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Man Talk: Skillet Apple Pie

Skillet apple pie straight out of the oven

Skillet apple pie straight out of the oven

As an icon apple pie is associated with America and (laterally) with mothers.  With the help of Cook’s Illustrated I have developed an apple pie recipe that is far more masculine than the usual.  This recipe doesn’t require pre-baking with pie weights, or crimping one level of crust to another, and the portions are pre-cut to avoid the silliness of people asking for “just a sliver”.  Best of all, it is cooked and served in that greatest of kitchen workhorses: a cast iron skillet.

The dough is a pretty standard pie dough.  I substituted two tablespoons of lard (measured by weight that’s 30 grams) for the vegetable shortening because any recipe is automatically better (and, now, apparently better for you) if it includes pork fat.  One error on my part was that I forgot to substitute an appropriately flavoured alcohol (calvados or apple jack in this case) for some or all of the water.  On top of adding flavour the alcohol, explained a recent episode of Good Eats, has a lower boiling temperature and therefore will contribute to a flakier crust.  The omission has been corrected in the recipe below.

The apple skins simmer in a cup of water to make apple broth

The apple skins simmer in a cup of water to make apple "broth"

The original Cook’s Illustrate recipe calls for half a cup of apple cider or a cup of apple juice reduced to half a cup.  You couldn’t pay me to drink or buy apple juice (traumatic memories of pre-school, I’m sure) and we don’t have any apple cider, yet, so what could I use instead?  I remember reading that a lot of the flavour that distinguishes one apple variety from another comes from the skin so I wondered if there was a way to get this into the pie without adding tough, chewy pieces of skin.  Chicken pot pies use chicken broth so why not use apple broth for an apple pie?  I added a cup of water to the apple peels in a saucepan that I heated on medium-high for as long as it took (about ten minutes) to halve, core, and slice the apples and gather the other ingredients for the filling.  After straining the skins I had a half cup of bright pink, intensely yet also delicately flavoured “apple broth”.  Pretty nice.

Obviously, from the pictures this pie is not baked in a traditional pie plate.  The apples are par-cooked in the cast iron pan, in butter, covered in the liquid portion of the filling, topped with pie dough and then baked.  The par-cooking adds more colour and caramelised flavour to the apples.  I don’t miss the bottom crust because it always seems that unless the cook has jumped through some very particular hoops (pre-baking, etc.) that the bottom crust ends up being soggy and tasteless compared to the top.  As well, the precooking gets the butter flavour right into the apples.

Two and a half pounds of foraged heirloom apples

Two and a half pounds of foraged heirloom apples

My pie was made from the apples we picked from a neighbour’s apple tree at the cottage.  These heirloom apples (of unknown variety, see the comment section of the first apple post) were the perfect mix of sweet and tart and the right texture such that they were fine on the own.  A good thing because I always feel a little strange coming away from the supermarket with two each of four types of apples whenever apple pie is on the menu.  The fifteen year old cashiers at Loblaws must really wonder.

Skillet Apple Pie

Adapted from the Cook’s Illustrated recipe and from Alton Brown’s Super Apple Pie.  (I feel some reservations about publishing the CI recipe here even though I have added adaptations.  They have an extremely useful site that I highly encourage everyone to subscribe to.  For instance this recipe’s page has a great video of the recipe in action and links to reviews of apple corers and brands of cinnamon.  In the future I may do a post about the ethics and legalities of recipe copyrights.  The short version (in my understanding): Only the talky-talky before the ingredient list can be copyrighted.

