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A Pie Tutorial for Pi Day

apple pie recipe, easy apple pie recipeBelieve it or not, there is an official day designated to commemorate the mathematical constant π (pi). March 14, or 3/14 in month/day date format, is Pi Day, since 3, 1 and 4 are the three most significant digits of π. (There are plenty of other digits to follow.)

Pi Day is as good a reason as any to bake pie, don’t you think?

Here’s a refresher for those who may have forgotten how simple it is to bake a pie from scratch, or for those who may be taking it on for the first time.

When making pastry, you need to use a solid fat. Lard used to be the fat of choice, and will produce very flaky pastry, but in past decades shortening has become the norm for health reasons. Good news – it turns out lard is considerably lower in saturated fat than butter, so you can bring it back into your kitchen! Use all butter or all lard in your pastry, or a combination of the two. Butter will give you the best flavor, but your crust won’t be as flaky as it would be if it was made with lard, which is used for flakiness but doesn’t add much flavor. A combination of the two gives you the best of both worlds. All-purpose flour will produce great results there is no need to buy cake & pastry flour, which is popular because of its lower gluten content.

Classic Pie Pastry

For a single crust pie:

1 1/3 cups (330 mL) all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. (15 mL) sugar
1/2 tsp. (2 mL) salt
1/4 cup (60 mL) butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
1/4 cup (60 mL) vegetable shortening, chilled and cut into small pieces
3-4 Tbsp. (45-60 mL) ice water

For a double crust pie, or two single pie crusts:

2 1/2 cups (625 mL) all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp. (30 mL) sugar
1 tsp. (5 mL) salt
3/4 cup (185 mL) butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
1/4 cup (60 mL) vegetable shortening, chilled and cut into small pieces
6-8 Tbsp. (90-125 mL) ice water

In a large bowl or the bowl of a food processor, stir together the flour, sugar and salt. Add the butter and shortening and use a fork, pastry blender, wire whisk or the “pulse” motion of the food processor to blend the mixture until it resembles coarse meal, with lumps of fat no bigger than a pea. Drizzle the minimum amount of water over the mixture and stir until the dough comes together, adding a little more a bit at a time if you need it. Gather the dough into a ball, flatten it into a disc, wrap it in plastic and chill it for at least half an hour. If you are making a double crust pie, divide the dough in half, making one half slightly larger than the other. (Your pastry can be prepared up to this point and frozen for up to 4 months; let it thaw on the countertop when you need to use it.)

On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out into a 12 inch circle. Gently fold the dough into quarters to transfer it into a 9- inch pie plate. Unfold the dough onto the plate, center it, and gently fit the dough into the plate without stretching it. Trim the edge of the dough to within 1/2 inch of the plate rim with scissors or a knife. Tuck the edge of the pastry under itself so that it is even with the edge of the pan, and flute it with your fingers or press it gently with a fork to create a border.

If you have time, refrigerate the crust for about half an hour while you make the filling.

Classic Apple Pie

Apple pie is as simple as any for first time pie makers to practice with – if it looks like you have a lot of filling, remember that fruit, especially apples, shrinks considerably as it cooks.

pastry for a double crust pie (above)

2-3 lbs. (1-1.5 kg) Granny Smith, Braeburn, McIntosh or other tart apples (5 or 6 large apples)
1 Tbsp. (15 mL) lemon juice
1/3 cup (80 mL) sugar
2 Tbsp. (30 mL) all-purpose flourӬ
a good shake of cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 450°F.

If your dough is coming straight from the fridge, let it sit on the countertop for about 10 minutes, until it’s malleable.

On a lightly floured surface, roll half your pastry out into a 12- inch circle. Gently fold the dough into quarters to transfer it into a 9- inch pie plate. Unfold the dough onto the plate, center it, and gently fit the dough into the plate without stretching it, leaving the edges hanging over.

Peel, core and slice the apples into a large bowl and toss them with the lemon juice. In a small dish combine the sugar, flour and cinnamon and sprinkle it over the apples; toss them well to coat. Pour the apples into the pie shell, mounding them in the middle. It may seem like a lot, but keep in mind that apples shrink as they cook.

Roll out the second piece of dough on a lightly floured surface into a 12- inch circle. Lay it over the apples and press around the edges to seal. Trim both layers of excess pastry with scissors or a knife so that the overhang is about 1/2- inch around the pie plate. Tuck the edges of the pastry under itself so that it is even with the edge of the pie plate, and flute it all around the edge with your fingers. Cut a few slits in the top crust to allow steam to escape as the pie bakes.

Place the pie on a baking sheet (to catch any drips) and bake for 20 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350°F and bake it for another 20-25 minutes, until the crust is golden and the apples are tender. If the crust is browning too quickly, cover it loosely with a piece of foil. Cool the pie on a wire rack and serve warm, at room temperature, or cold.

Photo credit: istockphoto/robynmac

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