So full disclaimer – this is actually the first real pie-from-scratch recipe I’ve ever tried. Mostly because “everyone” says that pie crust is soooo hard to get right, and of course “everyone” must be right. Also, all the so-called easy pie crust recipes I found online always seemed require a food processor or at least a pastry cutter, neither of which I have. It just felt like a lot of hassle.
I may not be an expert at making pie, but I’ve definitely eaten my fair share of pie over the years. Apple, berry, lemon, pecan – mmm, the holiday season is very kind to me. So I know what I like in a pie, and I think what makes a good or even great fruit pie is pretty universal: tender, flaky crust that perfectly compromises between crunch and chew, generously stuffed with fresh fruit that just screams seasonal. Personally, I like my fruit pies not overly sweet in order to let the fruit’s natural flavors shine through. Why cover up something that nature has already taken hundreds and thousands of years to hone to perfection?
Well now that I’ve gone ahead and made my first pie from scratch, I can say that “everyone” was wrong. Armed with the right knowledge and basically no special equipment other than a pie dish, a beautiful and delicious pie is as easy as – well, pie.
When it comes to the kitchen, I can get
a bit a lot admittedly obsessively geeky. Pie crust’s reputation is pretty intimidating, so I did a lot of research before giving it a go. There’s a couple of simple tricks to ensuring a dough with enough moisture to roll out without tearing, but not so hydrated or over-mixed that the finished crust is tough or crumbly. If you’re not interested in the science, feel free to skip ahead, but I confess to finding it fascinating!
First trick: alcohol in place of water. This trick was first popularized by America’s Test Kitchen/Cook’s Illustrated Foolproof Pie Dough. What contributes to a tough pie crust is the overdevelopment of a gluten network in the dough, leading to the conundrum – add too much water and gluten development is encouraged more than you’d like, too little water and the dough will be very difficult to work with. Here’s where alcohol comes into play. By substituting some of the water for a liquor with a high alcohol percentage, you get the moisture without the gluten-inducing H2O (water, for those of you who don’t speak chemistry). While the recipe suggests vodka due to its flavorless qualities, all I had on hand was bourbon which worked perfectly fine. I was hoping it might impart some bourbon flavor to the crust but didn’t really notice anything in the final product.
Second trick: add the flour in measured batches. There’s a fantastic explanation by Serious Eats Food Lab guru J. Kenji López-Alt on the science of pie dough, but here’s the short version. A flaky crust comes from the distinct layers/blobs of fat and gluten (formed when flour and water come together). Traditionally the dough is made by cutting together all the fat and the flour in one go, but Kenji’s method forms first a flour-fat paste which basically has the same properties as fat, then proceeding to cut in the rest of the flour. By working with exact measurements, this method allows for better consistency and less guesswork as to when to stop cutting the flour/fat. Kenji’s method suggests using a food processor, but I decided to go all wild child and just use my hands. See below for some reference photos of the process:
The dough is an absolute dream to roll out – after chilling, I barely even needed any flour for my rolling pin. I used leaf-shaped cookie cutters for the top crust design, in the spirit of the season, an incredibly easy way to impress your pie-loving friends. And just to prove to you that great pie crust really can be this easy, I saved the last blob of dough to bake up separately:
See all those delicious layers? I might also add that I modified the recipe replacing all the fat with vegan butter, to keep it dairy-allergy friendly for one of my intended eaters; as the vegan butter has a lower melting point and lower fat content than dairy butter, I bet the crust would be even flakier using real butter!
The apples for the filling came from the Farmer’s Market right outside my office. I used my favorite Mutzu green apples, but any baking apple will work – Golden Delicious is a popular and easy-to-find choice. I keep the skin on for the fiber, and it also adds a little textural structure to the filling. While apples are certainly healthier than a sugar cube, sugar is still sugar – luckily, raspberries add a complexity of flavor, stain the filling a gorgeous autumnal crimson, and are low in sugar like most berries. I like to keep things simple but feel free to add some honey or maple syrup if it’s not sweet enough. With just fresh fruit and no added sugar, this pie is practically a wholesome breakfast! What’s the saying, a slice of pie a day keeps the doctor away?
Unsweetened Apple Raspberry Pie
makes one double crust 9″ pie
egg free/dairy free/vegan, low sugar/diabetic friendly
pie crust adapted from Cook’s Illustrated
- 2 1/2 cups (2.5 oz) flour
- 2 1/2 sticks (20 tablespoons) vegan butter, cut into 1/4″ pats
- 3 tablespoons liquor (vodka, bourbon, etc.)
- 3 tablespoons water
- 1 egg beaten for egg wash (optional)
apple raspberry filling
- 2 large baking apples, sliced & quartered (approximately 5 cups cut)
- 2 1/2 cups raspberries, fresh or frozen (if the latter, thawed & patted dry)
- 2 tablespoons cinnamon or more to taste
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch
- For the crust: using a food processor, pastry cutter, or your good old-fashioned fingers, cut together 2/3 of the flour with all of the butter until all flour is incorporated and the dough looks like uneven clumps – “cottage cheese curds” is the way Cook’s Illustrated describes it.
- Add the rest of the flour and break up the dough into small pieces, making sure to not fully incorporate the flour. In fact, working with my hands I found it helpful to reserve just a little of the remaining flour still to sprinkle over at the very end.
- Drizzle the water and alcohol over the flour/butter mixture. Fold and press the dough until it all comes together. Divide dough into two balls and flatten slightly into disks slightly bigger than the palm of your hand.
- Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for at least 45 minutes, up to 2 days.
- Filling: while the dough is chilling, prepare the apples and raspberries (slice and thaw, if needed, respectively). Toss all apples and most (not all) of the raspberries together with cinnamon and cornstarch.
- Assemble: Preheat the oven to 400 F. Remove dough from fridge and roll one disk out to an 11″ to 12″ circle on a nonstick or lightly floured surface. (Tip for rolling out circles: never run the rolling pin back and forth, always roll from the middle outward. The circle doesn’t have to be too perfect.)
- Drape the rolled out dough in a 9″ pie pan. Fold the overhang under. Crimp the crust edge however you like – I used a simple pinch-all-the-way-around scalloped look.
- Evenly spread the apple raspberry filling over the bottom crust.
- If you like a shiny golden-brown look, brush on the top crust an egg wash. This step is optional.
- Bake in the preheated oven for 45-60 minutes. The pie will be done when the filling starts to bubble. Check on the pie around the 30 minute mark – if the crust is browning too fast, you can cover it loosely with some foil for the remaining bake time.
- Allow to cool for several hours to room temperature or colder before attempting to cut it. Or if you don’t care about neat-looking slices and prefer to eat warm, have at it.
Nutritional description: In addition to a natural, low sugar sweetness, apples and raspberries also provides a nice dose of fiber which is essential for healthy digestion. What this pie doesn’t do so well in is the fat department; however, using vegan butter slashes the saturated fat significantly, making way for the much more nutritious unsaturated fatty acids. If you convert this recipe to a rectangular pan, then you can cut the pie into squares for even more servings and smaller serving sizes.
Nutritional information (per slice, 12 slices total): Calories 302, Total Fat 18.4, Saturated Fat 5g, Cholesterol 0mg, Carbs 29.3g, Fiber 2.8g, Sugars 5.7g, Protein 2.9g, Sodium 169.5mg