apples.

I started off looking at an apple pie recipe from Cook’s Illustrated, but I had a hunch that adding pectin directly to the pie filling would help the filling remain thick, rather than oozing out of the pie after cutting a slice. I looked at many apple pie recipes to see if this was a “thing,” and if so, how much pectin people tended to use. I found a lovely apple pie recipe that uses both pectin and cornstarch to help thicken the filling, and I happily incorporated these ingredients into my recipe. These additions must have worked, because the pie filling was delectably thick. I debated adding spices other than cinnamon to the filling, and was going to add nutmeg, ginger, and allspice, but I decided to proceed conservatively and just use cinnamon. I’d read that too many spices make the apple flavour recede into the background, but I think small amounts of these additional spices – about 1/8 teaspoon each – would add a marvelous complexity to the pie without overshadowing the taste of apple.

Looks like someone's been... *whips off sunglasses* forking around! YEAHHH!

Looks like someone’s been… *whips off sunglasses* forking around! YEAHHH!

The amount of apples Cook’s Illustrated specified – 5 pounds – made enough for two apple pies, so I divided the apple filling in half, storing one half in the fridge. I used this second half as an experimental batch, adding additional pectin, cinnamon, and even some vanilla extract to see how the filling would taste. I made a Dutch apple pie out of this second batch of filling, and it was smashing! I didn’t much care for the vanilla flavour, but my sweet Husband loved it, so I suppose that is a matter of personal taste. To be fair, I added twice as much vanilla as I should have (2 teaspoons, which were meant for the whole 5 pounds of apples; I should have added 1 teaspoon), so I think at lesser amounts, vanilla would go beautifully with the flavour profile of this pie.

Remember that one of my beefs with apple pie was the soggy crust. To combat this problem, I made a thick crust (the same crust I used for my beloved Badass Pecan Pie) for the bottom of the pie (along with an equally thick crust for the top of the pie), and blind-baked it (meaning I baked the crust with nothing in it before adding the apple filling and baking the whole thing). Some bakers say that brushing the bottom crust with butter will help prevent it from getting soggy. I think the combination of the thickness of this bottom crust, the fact that it is a very buttery crust, with a thin layer of melted butter appearing on it after its having been blind-baked, and the blind-baking itself all contributed to yield a bottom crust that was not in the least bit soggy, but flaky and just the right amount of crunchy.

Apple pie, thy name is bliss.

I couldn't resist showing off the glamorous layer of apple-y goodness that lurks within this pie. How can you resist a fruit that spends its days lurking? I can't. I really, really can't. Especially when the fruit is this tender and, well, applesome.

I couldn’t resist showing off the glamorous layer of apple-y goodness that lurks within this pie. How can you resist a fruit that spends its days lurking? I can’t. I really, really can’t. Especially when the fruit is this tender and, well, applesome.

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Classic Apple Pie

Yield: 1 9″ apple pie

Ingredients:

For the crust:
Double the amount of ingredients for the crust, as you will be making the crust recipe twice: Once for the top crust, and once for the bottom crust.
1 9″ deep dish pie pan
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more flour for dusting the rolling surface and rolling pin
2 TBS sugar
1 tsp. salt
12 TBS (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into roughly 1/4″ pieces & very cold
8 TBS (1 stick) vegetable shortening, cut into 6 – 8 pieces & very cold
1/4 cup vodka, chilled
1/4 cup ice water
2 TBS heavy cream, for brushing the top of the crust
1/4 cup sugar, for sprinkling over the cream

For the filling*:
1 cup sugar**
1/3 cup light brown sugar, tightly packed
1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon*** (I found this amount of cinnamon to be barely noticeable, and will add 1/2 tsp. next time)
1 generous TBS cornstarch
2 tsp. powdered pectin
4 TBS unsalted butter, cut into 1/4″ pieces
2 1/2 lbs. Granny Smith apples, cored, peeled, and cut into 1/2″ cubes OR into slices 1/4″ thick
2 1/2 lbs. Golden Delicious apples, cored, peeled, and cut into 1/2″ cubes OR into slices 1/4″ thick
boiling water (3 quarts per 4 lbs. of prepared apples)
2 tsp. vanilla extract, optional