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour (5 oz)
  • 1 TB granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp table salt
  • 2 TBs lard
  • 6 TBs unsalted butter, chilled, and cut roughly into quarter-inch cubes
  • 2 TBs ice water mixed with
  • 2 TBs of an apple-flavoured liquor like calvados or applejack (if you don’t have any in the house just use two TBs more of ice water)
  • 1 cup water for the apple broth
  • 1/3 cup maple syrup
  • 1 TB lemon juice
  • 2 tsp cornstarch
  • 1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 TB unsalted butter
  • 2.5 lb of apples either foraged from an heirloom tree or a mix of tart (e.g. Granny Smith) and sweet (just about anything else) from the supermarket.
  • 1 egg white, lightly beaten
  • 2 tsp granulated sugar
What the dough should look like after integrating the fat and before turning it out into a bowl

What the dough should look like after integrating the fat and before turning it out into a bowl

To make the dough buzz the flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor until combined.  Add the lard and give it ten one-second pulses.  Distribute the butter over the top of the flour–I like to add half and gently mix it around with my fingers so that these pieces get coated in flour before adding the other half–and after another ten one-second pulses so long as there are no butter pieces larger than “small peas” this can be transferred to a medium bowl.   Sprinkle 3 tablespoons of the ice water and apple liquor mixture over the top of the dough and use a rubber spatula to fold the water throughout the flour.  Only add the fourth tablespoon of liquid if the dough will not come together.  Form this into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for between half and hour and two days.

Peel the apples and reserve the skin.  In a small saucepan cover the apple skins with 1 cup (250 mL) of water and cook over medium heat for about ten minutes or until the liquid has been reduced to about half a cup.  The occasional muddling with a wooden spoon will probably help extract whatever the skins have to offer.  Strain into a measuring cup of at least 2 cup capacity.

Gratuitous shot of butter melting in a well-seasoned cast iron skillet

Gratuitous shot of butter melting in a well-seasoned cast iron skillet

Meanwhile, core, halve and slice the peeled apples into half-inch wedges.  If you get a ruler out to measure please use it only to hit yourself on the head for being such a tight ass.  This is supposed to a be rustic recipe.  Melt two tablespoons of butter in a ten to twelve inch cast iron skillet set over medium-high heat.  When the butter is hot add the apples and cook for about five minutes, stirring occasionally.

Half a cup of apple broth; very cool colour

Half a cup of apple broth; very cool colour

While the apples are cooking combine the maple syrup, cornstarch, apple broth, cinnamon, and lemon juice in the measuring cup.  For this, I like the whisking method that involves rubbing one’s hands together around the whisk handle as if trying to start a fire with two sticks or alternately as if trying to warm one’s hands while someone else struggles to start a fire in this manner.  Once the apples have been cooking for about five minutes and have begun to caramelise remove the pan from the heat and add this liquid mixture and stir gently to coat.  Set the pan aside to cool slightly.

The rolled dough on top of the apples, holes rustically patched with scraps

The rolled dough on top of the apples, holes rustically patched with scraps

On a well-floured surface roll the dough (having removed it from the refrigerator half an hour ago if it has been in the fridge for more than a short while) into a circle that is between 11 and 12 inches in diameter.  Gently transfer this top crust to the pan by rolling into the rolling pin and then rolling it off onto the apples.  Divide the crust into six pieces by cutting with a sharp knife once in one direction and then twice in the other.  (A little tough to describe, so just see the picture above.)  Use any dough scraps to roughly patches hole–don’t wrory about neatness once the pie cooks the patches will add visual interest.  Brush the dough with the egg white and sprinkle with sugar.  Slide the pan onto a rack in the upper-middle position of an oven preheated to 500 degrees.

A piece of skillet apple pie with a scoop of HD Swiss Almond Vanilla ice cream

A piece of skillet apple pie with a scoop of HD Swiss Almond Vanilla ice cream

After twenty minutes of baking (the oven is very hot though so start paying attention to how dark the crust is getting at abou the seventeen minute mark) and fifteen minutes of resting the pie is ready to be served with a scoop of good vanilla ice cream.

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  1. [...] cooking so that some of the cherry juices soak through. It’s a lot like the skillet pie that I posted about here almost two years ago. As will become obvious from reading the recipe’s steps thsi is an [...]

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