The Best Apple Pie Recipe in the World! (And Mr.Luz blogs)

Introducing my favorite friend, lover, and Lady Gaga impersonator and now BaCon Concentrate's first Guest Blogger, Mr. Luz!

How To Make The Best Apple Pie In The World (With A Lot of Help from The Man Who Ate Everything, Jeffrey Steingarten)

Long before he became the portly, overly smug judge you love to hate on Iron Chef America and The Next Iron Chef, Jeffrey Steingarten (JS) was (and still is) Vogue magazine’s food critic (which I imagine must be like writing a sex column for the Wall Street Journal, but I digress). And even longer before that, he was a lawyer (double-Harvard, no less -  perhaps there is still hope for Miss E. Lee after all…) Somewhere along the way he wrote what I believe to be the funniest, wittiest, and most engrossing collection of food-related essays in existence, The Man Who Ate Everything.  True to form, I bought our copy at a thrift store for a dollar (but I've given it as a gift countless times since it was published in 1997 - my brother is a chef, after all...)  The last chapter is a veritable dissertation on the art of baking perfect pies.  JS tested every single pie recipe ever written over the past 73 years, so believe me when I tell you that he is nothing if not obsessive about getting it right.

Why, you might ask, am I making my blogging debut writing about apple pie?  A little pedestrian, no?  Not very stunty, or haute cuisine, after all.  Certainly not up to the very high standard set by Miss E. Lee in her stratospheric debut nary one year ago today...  Well, this is a blog in part about comfort food, and apple pie is as comforting as it gets when it comes to desserts.  I happen to believe that if you don't like apple pie, it's probably not your fault - most apple pie truly sucks.  It has drifted so far from its roots that it has become unrecognizable - the slimy, overly-sweet, gelatinous, cinnamon-infested filling and soggy cardboard crust served up at your local diner with a glorp of generic vanilla ice cream on top is not what inspired itinerant hobos to risk arrest slinking into your great-grandmother's backyard on a summer afternoon to pilfer a piping handful... It is my hope here to re-introduce you to the myth that inspired the saying, As American as Mom and Apple Pie.

What You Will Need
- a 9-inch glass pie plate (seriously, is there any other type of pie plate?)
- a big mixing bowl (for crust-making)
- a second big mixing bowl (for storing your apple filling while you wrestle with the crust)
- a rolling pin (for crust rolling)
- a fork (for peforming the fork death spiral)
- measuring cup and measuring spoons (for measuring things)

For the crust (and don't even think about not making your own crust!): 
- 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (JS prefers King Arthur)
- 2 tsp sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 1/2 cups unsalted COLD BUTTER (JS provides us with a dissertation on the glory of pure lard and/or Crisco, but butter works just fine, and will kill you more slowly)
- 3/4 cup ICE COLD water (I prefer BlingH20, The Most Expensive Bottled Water In The World, but tap water will work just fine)

For the apple filling:
- 3 1/2 lbs of apples (which amounts to 7 or 8 large apples, JS prefers "early" Gravensteins, then Pippins, then Granny Smiths, although I have used Fujis and Galas - but your safest bet are Granny Smiths - the key is to not use soft, mealy apples - they need to hold up to baking, not to being eating raw)
-1/2 a lemon (this won't end up in the actual pie, but is necessary to prevent oxidation of the apples - we prefer our apples rust-free)
-1 1/4 cups sugar
- 3 tbsps flour
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 1/4 tsp salt

For the flair:
- 4 tbsps of additional butter to grease the pie plate (1 tbsp) and to add to the filling (3 tbsp)
- a dash of milk to brush on the crust (dash=1 tbsp)

- 1 tbsp regular old sugar (to sprinkle on the crust)

The Process
Start by making your apple pie filling - that way you will gain the necessary confidence to make your own crust, which is really the entire battle here.  I mean, how hard is it to fill a large mixing bowl halfway with cold water, squeezing in the juice of half a lemon (making sure not to squeeze in the lemon seeds), and then peeling and coring your apples, slicing them into 16ths (cutting each cored apple in half, then cutting each half into 4 slices, then cutting each slice in half across the middle of the slice),  and then submerging them in the cold water?  See - you are already one third of the way there!