Method:

For the crust:
In a food processor, blend 1 1/2 cups flour, sugar, and salt until combined, about 5 – 8 seconds. Scatter the butter and shortening on top of the flour mixture and process until the butter and shortening are incorporated, and uneven clumps with no remaining floury bits are formed, about 15 seconds.

With a spatula, scrape sides of food processor and redistribute dough evenly around the bottom of the processor. Add remaining 1 cup flour and process until the mixture has broken into pieces and is evenly distributed around the processor, 4 – 8 seconds.

Transfer mixture to a large bowl and pour the vodka and ice water over the dough ball. With a spatula, press and flip the dough with the liquids until the liquids are absorbed and a cohesive, sticky ball forms.

Wrap the dough ball in cling film and refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour.

Repeat recipe for a total of two dough balls. One dough ball will form the bottom crust and the other dough ball will form the top crust.

For the filling:
Mix the sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, cornstarch, and pectin in a medium bowl until thoroughly combined. Add the pieces of butter and toss to combine. Set aside.

Reserve the vanilla, if using, and add after the sugar mixture has been combined with the apples.

Place the apples you have cored, peeled, and cut into a large, heat-proof bowl (5 quarts, minimum; 8 quarts is best). Heat water to boiling in the stated ratio of 3 quarts of water per 4 lbs. of prepared apples. Pour the boiling water over the apples and let sit for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally so that all apples have a chance to be submerged in the water.

Drain the apples (I used a collander) and return them to the large bowl. Add the sugar mixture to the apples. Stir and toss to thoroughly combine. The butter pieces will melt, which is to be expected. Add vanilla extract, if using. Set apple mixture aside to cool completely.

Assembly and baking:
Once the apples have cooled to room temperature, and the dough balls have chilled for at least an hour, it is time to prepare the crust.

Preheat oven to 425°F.Generously flour a large, flat surface along with a rolling pin. Take one of the dough balls and place it on the floured surface; it will be sticky, so be patient. Roll dough ball out into about 1/2″ thickness. Carefully transfer the flat disc to the pie plate. Press disc so that it evenly lines the inside of the pie plate. Crimp edges so that they are more or less even and line the edge of the pie plate. Loosely cover with cling film, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes have passed, remove cling film and poke holes in bottom of crust with a fork. Place a large piece of aluminum foil loosely over crust, so that the entire crust is covered, and put pie weights in the bottom. (I use dried kidney beans for this, and they work beautifully.) Bake crust for 17 minutes; remove pie weights and aluminum foil, and bake for an additional 4 – 7 minutes, or until lightly golden brown. Set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, prepare the second dough ball by rolling out to approximately the same size and thickness as the bottom crust. Line a large, flat plate or cookie sheet with waxed paper, and transfer disc to the waxed paper. Place in refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Adjust oven to 350°F.

Once the bottom crust has cooled, place pie dish on a rimmed cookie sheet to catch any drips. Add the pie filling, ensuring it is evenly distributed. Cover with the chilled top crust, crimping the edges over the pre-baked bottom crust’s edges. Brush top of crust with the heavy cream, and sprinkle with the 1/4 cup sugar. Cut a few slits in the crust to allow steam to escape.

Bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, loosely tent pie with foil and bake for an additional hour. Remove foil and bake pie for 30 more minutes.

Carefully take pie off rimmed baking sheet and place pie on cooling rack. Allow pie to cool completely to room temperature. This is important! The pie needs to cool completely so that it will thicken properly. If you cut the pie while it’s still hot, or even lukewarm, the juices will run out of the pie, and your hard work will have been for a pie that is still tasty, but not stellar.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to four days.

