I've been working on my pie crust lately, due to a tub of wonderful leaf lard that came at the end of our pork CSA. I think I've found the perfect balance of high fat European butter and lard. Flaky layers of delicate crust, it never gets too hard, but holds it's shape well. It's my favorite crust ever.
So what is the perfect pie with which to test out your crust? Something utterly classic, simple, and dependable - apple pie. And not my usual sour cream walnut apple pie, but the truly classic straight apple pie with spices and a touch of lemon juice and not much else.
I've made dozens and dozens of fruit pies before, and I've often come across the same problem of excess moisture and an unwillingness for the filling to set up. The key to avoiding this problem is to pre-cook your filling, and with apples it really can't be simpler. Just saute until starting to soften, spread out on a baking sheet to cool down, then fill. You end up with a sturdy apple pie that cuts well even while still warm. Serve with some vanilla ice cream if you like, but I'll be honest, it didn't even need it. Recipe after the jump:
MY BEST PIE CRUST
Makes enough for a 2-crust 9-inch pie.
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, preferably a high-fat, European-style butter like Plugra, chilled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
8 tablespoons leaf lard, chilled
2 to 5 tablespoons ice water
1. In a food processor, briefly pulse together the flour and salt. Add butter and pulse until mixture forms chickpea-size pieces (3 to 5 one-second pulses). Add ice water 1 tablespoon at a time, and pulse until mixture is just moist enough to hold together.
2. Form dough into a ball, wrap with plastic and flatten into a disk. Refrigerate at least 1 hour before rolling out and baking.
SUPER CLASSIC APPLE PIE
3 pounds apples (6 to 8 medium-large. I use a combo of sweet and tart, like Empire and Granny Smith)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground cinnamon
pinch ground clove
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 tbsp lemon juice (optional. If your apples are very tart, leave it out)
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
Melt butter in a very wide skillet or pot over high heat until sizzling and fragrant. Add the apples and toss until glazed with butter. Reduce the heat to medium, cover tightly, and cook, stirring frequently, until the apples are softened on the outside but still slightly crunchy, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the sugar, spices, lemon juice, and salt.
Increase the heat to high and cook the apples at a rapid boil until the juices become thick and syrupy, about 3 minutes. Stir in the vanilla extract. Immediately spread the apples in a thin layer on a baking sheet, and let them cool to room temperature.
Position a rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Pour the apple mixture into the bottom crust. Cover with a pricked or vented top crust or a lattice. Bake until the crust is richly browned and the filling has begun to bubble, 30 to 40 minutes. Let cool completely on a rack, 3 to 4 hours.