A guest blog article from Pat Nogar, host of the talk show Living Well with Pat Nogar.
I never liked apple pie. There, I said it. Well, at least I thought I didn’t like it until I understood it. Let me start at the beginning. Everyone that I knew loved apple pie. It’s as American as well, “Apple Pie.” When I was growing up, diners specialized in it, it was usually listed first on a dessert menu and dads always named it as their favorite dessert. Everyone adored it. Not me. I thought it was boring.
Apple pie could be predictable. It was the same old apple flavor, usually Granny Smith, even though I didn’t know the name of the variety at that time. And worst, in the hands of an amateur baker, the apples were mushy and, well, flavorless. Apple pie was a default choice for me, saved only by the occasional addition of a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Apple Pie Ala Mode – now, that was a dessert worth plowing through dinner for. But a slice of naked apple pie? Spare me.
And then things changed. A few years ago, I was asked to judge an apple pie contest. I thought I needed to prepare myself to know what an excellent apple pie tasted like, especially since I was still not a fan. So, I made a few. But, before making them, I did some research. I wanted to use something other than a Granny Smith apple in my pie. What I discovered was that selecting the right apple for a pie was much like selecting the perfect wine for a meal. I wasn’t just looking for flavor; I was looking for body, aroma and whether the apple could play well with others. The greatest revelation was this: that the best apple pie is made of not just one variety of apples, but a combination of varieties. Further, when it comes to apple pies, not all apples are equal.
The three elements you are looking for in an apple are firmness, tartness and sweetness – the Holy Trinity of apple pie baking. (Well, there is the crust, but that’s another topic for another day.) With that in mind, here are some of the apples that work well for apple pie: Jonagold, Honeycrisp, Braeburn, Winesap, Pink Lady, Granny Smith, and Cortland. And that’s just a few. To find most of these, you’ll probably have to bypass your local grocery chain and head to a place like Wolff’s Apple House where you will find a wide assortment of interesting apples. My favorite combination for a great pie? Braeburn for its firmness, Golden Delicious for its sweetness and Granny Smith for its tartness. It’s the perfect combination and sure to be a crowd pleaser.
Speaking of crowds, because I often bake for church coffee hour, I began experimenting with a form of pie that easily feeds a hungry horde: the Slab Pie. It’s a genius form of pie – thanks to whoever created it – that is easily made in a jelly roll pan and neatly serves up with little fuss. It also showcases apples beautifully. My favorite recipe is a slab pie that’s slathered with a maple glaze – perfect for this fall weather.
Apple Slab Pie
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1½ tsp salt
- 1 tsp granulated sugar
- 1¾ cup unsalted butter, very cold and cubed
- ¾ cup very cold Ice water
- Egg wash: 1 large egg, lightly beaten with 1 TB milk
- Optional: coarse sugar for sprinkling on top
- 10 cups peeled and chopped apples (a combo of Braeburn, Golden Delicious and Granny Smith)
- ⅔ cup granulated sugar
- ¼ cup all-purpose flour
- 2 TB fresh lemon juice
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 1½ tsp ground cinnamon
- ¼ tsp ground cloves
- ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
- ¾ confectioners sugar, sifted
- 2 TB pure maple syrup
- Enough milk or heavy cream to thin (a couple of teaspoons)
- Make the pie crust: Mix the flour, salt and sugar together in a large bowl. Add the butter. Using a pastry cutter or two forks, cut the butter into the mixture until it resembles coarse meal (pea-sized bits with a few larger bits of fat). Drizzle the cold water across the mixture, 1 TB at a time, and stir with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon after every 1 TB added. Stop adding water when the dough begins to form large clumps. Transfer the pie dough to a floured work surface using floured hands. Fold the dough into itself until the flour is filling incorporated. The dough should come together easily and not be overly sticky. Form dough into a ball. Divide dough in half. Flatten each half into a 1” thick disc. Wrap each disc tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least two hours.
- Make the filling: Mix all of the filling ingredients together in a large bowl. Set aside.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
- Roll out the chilled pie crust. Remove the first disc from the refrigerator, keeping the other one in the refrigerator while you work. On a lightly floured work surface, roll the dough out into an 18 x 13” rectangle. Make sure to turn the dough about a quarter turn after every few rolls. Carefully place the dough into a 10x15” jelly roll pan. You will have overhang on the sides so trim it to about 1”. Smooth the crust so it fits nicely into the corners of the pan.
- Spread filling evenly on top of crust.
- Roll out the second disc in the same manner and size as the first. Drape over the filling and fold the bottom crust’s overhang over the edges. Seal them shut with your fingers and crimp down the sides with a fork that’s been dipped in flour. Cut slits into the top of the crust, then brush with a thin coating of egg wash. Sprinkle with coarse sugar.
- Bake the slab pie for 40-45 minutes until the crust is golden brown and the filling is bubbling. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on top of a wire rack for a few hours.
- Before serving, whisk all of the glaze ingredients together and drizzle over the pie. Cut into slices and serve.