There once was a little girl named Eowyn. Her hair was like golden silk, and her eyes glowed with innocence, though as she grew, a spark of mischief began to grow as well. Despite living in a region known for its abundance of apples, she hadn’t yet experienced the glory that is revealed when nature’s jewels are transformed into pie, not that it stopped her from exclaiming, at seemingly random intervals, “Apple pie!”
“What’s that?” asked her mother.
“Apple pie! Apple pie!” she said with joy and confidence.
The mother was perplexed; she considered the past and was quite certain that two-year-old Eowyn had no concept of this classic American dessert. Where did the idea come from?
She thought further, digging for something that would piece together the puzzle. Still, she was clueless.
Eowyn was growing up, after all, and her exposure to other people, places, and ideas was increasing, so maybe she learned about apple pie on her own. Perhaps her mother wasn’t involved in whatever encounter informed her of its existence, but still she knew. After a bit more contemplation, the mother decided that if her girl insisted on talking about apple pie, she should at least know what it is, and so she set to work, making what she hoped would be the first of many homemade apple pastries.
Fresh Ginger Golds, pale green and bulging, were begging to be purchased from the local fruit stand and cooked together with a generous amount of cinnamon inside a buttery shell. The pastry was perfectly crisp without being crumbly, and a crunchy sugar topping added beauty, texture, and a touch of extra sweetness that surely no child could resist. This dessert wasn’t anything new or not-yet-done, but the aroma filled the house and assured the mother that it would be an appropriate introduction for her dear girl.
After much waiting, the excitement built (admittedly, more for the mother than for the child) until the time came for Eowyn to eat her first slice of apple pie. “Here’s your apple pie,” her mother said with a grin, eagerly anticipating her reaction. “Doo-doo!” she said (her version of “Thank you!”) and proceeded to devour her portion of gelato, leaving the apple pie alone and abandoned. “More, mees!” she asked, and the mother reluctantly gave her a tiny extra portion of gelato, silently wondering why the pie was cast to the side.
“Aren’t you going to eat your apple pie, Eowyn?”
For a moment, the mother was tempted to think her efforts were in vain. Why did she spend the time preparing this dessert from scratch when her daughter clearly preferred ice cream? Was it a waste? No, no it wasn’t, she decided. Sweet Eowyn may not have wanted pie, but after all, she was only two; should a mother’s pride be hurt by someone who prefers chicken nuggets over steak and vegetable puree over a sauté? Certainly not. Besides, Eowyn’s penchant for gelato meant there was more pie for her mother, a fact to which neither party could object.
(Ah yes, and as for the origin of this apple pie obsession, it was discovered at last in a book recently gifted from Eowyn’s Aunt Katie. Case closed.)
- 6 egg yolks, whisked
- 3 cups whole milk
- 1 whole vanilla bean, split lengthwise and the seeds scraped with the back of a knife
- ¾ cup granulated sugar
- 2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2/3 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
- 10-12 tablespoons ice cold water
- 6 cups thinly sliced, peeled Ginger Gold apples
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 2 tablespoons turbinado sugar
- Prepare the vanilla bean gelato ahead of time by combining the whisked egg yolks, milk, scraped vanilla bean and seeds, and sugar in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir constantly until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon (this should happen well before it would begin to simmer). Transfer the gelato base to a bowl, cover the surface with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming, and allow it to chill in the refrigerator for at least two hours. Once it is cold, pour it through a fine mesh strainer to remove the vanilla bean, then churn the gelato in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer the mixture to a sealed container and place it in the freezer until it reaches the desired firmness.
- The pie crust should also be prepared in advance by stirring together the flour and salt in a medium or large mixing bowl until combined. Using a pastry blender or two knives, cut the cold butter into the dry ingredients until the pieces are pea-size. Add the ice cold water, one tablespoon at a time, and use a fork to gently work the liquid into the butter-flour mixture. Pressing the fork against the side of the bowl will help to incorporate the water. Keep adding water just until the dough is moistened and can be formed into a ball (this took about 11 tablespoons of water for me, but it will vary based on the moisture level of your butter as well as environmental factors). Divide the dough into two equal portions, form each portion into a ball, then flatten the balls somewhat into discs (note that if the dough is falling apart at this stage, you haven’t added enough water). Wrap discs separately with plastic wrap and refrigerate for a minimum of 30 minutes or up to several days.
- When you are ready to bake your pie, preheat your oven to 375 degrees and prep the filling by combining the apple slices and lemon juice in a large bowl. In a separate, smaller bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour, and cinnamon, then sprinkle the dry mixture over the apples and stir to incorporate. Set the mixture aside.
- Take the chilled dough discs out of the refrigerator, remove them from the plastic wrap, and set them on a lightly floured surface. Use a floured rolling pin to roll them into 2 12-inch circles. Gently transfer one of the pastry rounds to a 9-inch pie plate, being careful not to stretch the dough, then trim away any excess dough. Fill the pastry with the prepared apple filling, and top the pie with the other round of pastry. Seal the pie by lifting the bottom pastry edge away from the pie plate and folding excess top pastry under it. Crimp the edges of the pie if that suits your fancy, add any desired embellishments (I used a cookie cutter to cut the "E" from pie dough scraps), and use a sharp knife to cut a few slits in the dough to allow steam to escape during baking.
- Brush the top of the pie with milk and sprinkle with turbinado sugar. Cover the edges of the pie with foil (or use a pie crust shield like this one) and bake for 40 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for 15-20 minutes more until the pastry is golden and the filling is bubbling around the slits in the top crust. Once baked, allow the pie to cool to room temperature before slicing. Serve with vanilla bean gelato.
Pie recipe adapted from Better Homes and Gardens.
Tips and Tidbits
- Ginger Gold apples are in season here in Washington, which is why I chose to bake with them, but a number of other varieties would also be suitable, including Golden Delicious, Jonagolds, Fujis, and Pink Lady apples. Granny Smiths are also a classic choice for pies, but if you decide to use them, omit the lemon juice to keep the dessert from being too tart.
- I discussed it at length in the Tips and Tidbits section of my Rustic Champagne Grape Galette post, but it’s worth mentioning here that two key factors to a flaky pie crust are (1) not overworking the dough, and (2) making sure that the butter and the dough stay as cold as possible until baking time.
- Here’s a handy trick that I learned from my sister-in-law, Jenny: when transferring the pastry from the working surface to the pie plate, first fold it carefully in half (creating a half moon shape) and then fold it in half again (creating a quarter wedge). Gently lift the dough and set it in the pie plate, unfold it, and arrange it as desired. I’ve used this method several times now and not once have I had to deal with torn pastry!
- Something I gleaned from watching Cook’s Country after I made this pie is that you can use egg whites to adhere the turbinado sugar to the top pastry as an alternative to milk. The slight advantage, they said, is that the pastry will be not brown quite as much. Who knew?
- This apple pie can be stored at room temperature for up to 24 hours after baking, but after that, it’s best to move it to the refrigerator to prevent spoilage.
- And lastly, a note about the gelato. The two main differences between this recipe and a classic vanilla ice cream recipe are (1) the gelato calls for milk and eggs but no heavy cream, and (2) the eggs are heated along with the milk instead of being added once the milk is already heated. These differences aren’t life altering, but for me, they make the process a little simpler. I can whip up a batch of gelato without having to make a special purchase of cream, and I don’t have to worry about the eggs cooking too quickly and ruining the texture. It’s also good to know that the high ratio of eggs helps keep the gelato soft, so even when it is completely frozen, it’s still quite scoopable.