Alex Guarnaschelli Blogs: Celebrate the Beginning of Apple Season with My Best Pie Recipe

Alex Guarnaschelli Apples

Alex Guarnaschelli is an Iron Chef, Food Network celebrity chef, author of Old-School Comfort Food and the executive chef at New York City’s Butter restaurants. Read her blog every Tuesday to get her professional cooking tips, family-favorite recipes and personal stories of working in front of the camera and behind the kitchen doors. Follow her on Twitter at @guarnaschelli.

My mother always bakes apples whole this time of year. She simply cores the apples and fills the cavity with dark brown sugar, soft butter, a few light grates of orange zest and a sprinkle of cinnamon and ground ginger, then bakes until tender.

For baking whole, my favorites are Granny Smith, Rome and Cameo varieties. For snacking, my favorites are Fuji and Gala — they have a crisp texture, distinctive flavor and a deep sweetness, especially at the beginning of the season when they are smaller and firmer.

And what about that endless pie question? What to use? I find there are certain varieties that maintain a textural integrity better than others.

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I spotted the first Rhode Island Greenings this weekend at the green market and I have to say they are a close rival for the ultimate pie apple: Granny Smith. They are both green skinned, firm, tart and can stand up to the heat of an oven.

If you have the luxury of a green market where there are lots of different apples by you, branch out and get some really fresh apples that differ from the usual suspects.

Alex Guarnaschelli Apples

My recipe doesn’t deviate much from what I ate growing up. There are a few subtle choices that can make a difference. When you zest the lemon, zest lightly so you leave behind the bitter white pith and get only the floral layer of zest.

Using brown sugar and ginger in the filling adds a tang to the apples, and combining butter and shortening in the crust gives the wonderful and deceptively light result. The crunch is from the shortening and the wonderful flavor is from the butter.

Alex Guarnaschelli’s Good Ol’ Apple Pie
Makes one 9-inch pie

For the filling:
4 ½ pounds Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and quartered
1 large lemon, zested and juiced (about 2 tbsp. juice)
¼ cup apple cider
½ cup dark brown sugar
⅓ cup all-purpose flour 11/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ tsp. ground nutmeg
½ tsp. dry ginger

For the crust:
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. kosher salt
2 tbsp. sugar
½ tsp. ground allspice
1 ½ sticks cold unsalted butter, cubed, plus more for greasing
⅓ cup cold vegetable shortening

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1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.

2. Make the filling: Place the quartered apples on a flat surface and cut each quarter into a three smaller pieces so they are all the same size. In a large bowl, toss the apples with the lemon zest and juice, apple cider, dark brown sugar, flour, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger. Set aside.

3. Make the crust: In the bowl of the food processor, combine the flour, salt, sugar and allspice. Pulse in the butter and shortening until just combined. Turn the dough onto a flat, lightly floured surface. Divide the dough in half. Press the dough into two flat discs. Refrigerate until cold.

4. Roll and bake the bottom crust: Use 1 tbsp. of butter to liberally and carefully grease the bottom and sides of the pie dish. Roll half of the pie dough into a 10-inch (or so) circle. Drape the dough over and on the bottom of the dish and gently press the dough into the sides and bottom. Cover the inside with a sheet of aluminum foil and some pie weights (or beans) and bake 12-15 minutes or until light brown. Remove the pie crust from the oven and remove the foil and weights. Fill the pie with the filling.

5. Assemble and bake the pie: Roll the remaining pie dough into a 10-inch circle. Crimp the top dough to the bottom dough by pinching with your fingers or gently pressing it together with the tines of a fork and cut a small hole in the center. Place the pie on a baking sheet (so excess liquid doesn’t dirty your oven and burn) and in the oven. Bake for 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes. If the crust starts to get too brown, lower the temperature to 350°F and finish baking. Remove the pie from the oven and cool. Devour.

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