Vintage Apple Pie, and Nebraskan Fleur de Lys

Obligatory apology for blog neglect . . .  

Or, better yet, can we skip it? I’m trying to cut down on shame and guilt these days, as we all should. And as my boy Hank says, I’m addicted to Instagram. I pretty much post daily at @amyrosethielen, so for more regular glimpses into my kitchen, please follow me there.

I waste so much time cooking. My blog might suffer, but my Grandma Dion would be glad to know I’m not just sitting around on my duff. No, I’m canning, cooking, baking, picking stuff from the garden, scrubbing it, freezing vegetables and sauces, processing my meat chickens, bleaching down all my door handles . . . my homesteader chores are real.

And I’m a perfectionist. Every recipe I post is tested as carefully for this space as it is for print publication. Like all of you, I’m a home cook, too; the last thing I want to do is waste your time with a recipe that could have used one more run.

So here’s a single photo, a mood, and a recipe. I want to start throwing out my kitchen exploits and tested recipes in a quicker, more digestible way. And I made a lot of pies this summer. (And recorded thoughts about pie-making on Minnesota Public Radio, if you want to listen to me dispel some popular myths in pie-making.)

This glorious, vintage-looking crust comes courtesy of a plastic pie-crust cutter I found in the box of kitchen tools I inherited from Aaron’s grandma, Irene (Niebrugge) Dierking. It’s the shape of a fan, one-quarter of a pie chart, and made of plastic which has now turned grayish over the years. I rolled out my top dough and impressed the cutter four times, at each angle, and then lifted the fragile die-cut crust with a great swoop to lay over the filling. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more beautiful pie. I imagined Irene pulling this pie’s historical twin from the oven in her farmhouse kitchen in Burr, Nebraska, which never was updated for electricity, even into the 1960s . . . and get all choked up for plain daily heartland beauty. This print is like the Nebraskan Fleur de Lys.

VINTAGE APPLE PIE

This one’s a relic. My Grandma Dion always macerated her apples for a while before making the pie, so I do too. (If you don’t have time, it also works to just make-and-bake.) The best apple pies are made from sweet-tart apples, but it’s always a safe bet to use a combination of sweet ones (such as Honeycrisp) and tart ones (such as Haralson or Granny Smith).

Butter Crust:

2 1⁄2 cups all-purpose flour

3⁄4 teaspoon fine sea salt

9 ounces (2 sticks plus
2 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cold, cut into cubes

1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar 5 to 7 tablespoons ice water

 

Apple Filling:

8 cups sliced peeled apples (from 6 to 8 medium or large apples)

1 cup sugar, plus more for dusting the pie

Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon

2 tablespoons dark rum (optional)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

5 tablespoons cornstarch

1⁄2 teaspoon grated nutmeg

All-purpose flour, for rolling the dough

Leaf Lard Crust (recipe follows)

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold, cut into thin pats

Heavy cream, for the pie wash

 

Mix the flour and salt in a large bowl. Add the butter and cut it in with a pastry blender until the largest pieces are the size of small peas and the mixture begins to clump on the pastry blender. Shuffle through the mixture with your hands, pinching chunks of fat to flatten them.

Stir the vinegar and 5 tablespoons of the ice water together in a bowl, and add the liquid to the flour; mix with a fork. Pinch a clump of dough in your hands: If it feels moist and clumps together easily, it’s probably hydrated enough. If it feels really crumbly, add another tablespoon or two of ice water until you can form a baseball-size clump of dough, packing it on as if you were making a snowball. Divide the dough in half and form each half into a flat disk. Wrap both disks in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 2 days.

Thirty minutes before you’re ready to roll out the dough, remove it from the refrigerator and let it sit at room temperature to soften.

In a large bowl, toss the apples with the sugar, lemon zest and juice, rum (if using), vanilla, cornstarch, and nutmeg. Macerate at room temperature for about 2 hours or, refrigerated, overnight.

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Dust a worktop and rolling pin with flour. Roll out one dough disk a little less than 1⁄4-inch thick, about 14 inches in diameter. Fold the dough in half and transfer it to a 9- or 10-inch pie plate. Unfold. Press the dough into the corners, leaving the overhang. Refrigerate the first crust while you roll out the second disk of dough. If you want, cut a fine pattern of shapes into the crust with a small cookie-cutter.

Remove the bottom crust from the fridge and fill it with the macerated apples. Tuck the pats of cold butter beneath the top layer of fruit. Top with the second piece of dough, and trim both to a 1⁄2-inch overhang. Tuck the overhang into a roll and crimp the edge, pressing down to hook some of the dough over the edge of the dish. Cut a hole in the center of the pie, as well as some decorative vents.

Brush the top of the pie with cream, dust it with sugar, and bake for 20 minutes. Then reduce the temperature to 350°F and bake for another 20 minutes.

Cover the edges of the pie with foil and continue to bake until the center juices bubble and thicken, 25 to 35 minutes, for a total of about 1 hour and 10 minutes. Let the pie cool until it is just warm to the touch before slicing and serving.