Notes:

*I found that this much in weight of apples made enough filling for two pies. You have two options:

1. Halve everything for the filling, and continue as directed for the rest of the pie.

2. You can keep the ratios as they are, and store half of the apple mixture in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator for up to three days, to be used for a second pie or for cake filling, ice cream topping, apple turnover filling – the possibilities are many, as the apple filling is absolutely scrumptious on its own before being baked into a pie.

**You may increase or reduce the amount of either type of sugar, depending on your preferences. Personally, I think you could add up to 1 1/2 cups of granulated sugar, plus 1/2 cup light brown sugar (firmly packed, of course), before the pie became too sweet; everyone is different, however, and you may prefer a milder tasting pie. The sugar ratios as presented created a pie that was quite balanced between the flavours of sugar and apple, still with a robust apple flavour.

***You can also add nutmeg, ginger, allspice, and other spices you feel would go well with apples and cinnamon. Be cautious with the amounts, as spices are stronger than they seem. I wouldn’t add more than 1/4 tsp. each of nutmeg, ginger, and allspice, as these spices, along with cinnamon, would quickly overwhelm the flavour of the apples.

Sources: Crust from Cook’s Illustrated All-Time Best Holiday Baking, 2013; apple pie filling an amalgamation of Cook’s Illustrated All-Time Best Holiday Baking, 2013, Leite’s Culinaria, and Serious Eats; many helpful tips found at Serious Eats

Badass Pecan Pie

The pecan pie is reposing near my beautiful fall apron. I know my crust looks a little wonky, but I happen to be quite terrible with pie crusts. It's an affliction that is poorly understood.

The pecan pie is reposing near my beautiful fall apron. I know my crust looks a little wonky, but I happen to be quite terrible with pie crusts. It’s an affliction that is poorly understood.

Hold the phone, people! This pie is beautiful. This pie is poetical. The filling is buttery, the notes of vanilla definite and sure. It tastes almost like caramel; and the thick, smooth texture of the filling is actually quite reminiscent of caramel, only it holds its shape. The secret to the filling’s unbelievable, and atypical, smoothness is that the filling is cooked to 130˚F before being added to the just-baked pie crust, and then baked at 275˚F for an hour. The character of the pecans really comes to life against this butter-and-vanilla majesty. Crivens*, but I could eat this filling all day long.

And the crust! Oh, the crust! As if this amazing filling weren’t incredible enough by itself!

The filling is as smooth as caramel and twice as thick!

The filling is as smooth as caramel and twice as thick!

The crust, a vodka pie crust from Cook’s Illustrated, blew my socks off. It was such a scunner** to work with, being very wet compared to more typical pie dough, and it needed a lot of patching; but it’s so flaky, tender, and mildly sweet – the perfect backdrop for the rich filling – that I forgive it its scunnery. This is hands-down the best pie crust I’ve ever encountered. I am wowed. I am amazed. I am in love.

And I almost passed it by! Why? Because it has vodka in it, and I thought that vodka would make the crust taste of strangeness. But it doesn’t! It leaves no vodka flavor whatsoever in the pie crust. I was skeptical of this claim, but my skepticism was silenced by my first bite of this flaky wonder. I am a believer.

The cool thing about using vodka in a pie crust (aside from boozing while you bake) is that vodka retards the formation of gluten during the mixing process. Gluten forms when flour absorbs water and is subsequently physically manipulated, as with kneading. Gluten toughens the dough and too much of it, as would form with too much handling of the dough, makes for a tough baked product. With vodka, you can handle the dough practically all day long, and it won’t form much gluten compared to using water. The alcohol content of the vodka evaporates in the oven, leaving behind absolutely no taste of vodka. A bit of caution: This crust must be made in a food processor to get the flour both evenly coated and not coated with butter. (When you’re blending flour and butter, some of the flour is coated with butter and thus will not absorb water, while the rest of the flour is not coated with butter, and thus will absorb water.) Having said that, it’s certainly worth a try even if a food processor doesn’t enter the picture. I bowed to the Cook’s Illustrated recommendation and used a food processor. It really works wonders.