The Crust Massage
Ok, brace yourself. When I first read JS's crust-making technique, I felt as if I had just attended a Yoga for The Mind seminar...I mean, how many times was I supposed to gently roll the olive-sized butter pats lightly through my fingers as I contemplated the molecular substructures I was attempting to synthesize?  How many foot-pounds of pressure was I not supposed to apply as I plunged my fingers in a perfectly vertical manner along the sides of the mixing bowl (and only the sides)?  I'll admit that the first three times I made this recipe, I stressed over every single word on all thirty pages of the chapter, worrying that a single missed conjunction would ruin the end result.  But it really is a very simple recipe: butter, flour, salt, sugar, and apples.  The idea behind the crust is to not overmix, to not overcombine, to leave things relatively separate, and above all else, to not melt the butter so that it becomes liquid and incorporate itself into the flour.  You want to achieve an uncomfortable (dare I say it) Butter-Flour Apartheid - with cool pieces of butter of all shapes and sizes living right on top of, and among, and around an oblivious strata of Flour.  If you could interrogate the Flour, asking,"What is Butter?"  The Flour wouldn't be able to tell you, for Flour is not allowed to speak to Butter, only to coat it, and support it in the Butter-Flour socio-political hierarchy.  If you asked the same question of the Butter, the Butter would reply, "I know not what Flour is, except that it is everywhere around me, although I have never touched it."  Butter and Flour, uncomfortably co-existing, but never knowing the other's essence.

Back to the recipe.  

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees (you do have an oven, don't you? Forgot to mention that).  Mix the flour, sugar and salt with your dry fingers in your large bowl.  Cut your COLD butter into 1 tbsp chunks, and drop them, emphatically, onto the flour mixture.  Allow them to become coated in flour, and then proceed to break each tbsp-sized chunk into randomly smaller pieces, each time coating the pieces in flour, without squeezing or pressing the pieces into the flour (remember, you're going for separate-but-equal, not melting-pot-friendly here).
We are now going to learn how to perform the Crust Massage.  Once each large chunk of butter has been broken up into randomly smaller pieces and coated with flour, plunge your hands to the bottom of the bowl, and grab a small handful of flour/butter in each hand, palms facing up (unlike in the picture below, where my Irish Potato Farmer hands are obscuring the massage technique).  With your thumb and forefingers, gently rolling the butter/flour through your fingers three times, allowing the butter/flour to fall back into the bowl (what you are doing here is breaking up the larger butter pieces into even smaller morsels while coating them with flour). Do not smear or mash, gently roll.  Do this five or six more times, plunging your hands in, grabbing small handfuls and rolling the flour/butter three times through your fingers.
In the next phase, keep plunging your hands into the bottom of the bowl, but roll the small handfuls of flour/butter only ONCE through your fingers, allowing everything to drop back into the bowl.  Do this approximately 25 times, or until your mixture looks like a shattered, floury asteroid field):

Yes, those are large pieces of Butter-Barely-in-Flour disguise.  That's intentional.  We don't want any homogenous assimilation round these parts.  We want rough around the edges, disorderly chaos.  This is America, after all, not some centrally-planned commune.  Don't be alarmed if you have a large amount of raw-looking flour in the bottom of your bowl - that's what your water is for.  (After having performed the Crust Massage numerous times over the past 12 years, the Nerd in me wants to make this a lot easier for you.  But first I wanted to give you a little taste of the Steingarten Insanity - if you think my instructions are oppressive, buy his book.  What I really think you ought to do is to cut each COLD tbsp-sized pat of butter according to the Fibonacci Sequence, then dump all the pieces into the flour, and then do the 25 gentle finger-rolling flour-coating Crust Massage repetitions.  But I also realize that adding the Golden Ratio into the mix is a tad bit mystical for something so essential to our national ethos as apple pie.  But it would make a perfect crust, I am sure....)

