5 Shades of Apples Part V: Pièce de résistance

I saved the best for last.  There was no way I could do an entire series on apples and not do an apple pie. It is a quintessential classic and the ultimate expression of the apple in my opinion. Plus its my favorite dessert and I think a well-deserved treat after a long week of early mornings, cooking, and blogging.  I’m pulling out my favorite pretty apron, switching the kitchen linens to fall colors, and getting my apples ready for this last recipe of apple week on Food4ThoughtNYC. Are you ready? Here we go!

The apple pie goes back to the pre-Revolution days of the colonists with pie-making traditions carried over from England and France. By the beginning of the 20th century, apple pie became synonymous with American culture and a symbol often visualized with the bucolic ideal depicted in Norman Rockwell paintings. There are a number of variations of this particular pastry throughout Europe, most notably the tarte tatin originating in Paris in the 1880s and the apple strudel born in the days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Each of these are tasty in their own right (the strudels in Vienna and Prague are DELICIOUS), but nothing beats the beautiful simplicity of a piece of the classic I’m featuring here tonight.

Apple pies tend to be on the heavy side. Between the butter-laden double crust to more butter and sugar in the filling, a slice can clock in at around 400-420 calories and that’s without the addition of vanilla ice cream which is usually scooped on top AND THEN the caramel sauce that’s drizzled over that. Yea, I’ve been there too, it’s okay.

There are literally hundreds of apple recipes out there all proclaiming to be the best of the best, however my goal here remains the same. A healthy alternative to the status quo by cutting out as much of the excess as possible, and keeping the intensity of the flavors intact while boosting the nutritional value. Healthy food doesn’t have to taste like cardboard. In fact, it usually doesn’t because you’re letting a lot of the natural taste in food come out by focusing on that instead of the additives. It’s possible to make apple pie healthier with a few key alterations and I’ve found a great recipe that takes those steps to ensure that I can eat a slice of pie without wanting to take a nap afterwards.

NO. 5 : DEEP DISH APPLE PIE

This recipe, courtesy of Eating Well magazine,  includes a lighter version of pastry crust. I’ve made healthy crusts in the past with mixed results. Most recently, I experimented with a whole wheat and flax seed dough for my empanadas and it was decent for a savory filling, but a bit too tough for a dessert. What makes pie crust so flaky and delicious is the use of cold unsalted butter cut into all purpose white flour. The classic pie crust recipe or pate brisee calls for a full cup of cold unsalted butter, ice cold water, flour of course, and a bit of salt and sugar. I’ve made this recipe dozens of times and it’s always good, but very heavy.

This modified version cuts the butter by 75% and replaces it with sour cream and canola oil. The idea is to keep the dough moist so that it can get the desired flakiness that’s typical of pie crust. Also half the flour is replaced with whole-wheat pastry flour.  You have to be careful when using a whole-grain flour because it tends to result in a tougher pastry due to the higher protein content. If you plan on making this dough then I strongly recommend using a whole-wheat pastry flour instead of regular whole wheat. The pastry flour has a lower protein content making the resulting dough a lot more airy and crusty when baked.  Mixing that with the all-purpose flour improves the taste factor by preventing a wheat-like flavor that might not be appetizing for some.

Let’s table the pie crust discussion for a bit to focus on the big star of tonight’s recipe. You can’t have apple pie without apples, right? And there’s no apple more famous than this, especially when you’re talking about pie. That’s right, you guessed it: the Granny Smith Apple.

Granny Smiths are like apple celebrities. It is one of the most iconic and beloved apple varieties out there and there’s no better showcase for it than good old-fashioned apple pie.

Fun Granny Smith Facts

  • Granny Smiths are actually from Australia where it was discovered in the mid-19th century.
  • They were named after Maria Smith who discovered the apples and soon realized its versatility as both a cooking and eating fruit. This led to a super successful grassroots marketing campaign where she then labeled the apples, “Granny Smith.”
  • They are the original supermarket staple varieties and one of the first international varieties.
  • Given its tough green skin and keeping qualities, granny smiths are capable of being shipped anywhere in the world.
  • They grow best in warmer climates needing high temperatures to ripen properly, and are well suited for apple growing regions in the southern hemisphere.
  • The most recognizable trait of the granny smith is the taste. Very tart and acidic with a super crispy bite, it’s a prime choice for baked apple desserts when paired with a sweeter variety.

I don’t enjoy eating granny smiths as a snack. In fact, I can’t stand them. They’re way too sour for my palate, but there’s something about the way it bakes in a pie that makes it irresistible. With all of the apple pie recipes suggesting various combinations for the filling, it’s hard to land on just one. There is a general consensus, however, that at least one of the apples should be granny smith.

I decided to go with the Empire apple for the second variety. After munching on a few while making apple butter this week, I found them to be so sweet and tasty. They also happen to be ideal for baking and should hold up well against the granny smith for this pie. I can’t resist representing the New York with its namesake apple for my last recipe this week. We’re called the Empire State for a reason folks! Time to show you how it’s done. 🙂

Let’s start with the pastry dough. I premade mine last night to cut down on prep time today but also to allow the dough to cool thoroughly before rolling it out. Pie crust is at its best when you’re working with dough that’s very cold so make sure you place yours in the fridge before getting to work on the apples if you’re making it the same day. It can also be frozen for about 3 months so you can make your batch in advance if necessary.