This slice of pecan pie is giving me a pointed look.

This slice of pecan pie is giving me a pointed look.

Over the years, I’ve wrestled with making a good pecan pie. I could never achieve the right balance of flavours, and the texture was always a bit lumpy, which served as an addendum to the mediocrity of my pecan pies. And I never bothered making my own crust, because I figured its flavour and texture would disappear into the overly sweet filling. I used store-bought frozen crusts, which are very thin, and tasteless, and so I created my very own little self-fulfilling prophecy. Yay!

As you know, I’ve been trying out recipes for the upcoming Feast of St. Bird, and I was mighty pleased with how the pumpkin cheesecake from Cook’s Illustrated holiday baking magazine turned out. Leafing through the magazine – I still haven’t read all the recipes in it yet! – I encountered a recipe for Classic Pecan Pie. I made a few changes, and wound up creating an amalgamation of the Cook’s Illustrated pecan pie recipe and the pecan pie recipe I’ve been using and tweaking for years (from an old recipe card of my mom’s – unfortunately, I don’t have a more specific source than that). I downplayed the molasses flavour of the magazine’s recipe, slightly increased the amount of corn syrup, and scaled back the butter by 1/3. The full TBS of vanilla extract seemed spot on to me, however, and I happily tipped in a full measure of vanilla. So that’s why I could never seem to get a bold vanilla flavour out of my old pecan pie recipe – I was only using 1 tsp of vanilla! When comparing the two recipes side-by-side, I saw a note I’d written to myself on the old recipe card: “Try 1 full TBS vanilla?” So that made me feel a bit better about my thought processes regarding pecan pie.

What is your quest?

What is your quest?

Two things about the Cook’s Illustrated pecan pie recipe bothered me, and bother me still. The first is that the filling recipe yields enough for two standard-depth 9″ pies (or 1 deep dish 9″ pie), yet the recipe calls for the use of only one standard-depth 9″ pie dish. You will have enough filling for either two standard-depth 9″ pies, or one deep-dish 9″ pie. Trust me on this. I know of what I speak. The second issue is that the crust recipe for this particular pie would yield a fairly thick crust for a standard-depth 9″ pie dish, but a very, very thin crust for either two standard-depth 9″ pie dishes or one deep-dish 9″ pie dish. I doubled the crust recipe, as I have a deep pie dish, and I am so, so happy I did this. The crust was not overly thick, nor was it overly thin: it was just right. ‘Tis something to consider when choosing to make either two standard-depth 9″ pies or one deep-dish 9″ pie. The crust recipe below is the doubled version; simply cut the amount of each ingredient neatly in half to halve recipe.

*An all-purpose exclamation used by Pictsies.

**A deeply insulting word – also used by Pictsies – for a useless git.

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Pecan Pie

Yield: One deep-dish 9″ pie OR two standard-depth 9″ pies

Ingredients:

For the crust:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus flour (up to 1/4 cup – yes, the dough is wet!) for dusting the rolling surface
2 TBS sugar
1 tsp salt
12 TBS unsalted butter, cut into 1/4″ pieces and chilled
8 TBS vegetable shortening (such as Crisco), cut into 4 pieces and chilled
1/4 cup vodka, chilled
1/4 cup ice water

For the filling:
4 TBS unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
3 TBS light brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
3 large eggs
1 cup light corn syrup
1 TBS vanilla extract
2 cups toasted pecans, chopped fine

Method:

For the crust:
In a food processor, process 1 1/2 cups of the flour, 2 TBS sugar, and 1 tsp salt until combined, about 5 – 10 seconds. Scatter butter and shortening atop flour mixture and process until mixture begins to form uneven clumps with no floury bits left, about 15 – 20 seconds. Scrape sides and blade of food processor; re-position mixture evenly around the bottom and blade of the food processor. Cover mixture with remaining 1 cup flour and pulse until mixture is broken into pieces, about 6 – 8 pulses.

