Whether you're picking your apples from a local orchard or farmers' market, the trees are laden, the baskets are full and apple season is upon us. Tumbling into produce bins as you read this are fresh, crisp apples that crunch and squirt their juice when you bite into them.
Usually, green- and yellow-skinned apples are recommended for cooking, but I find that if they are newly harvested almost any variety bakes into a good pie. Every fall, I get out my pie pans, slice those apples and turn them into deep-dish, upside-down, open-face and crumb-topped pies.
Since most apples must be peeled before they are added to pies, I've found that an old-fashioned apple peeler/corer/slicer is a handy tool to make quick work of preparing the fruit. These gadgets suddenly appear in cook shops and hardware stores during apple season. They have a clamp that screws onto a kitchen counter or table to hold them in place and prongs to hold the apple. As you turn the handle, the contraption removes the peel, cores the apple and slices it in one fell swoop.
Citrus juice, usually lemon, is often mixed with peeled apples to reduce browning. I've noticed that freshly harvested apples seldom discolor, so I add juice to them only for flavor. As the season progresses and the apples age or come out of storage, tossing sliced apples with citrus juice becomes a good way to preserve their color.
Several factors determine how long apples take to bake in a pie. Larger apple chunks take longer to bake than slices. Cutting uniform slices ensures that apples bake evenly. I've found the firmer the apple, the longer it takes to bake. My best test is to insert a toothpick in a pie to check to see if the apples have softened. If they test hard, I continue baking them. Cover the top of the pie with aluminum foil if it begins to darken too much.
I prebake prepared apples if the baking time for the assembled pie is short or if I want to reduce the amount of juice that forms. Partially baking the apples for a deep-dish pie produces a crisp topping and tender apple filling.
Apple pies are best served the same day they are baked, but warming pies can freshen them for serving on the next day. Whether to serve most apple pies warm or at room temperature comes down to your personal preference.
Apple pie tips
* Two large or 3 medium apples yield about 2 cups sliced or chopped apples. Chunky chopped apples take up slightly more room in a measuring cup. Measurements can only be guidelines, so use enough apples to fill pies to your taste.
* Cut apples into uniform slices or pieces.
* For the best flavor, bake pie crusts until they change color to golden or light brown.
The Flaky Pie Pastry can be prepared with water or milk. Water produces a crisper pie crust than milk does. I use milk to make an especially tender crust. On a warm, humid day the dough requires less liquid than on a cool, dry day. Double the ingredients if you need 2 pie crusts.
Store-bought puff pastry produces an instant crust for the Open-Face Apple Pie. Parchment paper prevents the butter in the pastry from burning onto the pan.
Flaky Pie Pastry
Makes 1 pie crust
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cake flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 tablespoons cold vegetable shortening
3 to 4 tablespoons cold water or cold whole milk
Mix all-purpose flour, cake flour, salt and sugar in food processor. Add cold butter and shortening and process, using about 6 on/off turns until mixture forms pea-sized lumps. With machine running, add 3 tablespoons water and process until large moist clumps form and dough holds together. If dough is too dry, add more water by teaspoonfuls.
Gather dough into ball. Flatten into a disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate 1 hour before rolling. (Can be prepared 2 days ahead and kept refrigerated.)
Apple-Sour Cream Crumb Pie
Makes 8 servings
1 1/2 cups sour cream
1 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup unbleached flour
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 large apples, peeled, cored and sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 unbaked and cold Flaky Pie
Crust (recipe above), prepared with water and set in buttered 10-inch pie pan
1/2 cup unbleached flour
1/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into several pieces
1 cup blanched toasted almonds, slivered or sliced
To prepare pie, whisk together sour cream, granulated sugar, flour, egg, vanilla and salt in large bowl until smooth. Stir in apples. Spoon filling into pie shell.
To prepare topping, mix flour, sugars and cinnamon in bowl. Using pastry blender or electric mixer on low speed, mix butter into flour mixture until crumbs form. Stir in almonds. Sprinkle mixture evenly over filling.