Apple Pie from the Lake Tahoe Institute of English

May 1st, 2010


Pie.  I love pie.  Americans love pie.  We love all kinds of pie.  Cream pies, fruit pies, you name it pies.  It is our favorite dessert, and our most famous American one.  And apple is our most famous pie.

You could say that chocolate chip cookies or brownies are more widely enjoyed, and that would be true, but that is only because they are easy to make, and they have been spread around the world by Nabisco.

But pie, there is an art to making pie, and few anymore who can do it well.  It’s almost a secret society amongst us pie makers.  Others look longingly at our beautiful pies and remark that they would never attempt to make crust.  They don’t own a rolling pin (!!), so could never try it.

Oh, but they want to eat a piece of our pie.  In fact, they will go to great lengths to get a piece of pie.  Once, way back when I was in college, a friend convinced me to drive all over San Francisco one night trying pies in different restaurants.  She was certain that she could find a perfect piece of pie.  Many hours and many bites later, we came to the conclusion that my pie was the very best.

Birthday Pie

Pie has been queen in my family forever.  When I was a little girl, we had birthday pies instead of birthday cakes.  My favorite was rhubarb and banana.  Pure heaven when served warm with some melting vanilla ice cream.

When I came of age, my mother inducted me into the secret society of pie makers.  She taught me her crust recipe, which she had learned from her own mother, and she from hers.  I’m sure our recipe goes back many generations more than that.  But, that takes us back to 1865, and that is far enough for me.  She taught me how to handle the dough (so very gently), how to know how much water to add (more than you think you need), and how to wield a rolling pin with skill.  It took me many tries to learn how much filling needs to be inside, and how to flute the edges beautifully.

When I married Kim, he of course was forced to become a pie convert and sing my praises.  No more chocolate birthday cake for him.  A summer boy, he needed a nectarine and berry pie for his special day.  Then came the kids.  Pie again.  It is tradition.  Now my oldest daughter is about to get married.  Guess what?  Wedding pie! I am in charge of making 25 fruit pies for the day.  And I wouldn’t have it otherwise.  After all, this is my baby’s wedding we’re talking about.  The pie is critical!

The Greatest Desert Ever

At the Lake Tahoe Institute of English I nearly always serve apple pie on the first night a client arrives.  I have to do it then, as it takes time to make a great pie.  Later in the week, I don’t have so much time.  So, the first night, I go all out.  Apple pie, sometimes apple-blueberry pie.  They just have to be exposed to the greatest American dessert ever.

My Super Secret, Never Before Divulged (except to my family) Recipe for the Best Apple Pie Ever

Here is my recipe, in the family for 150 years, for the very best apple pie:

You will need:

Crisco (although several pie making friends prefer butter, most great pie makers agree, Crisco is critical to the crust)

Baking powder


White flour

Ice water

Tart apples

White granulated sugar

Ground cinnamon

lemon juice

A rolling pin

A pastry cloth (or a dish towel or a large piece of waxed paper)

A pastry cutter or two table knives

A pie plate, preferably glass

Measuring cups and measuring spoons

Here’s how to do it
First, measure 2 cups flour into a mixing bowl.  Add about a quarter teaspoon of salt and about a half teaspoon of baking powder.  Mix them together with a fork.  Then add 13 to 14 tablespoons of Crisco to the flour.  Using the pastry cutter, mix the Crisco into the flour until it looks like small peas.  If you are using knives, hold one in each hand and cut through the flour and Crisco over and over again until it looks like small peas.

Then, add enough ice water, around a half cup, to blend it all together until it is mixed, and stickier than you think it should be.  Use your hands for this, and mix carefully and gently.  Don’t work the crust hard.  It will make it tough.

Lay out what you are going to use for a pastry cloth.  Sprinkle it generously with flour.  Take half of your mixed dough and roll it into a ball with your hands.  Pat some flour all over it.  Then, on your pastry cloth, pat it into a slightly flattened round.  Turn it over to make sure it has a light dusting of flour all over it (so it won’t stick when you roll it).

Using the rolling pin, and beginning in the middle of the dough, press gently and roll the dough outward.  Coming back to the middle, roll again in another direction.  Dust with flour and turn over as needed to keep the dough from sticking.  Be gentle.  Continue until you have a circle of dough that is an even thickness, and is large enough to fit in the pie plate and drape over the sides a little bit.  Put it in the pie plate so you can start on the top crust.

Make the top crust in the same way as the bottom.  It will need to be large enough to drape over a full pie plate, plus enough to turn the edges under to make a seal.

Then the filling

For the filling, peel, core and slice 7 or 8 medium size tart apples (I like to use green Granny Smith’s or Pippin).  As you slice, put them into a bowl of water with some lemon juice in it.  This will keep them from turning brown.

Next, mix 1 to 1 1/2 cups of sugar (depending on how sweet the apples are) with 2 tablespoons of flour (to help thicken the juice) and 2 teaspoons of cinnamon.

Drain the apple slices, and place half of them in the pie plate.  Pour half the sugar mixture over the top.  Add the rest of the apples, then the rest of the sugar mixture.  Sprinkle a little lemon juice over the top if you like.

Now, the hard part.  Center the top crust over the filled pie plate.  Cut away all the extra crust except for about 1/2 to 1 inch extending over the edge.  Using your fingers, roll the extended edges over and under to be flush with the plate edge.  Now you have to flute it to seal it and make it beautiful.  The movement you want is the same as if you were to take a piece of paper along an edge holding it between the thumb and forefinger of each hand.  You use the same motion you would then use to tear the paper edge.  So, very gently, using both thumbs and both forefingers, pinch and bend the crust just like you would tear the paper, only more gently (don’t tear, just seal and make look ruffled).

Finally, cut an X in the center top of the crust to let the steam escape.  You can fold back the edges of the X if you like.  Prick some holes in the crust with a fork, or carve a pretty design, to further let steam escape.  Ta da!  A beautiful pie!

Bake it at 350 degrees for about an hour – until the crust is golden brown, and the juices are bubbling.  Let sit before serving.  Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

Mom (me) says

There is NOTHING better!  It tastes like Mom and home and comfort and everything being right in the world.  It’s worth coming to the Lake Tahoe Institute of English just for the pie.  If I do say so myself.

One Response to “Apple Pie from the Lake Tahoe Institute of English”

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