Sometimes, dessert is too focused on sugar. Think about it – cupcakes loaded with frosting, cakes filled with massive amounts of buttercream, sundaes piled high with candy toppings.
Which is why we all need to have more fruit pie. Pie, if done right, isn’t about a sugar overload. Good pie focuses on the natural flavors of the fruit – the sugar, spices, and thickeners in the filling are all about bringing out that fruit flavor, not masking it.
We’re in apple season right now, and apple pie is a wonderful less sweet alternative to the cupcakes, cookies, and cakes that beckon from bakery windows. Apples are a marriage of sweet and tart – and a good pie should pay homage to their wonderful flavor profile.
I made my apple pie with granny smith and crispin apples from the Dupont Farmer’s market – and believe me, using really good fruit definitely makes a difference in the final pie. I had this fabulous apple crumb pie at the DC state fair that I was a little obsessed with, so this apple pie features a crumb topping as well. And best of all, the filling isn’t too sweet – it’s a dessert that won’t leave you in sugar shock. And believe me, given all the sugar I eat on a daily basis, a less sweet dessert is very welcome on my dinner table.
For the pie crust
2 cups (10 oz) flour
6 oz (1 1/2 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4 inch cubes
2 oz (4 tbs) vegetable shortening, cut into 1/4 inch cubes
Scant 1/2 cup iced water (plus a few more droplets, if needed, for sprinkling)
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp sugar (plus more for sprinkling)
1 egg white
1 1/2 cups crumb topping (recipe follows)
For the filling
3 pounds baking apples (about 7 medium), peeled, cored, and sliced into 1/4 inch pieces
1 tbs fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup (2.5 oz) dark brown sugar
1/4 cup (1.75 oz) sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 tbs cornstarch
4 tsp cornstarch
1 egg, lightly beaten with 1 tbs of water (for egg wash)
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and sugar. Freeze the flour mixture, butter, shortening, and the processor blade for 1/2 hour before using. Fit the blade on the processor, and then add the flour mixture, butter, and shortening to the bowl. Pulse a couple of time, in five second bursts – until the butter and shortening are the size of small peas. Sprinkle 1/4 cup plus 2 tbs the water over the flour mixture and pulse until the dough just comes together. If necessary, add more water one teaspoon at a time. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured work surface, divide in half, flatten each half into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill in the refrigerator for at least one hour.
Remove one disk of the dough from the refrigerator and roll between lightly floured pieces of parchment paper until 1/8 inch thick. Place in a lightly greased 9 inch pie pan and gently press into the corners and sides of the pan with your fingers. Trim off excess dough. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour, and up to 24 hours.
Remove the second disk of dough from the refrigerator and roll between lightly floured pieces of parchment paper until 1/8 inch thick. Using a cookie cutter or pastry cutter, cut out approximately 45 one-inch leaf shapes (if you don’t have a leaf cutter, use a cookie cutter to cut out one-inch circles, and then cut each circle in half with a pizza cutter or very sharp knife). Store the leaf cut outs in the freezer on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, until ready to use.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line pie with a piece of parchment paper and fill with dried rice or beans. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove from oven. Gently remove the parchment and prick the bottom and sides of the pie all over with the tines of a fork. Return to the oven for 5-10 minutes, until the pie is lightly browned. Remove from oven and let cool for 3 minutes, then lightly brush with egg white.
Place apples in a large bowl and sprinkle on the lemon juice, dark brown sugar, sugar cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Toss to coat evenly, and let macerate for at least 30 minutes, up to 1 hour. Sprinkle on cornstarch and toss with the apples, until all traces of the cornstarch disappear. Transfer to empty pie shell. Freeze pie at least 1 hour before baking, to help relax the pastry.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Cover the pie with a piece of foil – crimping it in two or three places to create a dome. Cut two to three steam vents in the foil. Bake pie for 45 minutes.
Remove pie from oven and remove foil. Brush the backs of the leaf cut outs with egg wash and place, egg washed side down, in an overlapping pattern around the edge of the pie. Brush tops of leaf cut outs with egg wash and lightly sprinkle with granulated sugar. Return to oven and bake for an additional 15 minutes.
Remove from oven a final time and cover the tops of the apples with the crumb topping. Bake for a final 15-20 minutes, until the juices are bubbly and the apples feel tender (but not mushy) when pierced with a small sharp knife or cake tester. Let cool on a rack before serving. Serve warm.
Makes about 1 1/2 cups
2 tbs + 2 tsp (2 oz) dark brown sugar
1 tbs (.5 oz) sugar
1/2 cup (1.75 oz) walnut halves, finely chopped
1/8 tsp salt
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup (2.5 oz) all purpose flour
1/4 cup (2 oz) butter, soft
In a medium bowl, whisk together the dark brown sugar, sugar, walnut halves, salt, cinnamon, and flour until combined (use your fingers to break up any lumps of sugar). Add the softened butter and cut it in with a pastry cutter, two forks, or your fingers, until it resembles a coarse meal. Pinch the mixture into little clumps.