This is my fourth pie in eight years, my second in a week. The first 2 times were a flop…let’s not even go there. The last pie turned out pretty delicious actually but unfortunately, it wasn’t a pretty sight to behold after it was cut – the filling did not stay within the crust but came tumbling out instead. In fact, it looked more like a dish of stewed apples with a slice of pie crust on the side. *LOL*
For all of you pie bakers out there, you know the culprit – that gaping hole between the apples and the top of the crust once the apples cooked down during baking. That “gaping hole” is driving me crazy!!! To solve the problem, I needed either the apples to not shrink as they cook or the crust to shrink with the apples as it bakes. :-D After much research, I decided to try again and this time, I planned to use the America’s Test Kitchen (ATK) technique of pre-cooking the apples before filling the pie. What??? Wouldn’t cooking the apples twice (first on the stovetop, and later in the oven) make them mushy? Apparently not. The explanation given is that when apples are heated at a low-to-moderate temperature, their pectin changes to a more heat-stable form, allowing the apples to tolerate additional cooking without breaking down. Is it really true? I wasn’t quite convinced but it was my best bet so far.
Of course, I couldn’t be satisfied with just one challenge, right? Now, I didn’t just want an apple pie…I wanted an apple-cranberry pie *grin*. As much as I would like to just throw the cranberries in with the apples and be done with it, I don’t think pre-cooked cranberries would hold their shape too well. I ended up coating the cranberries with flour (to accommodate the extra moisture) and layered them between the apples. So, are you curious yet to know the outcome? I was a total wreck throughout the whole baking time, wondering if all my effort would just go to waste. Ta dah!
It worked! The “maddening gap” (as ATK calls it and I agree) is GONE! The top crust now lays nicely on top of the filling, and the whole pie stays together when it’s cut. No more fruit stew with a side of crust. :-D Thank you, America’s Test Kitchen!!!
4½ pounds firm apples, peeled and cut into ¼-inch-thick slices (choose a mix of sweet and tart apples)
½ cup light brown sugar
½ teaspoon coarse salt
Combine apples, sugar, and salt in a Dutch oven and cook, covered, over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the apples are tender when poked with a fork but still hold their shape, 15 to 20 minutes (the apples and their juice should gently simmer during cooking). Transfer the apples and juice to a rimmed baking sheet (which I double-lined with parchment so I could reuse it later in the oven) to cool. Do not wash the Dutch oven yet.
Note: I was erring on the side of caution (not knowing if the apples would truly hold their shape or turn mushy in the oven) and pre-cooked the apples until they were just beginning to turn tender. Some still had a very slight crunch. Next time, I’ll know to get them tender throughout as they really don’t change much as they bake.
2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
1 cup sweetened dried cranberries
¼ cup light brown sugar
½ teaspoon coarse salt
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (pie was still a little runnier than I would like…will increase flour to 3 tablespoons next time)
Combine cranberries, sugar, salt, and flour in a medium bowl. Set aside until needed.
Putting Pie Together
2 disks Grammy’s Pie Dough (recipe below) or your favorite pie dough
1 tablespoon turbinado sugar
Roll 1 disk of dough on a lightly floured surface or between 2 sheets of plastic wrap to a 12-inch circle, about ⅛ inch thick. Transfer dough to a 9-inch pie plate. Refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes. Next, roll the second disk to a 12-inch circle, ⅛ inch thick as well, and refrigerate until firm.
Meanwhile, drain the cooled apples with a colander set in the dutch oven. Adjust an oven rack to the second lowest position. Place the now-empty baking sheet, lined with aluminium foil for easy clean-up on the rack, and pre-heat the oven to 425°F.
Once the dough in the pie plate is firm, start layering the apple and cranberry filling (I did apple, cranberry, apple, cranberry, apple). Top pie with the remaining dough. Trim, leaving a ½-inch overhang. Press the top and bottom edges together, fold them underneath, and crimp. Cut four 2-inch slits in the center of the top crust. Sprinkle evenly with turbinado sugar. Set pie on preheated baking sheet, and bake until fruit is bubbling and crust is dark golden brown, 45 to 55 minutes. (In the middle of baking, check to see if edges are darkening too fast. If so, protect edges with aluminium foil.) Transfer pie to a wire rack to cool.
Grammy’s Pie Dough
For the crust, I used hubby’s grandmother’s (Grammy) pie dough recipe. Here’s a funny coincidence – recently, I borrowed a cookbook The Farm Chicks in the Kitchen from my local library (its cheery cover caught my attention). I thoroughly enjoyed reading the recipes and the fun craft ideas as well as many of the heart-warming stories in the book. Imagine my surprise when I saw Grammy’s pie dough recipe in the cookbook titled “grandma’s pie dough.” Other than a minor difference in the amount of salt and that Grammy’s recipe calls for shortening while The Farm Chicks cookbook uses butter, it’s the EXACT same recipe. :-D Here it is…
4 cups all-purpose flour
⅛ teaspoon (table) salt (I typically bake with coarse salt, and I used ½ teaspoon)
1 tablespoon sugar
1¾ cups shortening (I used cold Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks)
½ cup cold water (make sure it’s ice cold)
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 extra-large egg
Combine flour, salt, and sugar in a large bowl. Cut in “butter” with a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Whisk water, vinegar, and egg together and add to flour mixture. Mix with hands until just combined. Divide dough into 4 equal portions. Shape each dough into a disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before rolling.
Note: For pies with a high filling such as this one, I would divide the full recipe into 3 equal parts instead of 4 (extra dough can be frozen for future use). I barely managed to get the top and bottom edges pinched together to “seal” the filling in properly. Sure enough, I had a leak at one spot where there wasn’t enough dough to work with.