There are few things in life that give me that sense of “yes, I am an adult.” Like learning to drive a stick shift. Buying my first suit after grad school. And baking a really good pie. To me, a good pie shows that you know a thing or two about baking. And it shows that you really care about the people you share your pie with … because it’s a labor of love. Total adult territory.
But baking a really good pie doesn’t have to be hard. Just like driving a stick shift, all you need is a good friend to sit next to you and let you practice. Since I can’t pull up a chair and be with you in your kitchen, I did the next best thing and put together a step by step tutorial. You can scroll through the pictures and get the play by play, or you can skip to the end and read the recipe instructions.
First things first. Here are few things that help me make a good pie:
Cultured butter. I started using cultured butter in all my pie crust recipes ever since I saw Elizabeth Pruitt, owner of Tartine Bakery in San Francisco, on the Martha Stewart Show. I followed her recipe for quiche, and I was a believer. Cultured butter helps make the pie crust light with flaky layers. It really does make a difference.
A deep tart pan or quiche pan. It makes a beautiful pie, and it’s easy to lift the entire pie out of the pan for an impressive presentation. You’ll see.
A simple pastry blade. I mix my pie dough by hand, and this helps me keep the dough together. (And clean my counter tops afterwards!)
Cold ingredients. And keep all your ingredients cold as you go. Start by cubing the butter and then put the butter in the freezer while you measure out the flour, sugar, and salt and place them in a bowl and whisk them together. Combine the egg yolks and milk in a small bowl. Keep the egg-milk mixture in the fridge until you are ready to use it. Now, add the cold butter to the flour mixture and begin rubbing the butter into the flour with your fingers.
Work quickly here so that the butter does not warm up too much. Continue to rub the butter into the flour mixture until the butter is pea sized.
The butter-flour mixture will be very lumpy and the butter will be in different sized lumps. That’s okay; you don’t want to over mix the butter into the flour. If the butter starts to come to room temperature, you can always pop the mixture back into the freezer for a few minutes to keep everything cold.
Take the butter-flour mixture and pour it on to a clean counter top and form into a long well or trough. Add 2 tablespoons of the egg-milk mixture down the center. Then, take both hands and “fluff” the dry ingredients with the wet ingredients like this:
Then take your pastry blade (a spatula would work, too!) and scrape the dough together. You can use the pastry blade to make sure that any dry flour on the bottom gets moved to the top so that all of the flour eventually gets incorporated into the dough evenly.
Then, make another trough and repeat the above steps until a dough begins to form and the wet ingredients have been incorporated. As you fluff the flour mixture and remake the troughs, you will notice that the dough is beginning to get sticky and the gluten is beginning to form. When you are finished incorporating all of the wet ingredients, the dough will be very shaggy and look something like this:
Once you have incorporated all of the wet ingredients, form the dough into a mound.
Then take the heel of your hand and press the dough out in all directions to help smooth out the butter.
Then, use your pastry blade and bring the dough back into a mound and repeat smoothing out the dough once or twice again.
Then, form the the dough into a disk, wrap it in plastic wrap, and let it rest in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. I usually make the pie dough the night before I plan to bake it. Notice that the dough is smooth and the butter is “marbled” throughout the dough. That will turn into light flaky layers!
Once the pie dough has rested and chilled, unwrap it and roll out about 2/3 of the dough. (The remaining 1/3 of the dough can be used for another baking project – I like to roll it out and sprinkle it with cinnamon & brown sugar and bake at 350 for a simple sweet treat).
Sprinkle flour on top of the plastic wrap and use this to help keep the dough from sticking to the counter top. (You may need extra plastic wrap to make sure it’s big enough to accommodate the size of dough). Sprinkle flour on top of the dough and your rolling pin. Roll out the dough so that you have plenty of dough to fit inside your pie dish. To keep your pie crust from shrinking in the oven, try not to stretch the dough! So, one trick is to only roll your rolling pin in one direction, and keep moving your dough until a you achieve the desired shape and size you need to fit into your pie dish.
Then, take the dough and wrap it around the rolling pin to help transfer the dough into the pie dish. Again, try not to pull or stretch your dough. If it breaks anywhere, you can always repair it with a scrap of dough and water later.
Once you have the dough safely in the dish, gently press the dough into all the sides of the dish. I use my rolling pin to help take off excess dough from the sides. Then, I use kitchen scissors to trim any remaining dough, since even the smallest tug on the dough can lead to the crust shrinking in the oven.
Once you have the dough ready in the dish, put it back in the fridge to chill and rest for about 30 minutes. If you are short on time, you can pop it in the freezer for about 10 – 15 minutes. Preheat your oven to 350. Once your pie dough is finished chilling, line it with parchment paper and fill the entire dish with pie weights. I use dried beans and rice. Place the pie dish on a cookie sheet to catch any drippings (especially if you are using a quiche pan).
