I have been obsessed with making a perfect apple pie for years. I want the crust flaky and tender. Well, I solved that with a lard crust, though a poultry fat or tallow crust works fine. Then I want a juicy filling, but it can’t be runny or gummy. Cooking and thickening the apples before putting them into the crust, a make-ahead technique, solves the runniness problem because you know exactly what you are putting into the crust. This works particularly well with Granny Smith apples, which retain a pleasing firmness. Other varieties may soften more; I leave it to you to find the apple or combination of apples you like best.
- Double-crust pastry made with any animal fat (except bacon grease, recipe follows)
- 4 Granny Smith or other large apples
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons any animal fat (except bacon grease)
- 3/4 cup firmly packed light or dark brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup water, plus more as needed
- 1 teaspoon milk
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
Keep the pastry refrigerated while you make the filling.
Peel, core, and slice the apples. Toss them in a bowl with the lemon juice to prevent browning.
Melt the fat in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and apples. Cook until the brown sugar is melted and the apples have given up their juice, about 10 minutes. Make a slurry with the flour and some water, starting with 1/4 cup water and adding more as needed. Add this to the skillet; the juices should thicken immediately. Cook for 2 minutes longer. (At this point, the filling can be refrigerated for up to 1 day.)
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F with a rack in the lower third of the oven.
Remove the pastry from the refrigerator. Divide in half, with one piece slightly larger than the other. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the larger portion to a circle about 1/8 inch thick. Fit into a 9-inch pie pan, tucking the pastry into the bottom edges, and trim to leave a 1-inch overhang.
Spoon the filling into the pastry with a slotted spoon, leaving behind any excess liquid.
Roll out the remaining pastry to a 1/8 inch thick circle. Fold the dough in half over the rolling pin, lift off the work surface, and place on top of the pie. Trim to leave a 1-inch overhang and fold and tuck the overhang under the bottom crust so that it all fits inside the pie pan. Crimp the edges with a fork or make a fluted pattern with your fingers. Cut several decorative slits in the top crust to allow steam to escape.
Bake the pie in the lower third of the oven for 20 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees F and continue to bake for 30 minutes longer. Remove the pie from the oven, brush with the milk, and sprinkle with the granulated sugar. Return to the oven and bake for 10 to 15 minutes longer, until the crust is golden and the juices are bubbly.
Cool the pie on a wire rack and serve warm or at room temperature.
Double-Crust Pastry Made with Lard
Lard pastry handles beautifully and makes flaky, tender pie crusts. Although it is quicker to make the crust in a food processor, cutting the lard into the flour with a pastry cutter or two knives—or by rubbing it in with your fingers (my preferred method)—results in a more tender, flakier crust. If you like, you can swap some of the lard for butter for heightened flavor. A little sugar (1 tablespoon) brightens the flavor of an all-lard crust, but my jury is out on whether two or three tablespoons of sugar is best for a sweet crust. In my opinion, the sweeter the filling, the less sugar is needed in the crust: A tart apple pie benefits from more sugar, while a chocolate cream pie doesn’t need it.
Makes enough for 1 double-crust pie or 1 galette
- 2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt
- 1–3 tablespoons sugar
- 3/4 cup (5.5 ounces) leaf lard
- 2/3 cup very cold water, plus more as needed
Combine the flour and salt in a large bowl. Add 1 tablespoon sugar for a savory pie or 2 to 3 tablespoons for a sweet pie, and whisk until well mixed. Cut in the lard with a pastry cutter or two knives or rub in with your fingertips until the mixture has a pebbly, sandy consistency. Stir in the water until well mixed. Alternatively, combine the flour, salt, and sugar in the bowl of a food processor. Cut the lard into pieces and dot over the top of the flour mixture. Pulse until the mixture is just combined. Add the water and pulse until well mixed. You should be able to form the mixture into a ball. If needed, add more water, a teaspoon at a time, until the dough will form a ball.
Gather the dough into a single ball if making a galette or two balls if making a double-crust pie. Wrap well in plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 30 minutes.
Excerpted from “The Fat Kitchen” © by Andrea Chesman, photography © by Keller + Keller Photography, used with permission from Storey Publishing.