Perfect apple pie: A Thanksgiving treat
FoodA holiday favorite

Perfect apple pie: A Thanksgiving treat

Can be made with store-bought pie frozen pie crusts.

Perfect apple pie (Photo by Jessica Grann)
Perfect apple pie (Photo by Jessica Grann)

While many Americans prefer pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving, my favorite dessert for the holiday has always been apple pie.

I often share family recipes because they are tried and true. I go back to these recipes again and again because they are beloved and well received. My apple pie recipe is almost identical to my mother’s, but I use some brown sugar and vanilla to bring the flavor to the next level.

You can prepare your own pie pastry if you prefer, but I make this pie with store-bought frozen pie pastry. I place the disposable pie tin into a pretty baking dish and nobody ever knows that it isn’t a homemade crust.

If you have a favorite baking apple, feel free to use it in this recipe, but I’m a purist like my mother, and I use tart Granny Smith apples because they don’t turn into mush after baking in the oven for an hour. You can also use a mix of two apple varieties if you prefer.

7-8 cups of Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and sliced
¾ cup white sugar
¼ cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon lemon juice
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
2 pie crusts, homemade or store-bought
1 teaspoon of sugar for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 425 F and place the wire rack in the middle of the oven.

Thaw the pie crusts on your countertop while you are preparing the apple filling. The pastry should feel cool to the touch but be thawed enough so that you can remove the top layer from the foil pan. If the pastry gets so warm that it looks soft, pop it back into the fridge for 10 minutes.

Combine the sugars, spices, salt, lemon juice and zest, vanilla and flour in a large bowl. Mix the ingredients well with a whisk.

Core and peel the apples, one at a time, and add the sliced apples to the bowl, tossing them well in the sugar mixture. If you peel all of the apples at once, they will turn brown as you’re working, so try to avoid that.

Core one apple, slice it in half, peel one half, then cut the slices to fill the bowl. I vary the sizes, with some thicker than others, but overall I cut them about ¼-inch wide, with 12-14 pieces per apple, depending on the size of the apple. That is why I measure the apples by cup.
Toss the apples well in the sugar after every addition.

Store-bought crusts come in one size, and you can only stuff so many apples in and still be able to seal the crusts on the edges. The only downside is that there is never enough pastry to bake beautiful, fluted edges. You can tell from the photograph that my pie does not have beautiful edges; I did this on purpose to normalize using store-bought pastry.

Home cooks can get intimidated by pastry because they can’t always make it look “perfect.” Don’t let that stop you! The flavor is the same and your family will still appreciate the effort that you put into baking. If you’re using homemade pastry and can stretch it out, you should be able to fit a full 8 cups of apples into the pie and have plenty of room left to flute your edges.

As I mentioned above, I bake this in a pie plate. It supports the pie, catches spills and looks pretty on the table.

Take one of the pie shells — foil pan and all if you prefer — and place it on a pie plate. You can also take the crust from the foil pan and place it across the pie plate, just as you would if you purchased pastry that comes in a roll as opposed to frozen in a pan.

Pour the apple filling into the bottom crust and arrange the apples as tightly as possible. Use a rubber spatula to scrape any liquid from the bowl and pour it over the apples.

Cut two tablespoons of butter or margarine into teaspoon-size chunks and dot those across the top of the apples. Try to get as much of the apple mixture in as possible, with a rounded mound of apples toward the center of the pie. Keep in mind that the apples will collapse when they bake, so your finished pie won’t look so tall.

Take the second pie crust and gently pull the edges away from the pan. Turn it upside down over the bottom portion and gently insert your fingers into the pan to help the pastry fall away from the foil pan.

Gently pat the crust down over the apples and seal the edges of the top crust to the bottom crust. You can use your fingers or a fork to do this. If the top pastry tears a little, use your fingers to smooth it out and bake it as is.

Use a sharp knife and cut a two-inch slit in the middle of the top crust to allow for venting.

You can brush the top crust with an egg wash before baking it if you prefer.

Bake for one hour or until a knife inserted through the slit goes through the apples easily. If it needs a little more time, put it back into the oven, but watch it carefully. If the crust looks too dark, loosely place a piece of foil over the top and continue baking. I start checking the pie at about 50 minutes because different ovens and baking dishes can affect the baking time.

If there is a lot of excess juice bubbling up around the edges at about the 50-minute mark, take the pie out of the oven and use a pastry brush to spread the juice up and over the top of the pie crust, then continue baking for about 10 minutes; that will give the top crust a beautiful color.

When you remove the pie from the oven, sprinkle the top with 1 teaspoon of white sugar.

Allow the pie to cool completely before serving.

You can make this the day before so that your oven is free to use for the turkey on Thanksgiving. Do not cover the pie with plastic wrap because it will make the pastry too soft. Loosely cover it in foil or use a cake dome for storage. Pies also store well in an empty, cool oven.

Wishing you and your family a happy Thanksgiving! Enjoy and bless your hands! PJC

Jessica Grann is a home chef living in Pittsburgh.

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