Monday, October 14, 2013

How to bake an Apple Pie without a recipe

"Only a woman of a certain age would need a recipe to bake an apple pie." I read that somewhere in a novel and I immediately related to the character.  I first learned how to bake an apple pie in my high school Home Economics class, circa early 1970's.

I still have the pie crust recipe from class, which I've used so often, I know it by heart.  My teacher, Mrs. Libby, unfortunately, I do not remember.  Home Ec was one of my favorite classes and I went on to study the subject in college.  I learned some very valuable life skills during those years.   Skills, which it seems, are missing from today's kid's education.  How do kids today learn how to cook?  How do they know what is nutritious and healthy?  A recent Boston Globe article, Bring back home ec, raises those questions.  One answer is to consider reviving Home Economics classes.  If not in the school system, then it should be taught at home.  Which got me to my own kids know how to bake an apple pie?  They've watched me bake many pies....but would they know how to make one themselves?

There really isn't much to making an apple pie.  In addition to pie crust, all you need are apples, sugar, lemon juice and zest, nutmeg, and cornstarch.  I like to make pie crust, yet I will admit that it can be a hassle sometimes.  So, for a quick and easy pie I recommend using Ready-to-Bake pie crust from the market.  Honest, if you use a nice pie plate no one will ever question who made the crust.  Even easier is a one-crust pie.  A favorite with my family is Apple Pie with Oatmeal Crumb Topping.

Apple Pie with Oatmeal Crumb Topping

Single pie crust, uncooked (see below for pastry recipe or use store bought)

7 cups peeled, cored, and thinly sliced Cortland apples
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice and grated zest of lemon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 1/2 tablespoon cornstarch

Oatmeal Crumb Topping
1 cup flour
1/2 cup rolled oats (old-fashioned or quick cooking)
2/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces

Depending on what type of pastry you are using - either prepare according to recipe below or according to package.  Gently tuck the pastry into a pie pan and sculpt the edge into a ridge.  Place in freezer while you prepare filling.

Combine the apples, 1/3 cup sugar, and the lemon juice and zest in a large bowl.  Mix well, set aside for 10 minutes.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

In a small bowl, mix the remaining 1 tablespoon sugar with the nutmeg and cornstarch.  Add the mixture to the apples and stir the fruit well.  Turn the filling into the chilled pie shell and smooth to even out the apples.  Place pie plate on an aluminum foil-lined baking sheet and place on the center oven rack.  Bake for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the crumb topping.  Put the flour, oats, brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt in a food processor and pulse several times.  Scatter butter over top.  Pulse repeatedly (or, you can manually mix with a pastry blender) until the mixture resembles fine crumbs.  Refrigerate until ready to use.

Remove pie from oven and reduce temperature to 375 degrees.  Carefully dump the crumbs in the center of the pie, spreading them over the surface with your hands.  Tamp topping down lightly.  Return pie to the oven.  Bake until the top is golden brown and the juices bubble thickly at the edge, 30 to 35 minutes.  To prevent edges from browning too quickly, bunch up the foil around edges.

Let pie cool for at least 1 hour before serving.

Serve Apple pie with a chunk of Vermont cheddar cheese and some ginger cookies for a wonderful New England dessert.

Recipe for Standard Pastry for two Crust Pie (9")
from Mrs. Libby's Home Ec class

2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
1/4 cup cold water

Mix flour with salt, cut in butter.  Mix using a pastry blender until butter is size of giant peas.  Sprinkle with water, tossing flour until all the flour is moist. Gather dough into a ball.  Lightly flour rolling pin and board.

For bottom crust, lightly shape half of the pastry into a ball.  Flatten, then make circle by rolling out from center in all directions.  Life rolling pen as you get to the edges, to prevent splitting.  If pastry splits, pinch them together.  Life pastry occasionally, but do not turn it over.  Roll until circle is 12 inches in diameter (1 1/2 inches wider than pie plate.)  Fold pastry in half.  Place pastry in pie plate.  Using your index finger fit pastry to plate.  If using a top crust, leave edges.  If using a crumb topping, fold edges under and form into favorite edge style.

For top crust, roll other half of pastry into 12 inch circle.  Fold in half and with sharp knife make vents. Moisten edge of lower crust with water (will help seal edges.)  Place top crust on pie.  Finish with your favorite edge.


  1. Great post Diane! And I never thought to serve a slice of apple pie with cheddar cheese, haven't seen that on the west coast. I will definitely try that next time. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Hi Diane-great post. I love the "cooking X without a recipe" idea. It's the way I cook, mostly, and probably most people cook, but we don't really share recipes that way so I like this format!