Here are the ingredients:

Whisk the flours, sugar, and salt in a bowl. Take the unsalted butter and cut it into small cubes. The butter also needs to be very cold. If it melts into the flour than its way too warm and it won’t give you that flaky crust that you want. If this is happening, place it in the freezer for a couple of minutes first.

Cut your butter into the flour mixture. I have a pastry cutter for a reason, so I used mine here. If you’re comfortable with your hands, then go ahead and mix that butter in so that you get small pieces throughout but the butter is still visible. Next add the sour cream and oil. This is where your dough will get a lot of its moisture so be sure to incorporate it well with a fork, scraping all those pieces at the bottom of the bowl.

This last step is crucial. The water you’re using must be ice cold. If you’re not sure if it’s cold enough, stick an ice cube in it. Whatever it takes to make sure you’re using the coldest water possible. Notice a pattern here?? Keep it frosty folks.

The dough should be fairly sticky at this point so that you can actually squeeze clumps of it together and it’ll hold its shape. Start to knead the dough with your hands. Add a tbsp of ice cold water for every three or four kneads so that you can incorporate the water throughout.

Once you’re able to make a ball, take the dough out of the bowl and place it on a clean surface. Keep kneading the dough until it forms a ball, but just until that point. You don’t want to keep kneading and building up that gluten so stop there. Divide the dough into two equal pieces and then flatten each piece into 5-inch discs. Wrap each disc in clear plastic and place in the fridge or freezer. That’s it! You’ve just made your very own pastry dough. Isn’t it awesome?

Now we can focus our attention on the apples.

I’ve previously mentioned my predilection for kitchen gadgetry. I’ve been lusting after one of those ridiculous apple peeler contraptions that looks like a holdover from the Victorian era. It’s got a hand crank and is completely manual but it peels your apples in one complete strip while also cutting into it creating an apple slinky at the end. Just look at this thing:

I admit it’s absolutely ridiculous and every time I’ve added it to my cart on Amazon I talk myself out of it because it’s completely unnecessary and how could I possibly pull this out in front of people? They’d look at me like I was nuts! But that’s the thing with kitchen gadgetry. Do we really need an egg separator? No.  Does that mean I shouldn’t want one? No…well actually I don’t want one, but maybe one day I will. It’s out there for the convenience of moments like this when I’m facing the task of peeling, coring, and slicing 4lbs of apples. One of these little doodads would be great right now. So maybe it’s not so nuts that I want to fill my kitchen with all the contraptions for the lazy. Right?

Now that I’ve stepped off the soap box and put my feelings about gadgets away, I can get back to work. Peel! Core! Slice! I put on a little Pandora and I’m listening to my new favorite station where they play instrumental versions of pop songs. Suddenly Muse and U2 sound super classy when played by a string quartet; I’m obsessed!  After slicing up all the apples (about 7 each, 14 altogether), add the cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and lemon juice.

*Note: I reduced the amount of sugar in this recipe slightly. Instead of 2/3 cup of light brown sugar, I used ½ cup of the light muscovado sugar I bought for the muffins. The empire apples are so sweet that I don’t really think it needs that much sugar in the pie.

Mix up the apples and spices and place half the mixture in a large Dutch oven or heavy pot over medium heat.  Cook until the apples start to wilt, for about 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and add the rest of the apples to the pot along with 2 tbsps of all purpose flour. Mix everything together and put it to the side. Let the apples cool down for about 30 minutes.

Why did I cook the apples? It serves two purposes. First, it helps break down the apples beforehand and prevents the top crust from collapsing on itself since the filling won’t shrink as much in the cooking process. Second, it helps bring out the natural sweetness in the apples curbing the need for added sugar. It’s an added step but it will lead to a better pie.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Now comes the rolling part.  I’ve mentioned before that rolling out dough is not one of my favorite things to do. But this is apple pie. I’m sucking it up because the ends totally justify the means. It may not be perfect but there will be a pie by the end of this and that’s enough motivation to get my rolling pin out and ready.

Make sure you leave your dough out for about 5 minutes before you start because you’ll have a difficult time rolling it out otherwise. Once it’s pliable, place one disc between two sheets of parchment paper. The paper will act as a barrier to allow the dough to smoothly flatten between the pin and the table without any stickiness.

Once it’s at around 13 inches, remove the top layer of paper and flip your pie plate at the center of the circle. Then flip it around and fit the dough across the bottom and sides of your plate. Pour in your apples but reserve some of that liquid in the pot. The apples will continue to release their juices once in the oven so you don’t want to have it soaking beforehand. Now roll out your second piece of dough in exactly the same fashion as the first and carefully place it on top of the apples. Presto! You’ve now got your pie covered and ready to be sealed.

