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4 Secret Ingredients for Apple Pie + A Beginner’s Recipe

Easy as pie? Where did that come from? Right now, so many people are wondering just how, exactly, do you make a pie?

And either turning into a stress case over pie or leaving it to those who are more experienced. I’ve been there as this post on pie anxiety attests.

But that’s too bad because making a pie is just about one of the most satisfying accomplishments you can have in the kitchen all by yourself.

And then you get to share it–because really, while I could probably eat the better part of chocolate chip cookie batter on my own, I’d never consider eating a whole pie.

whole-baked-apple-pie

Pie is a gift. But even experience pie bakers feel the pressure.

I, for one, haven’t made a pie in a whole year.

Vinegar in Pie Dough

A few weeks ago I was sorting through my huge mess of recipes (you know, the ones I’m going to organize some day?) and I found a typewritten recipe from Aunt Lydia for vinegar pie crust.

This year, I had to try it, and thought it wouldn’t hurt to get in a little practice before Thanksgiving.

one-piece-cut-from-apple-pie

You know a recipe is vintage when the first line of instructions reads, “Blend the ingredients as usual.” Right there, that phrase assumes a lot!

But I don’t assume you know anything about pie, except that you love it and wonder how great it might be if you could make one of your own. {If you are experienced and confident making and handling pie dough, here’s one of my favorite recipes for an all-butter crust.}

Here’s the age-old wisdom about using vinegar in pie dough: it makes everything easier!

The acid in the vinegar acts on gluten in a dough, making the strands shorter when you mix the water into the flour. That translates into flakier dough that’s more tender. (Longer gluten strands are what makes bread chewy and more toothsome.) End of baking science.

apple-pie-serving

What this means is that you can use more water than usual, which boils down to a dough that is easier to mix and roll out, a dough that does not crumble or tear.

Let me tell you that this dough does all that, taking a whole bunch of the sweat and stress out the endeavor.

Four Secrets for Apple Pie

The essence of making pie, however, is not in the ingredients or any special tricks. While using my hands to work cold butter into flour, I realized that the true secret for making pie lies within ourselves.I made a mental list of these four truths:

  • Trust This is the starting point–trusting that you can make a pie with nothing more than a set of instructions, two hands and your full attention. You are capable even if you have no other baking skills. Push the doubts aside and simply believe.
  • Patience Try it by hand before learning to make pie dough in a stand mixer or food processor. It takes only a little longer and you’ll feel your way along. Your flour-coated hands will be useless for answering the phone or any other task, which is just the way it needs to be.
  • Tolerance Perfectionists especially need this, because the process can be sticky and messy. Just stay with it all the way through to the end accepting that it may not look or feel exactly how you anticipated.
  • Acceptance Okay, your pie will not make the cover of Bon Appetit. That beautifully fluted edge didn’t happen. It doesn’t make it any less a pie, a fact to be confirmed when you taste it. Good, isn’t it?

apple-pie-with-ice-cream

This is really what I’ve learned from more experienced pie bakers. This is the essence of it–not what kind of flour or fat or what kind of pie plate you use.

Pie Practice

And just maybe, I think while practicing pie, that these are the same ingredients to use for other challenges in life. To find, on the other side, the most valuable prize of all: fulfillment. Just for trying and doing without over-analyzing or critiquing the results. That’s the achievement.

And really, has anyone anywhere ever complained about being forced to eat homemade pie?!?

{Make this even if you’re not ready to take your pie public. You can eat it for breakfast–just like I did.}

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Beginner's Apple Pie

This recipe for a double-crust pie is a learning recipe for anyone who has ever wanted to make a pie or anyone who is intimidated by the process. This vinegar crust is the most user-friendly pie dough I've ever worked with because it is moist, rolls out smoothly and does not tear or break. The baking powder in the dough adds lightness. Also, there's no sugar in the crust so you can use it for quiche and vegetable tarts as well as desserts.

I hope it is one you will practice and grow to love for many years ahead.

Course Dessert
Cuisine American
Prep Time 40 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Total Time 1 hour 40 minutes
Servings 8 people
Calories 459 kcal
Author Lynne Curry

Ingredients

For the crust:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks) chilled
  • 2/3 cup cold water
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

For the filling:

  • 6 apples peeled, cored and sliced to make about 6 cups
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • pinch salt

Instructions

To make the crust:

  1. Whisk the flour, salt and baking powder in a mixing bowl until well blended.

  2. Using a box grater, grate the butter, working quickly to prevent warming it with your hands.

  3. Add the butter to the flour mixture and use your hands to toss and separate the grated butter and coat the pieces with the flour.

  4. Add the vinegar to the water in a glass measuring cup and stir to combine. Pour the water over the flour mixture and use a fork to gently blend the water into the flour to make a dough.

  5. Dust the counter and your hands with flour. Collect the dough from the bowl and place it on the counter. Divide the dough into two pieces, one slightly larger than the other. Gently form each piece into a disk, cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours or overnight.

To make the filling:

  1. Combine the apples, lemon juice, sugar, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt in a bowl. Taste for seasoning. If the apples are especially tart, add more sugar 1 tablespoon at a time to suit your taste. 

To roll out the crust:

  1. Once the crust is well chilled, unwrap the slightly larger piece of dough and place it on a piece of parchment paper lightly dusted with flour. Sprinkle flour over the top of the crust. 

  2. Roll out the crust, working from the center toward the top edge, using gentle pressure. Rotate the dough clockwise and repeat the rolling over again to form a rough circle about 1/8-inch thick and 2 inches wider than the pie plate.

  3. To transfer the dough into the pie plate, dust the rolling pin with flour. Starting at the edge closest to you, roll the dough around the rolling pin while peeling it off the parchment paper. Slide the pie plate under the dough and unroll the dough over it. 

  4. Use your hands to center the dough over the pie plate. Then, lift the edge with one hand as you use the palm of the other hand to press the dough into the pie plate leaving an overhang.

  5. Repeat the rolling process with the other piece of dough until the dough is about 1/8-inch thick and just 1/2 inch wider than the pie plate.

To assemble the pie:

  1. Mound the prepared filling into the bottom crust in the pie plate. Slide the rolled out top crust onto the apples and center it.

  2. Trim the crust, using a sharp paring knife or kitchen shears to leave about 1-inch overhand. Fold the edge of the top crust underneath the bottom crust to make a neat folded edge. Crimp the dough to seal the edge by pressing your thumb or a floured fork all around the edge.

  3. Use a paring knife to cut 3-4 slits into the top crust for venting.

To bake the pie:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F with the rack in the middle position and a sheet pan on the rack underneath to catch any drippings.

  2. Bake the pie for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350 degrees F and bake until the crust is golden brown and the filling is bubbling. 

  3. Cool the pie completely on a cooling rack so that it slices neatly.

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