Bake for 30 – 35 minutes. Then, carefully remove the parchment paper and pie weights. Take a fork and prick the dough a few times, then return it to the oven and continue baking until the entire crust is light brown, could be another 10 – 20 minutes. You have to stay and watch the crust at this point. Just keep your oven light on and stay close by. (If the crust begins to bubble up, you can use a fork and poke it back down as it bakes). This step is important. If any of your dough is still pale and translucent, the dough will not be light and flaky; it will be doughy and dense. If you are worried about the sides browning too much, you can take long strips of tin foil and make little “tents” around the edges of your pie crust to protect them.
While the crust cools, prepare the apple filling. Let the apple filling sit at room temperature while you prepare the crumb topping.
Pour the apple filling into the pie crust, keeping the apples level with the top of the crust. (I didn’t end up using all of the apple filling that I made). After I poured in enough apples to be level with the top of the pie crust, I poured in enough juices so that they came up to almost half way up the pie crust. The juices should thicken up in the oven and turn into a delightful goo that goes really well with vanilla ice cream!
**The tricky thing about fruit pies is the moisture of the fruit and how much flour to use to help the juices thicken up in the oven. If you scroll down below, you’ll see the measurements I used. Now, if your apples are more watery and you are nervous about the filling being to juicy, you can add another tablespoon or two of flour. The juices in my pie actually thickened up quite a bit and I could have poured more of the juices into the pie, so I really wouldn’t worry about it too much here. This is where practice making fruit pies comes in handy. Just do the best you can and write down how much fruit to flour you used, so that for your next pie, you can adjust the ratio if you want.
Then pour the crumb topping on top of the apples, forming a large mound. (I used only 3/4 of the crumb topping.) I know it looks like a lot here, but it does bake down in the oven. Bake for about 60 – 75 minutes, until the topping is golden brown and you can see that the juices have started to bubble a bit.
Here’s the hard part – wait until the pie is fully cooled (okay, mostly cooled) before cutting into it. If you cut into it too early, the juices may not be fully set and you’ll have a big (but delicious) mess. Once the pie is cooled, you can lift the pie out of the quiche pan & serve!
Here’s the recipe I used for my pie crust – or pate brisee I – adapted slightly from Joanne Chang’s Flour cookbook:
1.75 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup unsalted cultured butter, very cold, cut into cubes
2 egg yolks
3 tablespoons milk
Cut the cultured butter into cubes and place in the freezer. Place the flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl and use a whisk to mix together thoroughly. Combine the egg yolks and milk together in a small bowl and place in the fridge until you are ready to use it. Once the butter is very cold, place the butter in the flour mixture and begin rubbing the butter into the flour by using your hands. Once the butter is incorporated and the size of peas, pour the butter-flour mixture on to a clean counter top. Make a long trough and pour 2 tablespoons of the egg yolk-milk mixture down the center of the flour trough. Fluff the wet and dry ingredients together, and then reshape into a trough and repeat until all the wet and dry ingredients are combined and a shaggy dough begins to form. Then form the dough into a mound and use the heel of your hand to flatten and smooth the dough in all directions. Repeat this a few times. Shape the dough into a disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Place the dough in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350. Roll 2/3 of the dough into a large circle, large enough to fit into a large quiche pan (or other pie dish). Be careful not to pull or stretch your dough. Trim the dough as needed. Place the pie dish on a large baking sheet. Then line the pie crust with parchment paper and fill with pie weights. Bake for 30 0 35 minutes. Remove the parchment paper and pie weights. Poke the pie crust with a fork a few times. Return to the oven and bake until the entire crust is a light brown, about 10 – 20 minutes.
Let the crust cool on a wire rack while you prepare the apples and crumb topping.
3 Granny Smith apples, peeled and thinly sliced
6 Honeycrisp apples (they were small for Honeycrisp apples), peeled and thinly sliced
(this was about 4 pounds of apples total – just make sure you have a mix of tart & sweet apples)
zest of 1 orange
zest of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons orange juice
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1.5 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon allspice (if you don’t have allspice, it’s not really necessary)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons of flour
Combine all of the above ingredients into a large bowl and stir to combine. Wait a few minutes and taste the apples and the juices to check for sweetness and spices. Adjust to your liking. I like the apple filling to be sweet and full of cinnamon!
I use the crumb topping from Barefoot Contessa’s Old-Fashioned Apple Crisp recipe for my apple pies. Click here for the topping recipe.
Just combine the flour, sugar, brown sugar, salt, oatmeal, and butter in your mixer and mix until the butter is pea sized. If you don’t have a mixer, you can rub the butter into the dry ingredients with your fingers. Once you’re finished mixing the ingredients, take the mixing bowl full of crumb topping and put it in the freezer for about 10 minutes to make sure it’s cold before adding it to the pie.
Now, fill your pie crust with the apple topping. (I do pour in most of the apple juices so that the pie has a nice “goo” to it that goes well with vanilla ice cream.) Pour about 3/4 of the crumb topping on top of the apple filling. Place the pie dish on a baking sheet (to catch any drippings) and bake at 350 for about 60 – 75 minutes until the topping is golden brown and the apple juices are bubbling.
Let cool before slicing into the pie. You can re-warm the pie by baking it for about 10 – 15 minutes at 350.