Trim off any excess dough. Next seal both the top and bottom by pressing your thumbs together to crimp the sides. It’s not the fanciest seal out there but it gets the job done.

Lightly whisk one egg white in a small bowl and brush all across the top and edges of the pie. Finally, sprinkle a mixture of cinnamon and turbinado sugar over the top and cut 4 steam vents in the middle. That’s it! Into the oven with you apple pie!

Bake at 425 degrees F for about 20 minutes. Tip: Before you set the pie to cook at the lower heat, you should really pull it out first and cover the sides with foil. I’ve experienced firsthand how the edges can burn up while the rest of the pie bakes. They actually sell pie shields that are like metal muffs that you snap around the edges of the pan. I don’t own those…yet. So for now I place rolled up foil and wrap around the sides to cover the edges as best I can.

Once your pie is ready to go back into the oven, reduce the heat to 375 degrees F and cook for another 25-35 minutes until the crust is golden and all the delicious apple goodness is bubbling. Let the pie cool for approximately 1 ½ hrs before you serve up that first beautiful slice.

There she is. The cap to my series about the apple and a much needed treat after a long week!

I mentioned earlier how adding a scoop of ice cream can boost the calorie count tipping the pie into unhealthy territory. I stand by that statement. But like I said before, it’s been a long week. It’s Friday. And I can’t resist a piece of warm homemade apple pie with a small scoop of cold ice cream. I decided to meet myself in the middle here by picking this almond milk vanilla ice cream. I switched over to almond milk full-time last month and I absolutely love it so this was a nice compromise. And let me tell you…this stuff is SO FREAKING GOOD. Delicious!

Since my pie is still cooling down and it’s too soon to cut up a slice, I cannot show you my curtain call for this pie. I did sneak a little tiny piece and it’s safe to say that this is worth all the time and effort. The crust is flaky but with a but of crunch from the turbinado sugar on top. The filling is super tasty and spicy. I can’t wait until it’s cooled off so I can enjoy it the way its meant- with a spoon and ice cream!

We’ve reached the end of apple week! I’ve shown you five different shades of this amazing fruit and that was just the tip of the iceberg.  I saw so many different recipes and takes on what you can do with apple which left me inspired to keep experimenting in the kitchen for the rest of the season. Also, I was stoked to be able to support local business as much as possible by sourcing all of this fruit at farmers markets. Eating clean and healthy goes beyond the nutrients we’re putting in our bodies. We’re also helping reduce our carbon footprint and contributing to sustainable consumption which has the added bonus of helping our environment. If you’re working this hard to stay healthy so that you can be around for awhile, you want to be sure there’s a clean environment to enjoy as well. Count this towards my Did you know…? for the day.

I hope I was able to show you how a bit of knowledge mixed in with creativity can lead to a lot of fun with healthy food.  You can eat pizza with apple and feel satisfied. You can make your own spread with hardly any effort. You can make a brand new sauce for a family dinner using fruit. I’ve proven that this week. Take the initiative to stretch beyond your comfort zone and you’ll be surprised by what you can do.  I promise. 🙂

So tell me folks: what did you think of apple week? Did you learn something new? Are you trying any of these recipes? Do you want to see me do another food-focused week like this? Drop me a line with your stories and suggestions!! Can’t wait to hear what your thoughts! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a slice of pie calling my name.

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9 thoughts on “5 Shades of Apples Part V: Pièce de résistance

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  1. Congratulations, Maribel! I’ve grown to appreciate the apple ever more, for sure. Another focused week in the future would be a lot of fun – personally, I looked forward to learning what you were cooking up each night.

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    1. Thanks bud! I had a lot of fun figuring out which recipes to feature and even the running around to the market each day was fun. Glad you enjoyed it and hopefully I can find another fruit or vegetable that can be equally as exciting for a week-long feature. Stay tuned! 🙂

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  2. This pie looks gorgeous, AND delicious! What a great week of apples recipes! Thank you for making them so versatile for us, I loved all your recipes and all the nutrition about apples.

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  3. …and yes please do another food focused week…. anything seasonal fruit/veggies would be great! The apple week was a great success 🙂 Pumpkin perhaps? Or plums? Oooh I love plums!
    Éva 🙂

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      1. I love plums (plum butter perhaps?) and fall fruit flavors (apples of course are one of them) I loved all your recipes this week and always (still MUST and WILL make the apple butter)! Thank you for taking the time out of your busy life to share them with us. By the way, the picture of you and your friend is so nice…you both look very happy and it is so nice to see happy people 🙂 And it is my pleasure to comment on your wonderful blog and posts!
        I wish you a wonderful weekend!
        Sincerely,
        Éva

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      2. 🙂 <—— that's me!! Thank you! My friends are precious to me and that picture conveys it more than words. Plums sound very interesting….I'll look into it. Thanks for the suggestion!

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      3. It is nice to have close friendships like that 🙂 Being happy makes us feel better and live longer and good friends always help with that. I look forward to your recipes. I am going to look over your recipe for apple butter after I am done typing here 🙂 It is on my list to make this week 🙂

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