Today is Patriots’ Day, and we have no dessert in the house. I asked Dr. Science what he’d like, and he’d like apple pie. It wasn’t too long ago that I didn’t produce two apple pies in a year, and here I am producing two apple pies in two days. Thank you, Chef Dagmar!
Yesterday when I showed Dagmar’s method of preparing apples, I neglected to mention that the penultimate step is mine. Dagmar’s method is to peel the apples with a vegetable peeler, halve them vertically with a chef’s knife, cut out the stem and blossom, scoop out the core with a melon ball tool, and slice the apples. After I core the apple halves, I slice them in half again horizontally. That might make them easier to slice (for me, anyway), but the real reason is it makes smaller pieces of apple.
One common problem with apple pie is the gap between the filling and the top crust. As the pie bakes, the crust gets crisp and holds its shape, and the apples soften and settle, leaving a gap. At some point it occurred to me that if the pieces of apple were smaller, they could be packed in pretty tightly. If they’re already packed in, they don’t settle as they bake. So here’s what they look like dumped into the shell:
And here’s what they look like when I get them packed in tightly:
When the pie is baked, you can see through the slits that the apples are right under the crust:
When the pie is cut, you can see there’s no gap:
The other issue is what kind of apples to use. Granny Smith are traditional, but a few years ago the gas company had to send someone to install a new gas meter. We had apple pie in the kitchen, and when the gas man came into the kitchen to relight the pilot lights, we started talking about apple pie. He makes apple pie and everyone he knows loves it. He uses Cortland apples; at that time I was using Granny Smith. So I tried using Cortland, but I didn’t like them as well. I know you need to use apples that hold up in baking (McIntosh apples, says Chef Dagmar, “want to be applesauce”), but what other qualities do good pie apples have? Then I read in How Baking Works that you should use two kinds of apples. Some apples have a lot of flavor but not a lot of fragrance; some apples have a lot of fragrance but not a lot of flavor. For the best pie, you should use some of each. Granny Smith has a lot of flavor, and Empire has a strong aroma, so that’s what I use now.
Paula Figoni: How Baking Works. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, 2004, pp 293-294.