As American as Apple Pie

When John Adams reflected on how the anniversary of our independence would be celebrated in the future, he wrote: “it ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other.” I think the only thing that could improve that sort of celebration is a piping hot apple pie.

That is how I marked my Independence Day; with the illuminations and a homemade apple pie, anyway.

Many summers ago, I had a job between high school graduation and going to college at a local wildlife management area. There were a handful of us college kids, and we would plan big pot luck meals for lunch sometimes. There was a tiny and hardly-ever-used kitchenette in the office, so we could heat stuff up and do a little bit of cooking there. For one of the lunches, a girl I worked with brought in butter, flour and some fresh berries and sugar. She flat out just made a pie right there. From scratch. It blew my mind.

I hadn’t really thought about it before, because when you eat a fancy two-crust pie, it seems like it would be so hard to make. But as it turns out, making pie crusts is easy. Of course, it’s easy to buy them, too. But they’re so easy to make, it seems silly to buy them.

Basic two-crust recipe

  •  2 cups flour
  • 2/3 cup cold butter
  • pinch of salt
  • about 1/4 to 1/2 cup ice water

In a large bowl, mix the flour and the salt.

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Cut the butter into pieces and add to the flour. Use a pastry cutter to cut the butter up into pea-sized pieces. If you don’t have a pastry cutter,  you should buy one. They are pretty cheap–like five or six bucks. And you can use them for more than just cutting butter into flour for pie crust. It’s the best thing I’ve ever used for making guacamole. No really, if you don’t have one, use two butter knives and cut up the butter by pulling the knives away from each other through the flour.  Add the ice water a few table spoons at a time while stirring until the dough starts forming a ball.

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Flatten the dough into two discs about the same size and wrap in plastic wrap, or put a lid on your bowl and put it in the fridge for an hour or so. The butter needs to harden again to make the pie crust flaky. Once it firms back up, put it between two pieces of plastic wrap and flatten it out with your hands.

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Begin rolling it out gently with a rolling pin. You might have to peel the plastic wrap up and keep repositioning it. Roll it until it’s 1/8 inch thick or so, and big enough to cover your pie pan. This is why the plastic wrap is handy. It makes it easy to get into the pie pan.

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Then all you have to do is trim the edges off. Leave enough to make the design in the edge.

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You can repeat the process for the “lid” of the pie crust, and cut slits in it to vent the filling.

Or you can do something super fancy for the Fourth of July, like this:

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Boom. Murica.

It was really easy, actually. I have some star-shaped cookie cutters, and I just cut out the star shapes and overlapped them on top.

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It made a really festive touch for the holiday. You could even make a solid “lid” and use the cookie cutters to cut out shapes in the lid for the vents.

It depends what you put in your crust as to how long you bake it and at what temperature. Pies that have fillings that need baked usually bake for around a hour. If you’re doing a chilled pie, like meringue, you bake the crust only 10 or 15 minutes. It doesn’t take long to get an empty pie crust done. I baked this apple pie for an hour at 425 degrees. Pecan pies, which I make a lot, bake for about an hour, but at a lower temp, say 350 or 375 degrees.

There are lots of recipes out there for basic pie crust. Some people swear by using vegetable shortening, but I find butter works just as well and gives it a nice flavor. Please, use real butter. Don’t use margarine (it’s really bad for you) but it also contains water, which won’t work in the crust. Any kind of “spread” butter alternative does actually, and can’t be used for pie crusts. I’ve used shortening before, and the results are as good as with butter, but its not something I keep on hand. I have heard lard makes the absolute best crusts, but I’ve never tried.

Also, if you want to make a single-crust pie, like for a meringue or pecan pie, just cut this recipe in half.

While making crusts is pretty easy, it does take some specialized equipment. My friend who first impressed me by making a crust from scratch at work, used her hands to break down the butter into the flour. This is actually really difficult, because you don’t want the butter to get too soft, so you have to work fast. I do recommend dropping the cash on a pastry cutter and rolling pin. It would be so much more difficult to make crust without these two items, and like I mentioned, you’ll find the pastry cutter is useful for other things.

You might have missed the boat for the stars and apples pie for the Fourth of July, but berries and fruit and in full season right now. There’s nothing better than a pie made from fresh berries. And apples are coming in season right around the corner in the fall. Then, it’s time for pumpkin pie. You can put your new pie-crust-making skills to practice practically all year long.

 

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