Transfer mixture to large bowl and add vodka and water. Using a heavy, stiff spatula, press and turn the dough to incorporate the liquids.

If making one deep-dish 9″ pie, wrap dough as it is in plastic wrap; if making two standard-depth 9″ pies, divide dough in half before wrapping each half in plastic wrap. Refrigerate dough for at least one hour and up to two days. Dough can be frozen for 1 month; when ready to roll, allow dough to thaw completely at room temperature before rolling.

Note: Do not bake crust until ready to make the pie filling, as the heat of the crust and that of the pie filling (which is cooked to 130˚F before being baked) are necessary to achieve the smooth texture of the baked filling. When ready to make the pie filling, preheat oven to 425˚F. On a heavily floured surface, and with a heavily floured rolling pin, roll the dough into a 12″ round (or two 12″ rounds, if making two standard-depth 9″ pies) and place in pie dish(-es). Fold and tuck the overhanging dough underneath itself; patch any holes using some of the overhang, if necessary. With your fingers, crimp edges of dough. (Here’s hoping you’ll have more luck than I did. I’m terrible with managing pie crusts.) Loosely wrap dough and pie dish(-es) in plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled, about 30 minutes.

Line surface of chilled dough with double layer of aluminum foil, making sure to cover the edges of the crust. Fill with pie weights and bake for 15 minutes. Remove pie weights and aluminum foil and bake an additional 4 – 7 minutes, or until crust(s) is (are) golden brown. Immediately after removing browned crust(s) from oven, reduce oven temperature to 275˚F. Fill hot crust(s) with pecan filling and bake (further instructions below).

For the filling:
While crust(s) is (are) baking, melt butter in 3 quart heavy-bottomed saucepan on medium-low heat. Off the heat, whisk in the sugar, brown sugar, and salt until the butter has been absorbed. Whisk in the eggs, corn syrup, and vanilla until completely incorporated and smooth.

Return mixture to the stove on medium-low heat and cook, whisking occasionally (at some point during this stage, the crust[s] will come out of the oven – you want the crust to still be hot when you pour the filling into it. Place baked crust[s] on rimmed baking sheet[s]* and set aside), until the mixture is hot to the touch and registers 130˚F on an instant-read thermometer.

Immediately remove mixture from heat; stir in pecans and pour mixture into hot crust (if making two pies, divide filling evenly between crusts). Bake at 275˚F for 50 – 65 minutes, rotating the pie(s) halfway through baking. The filling should look set and crispy on top. If you shake the pie gently from side to side, the pecans should not move about in the filling; they should form a united, stiff mass of browned pecans. The filling should “[yield] like gelatin when gently pressed with back of spoon,” to quote Cook’s Illustrated (p. 72 – 73). I didn’t find the gelatin qualifier to be of much help, as the top of a baked pecan pie is kind of hard due to the pecans rising to the top, but perhaps you will find this information helpful.

Let pie cool on wire rack, about two hours. This will help the filling set even further, as the pie will still cook a little after it’s removed from the oven. Wrapped in plastic wrap, the cooled pie can be stored at room temperature for 2 – 3 days. Serve at room temperature or slightly warm, with whipped cream if desired. This whipped cream would make a smashing accompaniment to this pie.

*Here is where the wisdom of placing the baked and empty crust on a rimmed baking sheet becomes apparent: If the pie is sitting on a rimmed baking sheet, it will be much easier to get into and out of the oven without destroying the edges of the crust, as the filling for this pie is very heavy. Using a rimmed baking sheet for this purpose also makes it easier to move the pie around in general.

Source: Crust from, and filling heavily adapted from, Cook’s Illustrated All-time Best Holiday Baking, 2013