Next, gently sprinkle 1/2 cup of your ICE COLD water over the entirety of you Butter/Flour Asteroid Field.  Wielding your Fork in a perfectly vertical orientation, slowly circle the fork in a perfect spiral (oh yes, my Friends of Fibonnaci, I went there) beginning along the outer edge of the bowl and ending in the exact center of your Butter/Flour Galaxy.  Do this twice or three times, or until your Butter-Flour mixture starts to begin to form into a proto-Asteroid field (what the Asteroid Field looked like before it got blasted apart - you can still see the beginnings of each individual asteroid and all the asteroid dust, but it is now glommed into a large mass, and is still somewhat floury and dry-looking).

DO NOT OVERWATER - water is a solvent, and we don't want anything to dissolve, only to stick or to glom.  We aren't making dough here, we are making flaky, light crust.  Water drowns.  You may be tempted to use more than 3/4 of a cup, but believe me, don't go north of a cup and a quarter, or you risk taking all of the air out, and turning your crust into a hard, thick shell.  The flakiness is accomplished by trapping pockets of steam between the layers of butter and flour, and if the water is completely dissolved into the flour and butter, you end up with culinary concrete (that's why after they pour concrete, they go through it with a Giant Vibrator Thingy to get out all the air bubbles - no one likes flaky concrete, apparently).

Once you've completed your Proto-Asteroid Field, divide the Mass in half, and gently press each half into a ball shape.  Again, don't overdo it - your hands are hot, and will melt the butter.  Don't pack it like a snowball - apply enough light pressure so that the ball stays together.  Coat your rolling surface and rolling pin with a dusting of flour.  Take the first ball and drop it onto your rolling area, and put the bowl with the other ball into the refrigerator to keep it cool.  Press the first ball into a one-inch high disc with your palm, and then begin rolling it out, until you have a crust that is approximately 1/8 inch thick.  Depending on how good you are at rolling, you probably won't end up with a perfectly round disc.  As long as you've got 12-13 inches in diameter of crust somewhere in the middle of your amorphous blob, you should be fine.
Now, fold the crust in half, then in half again, and then put it in the refrigerator to keep it cool.   This makes it a lot easier to apply to the pie plate (and to the top of your pie later on).

Repeat this process with the other ball of pie dough (I hate calling it that, because it isn't really dough, it's an Uncomfortable Un-Assimilated Arrangement of Pie Crust Elements, or to paraphrase Monty Python, an Anarcho-Syndicalist Pie Crust Commune.  What, afraid of a few bolsheviks in your washroom, are you?).

Take a break, you've earned it.  Have a snog of bourbon to calm your nerves (a snog is a kiss, bee-tee-dubs, and someone once told me that nothing is sexier than a bourbon-soaked kiss, although Miss E. Lee strongly disagrees).

Complete the Pie Filling
Pour all the water out of your apple pieces, and pat each piece dry with a paper towel.  No, I'm not kidding.  Too much water in your filling and you'll end up with molten apple pie soup under your crust.  Add your sugar, salt, and vanilla, and mix with a spoon until all of the apple pieces are coated in sugary, vanilline glory. Salt is obligatory. 

Assemble The Mothership 
Grease your pie plate with a pat of butter, and then place the center point of your crust centerfold into the center of the pie plate. Unfurl your freaky crust flag, and let it drape over the edges of the pie plate, gently pushing the crust into the bottom reaches and sides of the plate.  Use some scissors to cut off any excess crust that extends beyond the edges of the pie plate.  Now, add your filling, and drop your flair butter on top of the apple filling.  If your apples were quite large, you may not need to use all of the filling - add enough so that the filling fills the entire plate, and then a little more so that the apples form a raised, smoothish dome in the center of the pie.  Too few apples, and you'll end up with a depressed-looking pie; too many, and you'll have a revolution on your hands, with tons of molten apple pie overflowing your crust borders and smoking out your kitchen.
Now, to top it all off.  Take your second pie crust centerfold out of the fridge, and placing the center point on the center of the apple filling mountain, unfold crust flag numero deux.  You should have enough crust extending over the edges of the bottom crust layer that you can again use scissors to trim.  Working your way around the plate, lift the bottom crust layer up and tuck the top layer underneath, gently pressing the two sides together to seal the puppy up.  You don't want to press too hard, or the crust will end up tough, but you also don't want to let all the juicy apple goodness boil out the sides and onto the 450-degree surface of your oven (guaranteed to set off your smoke alarm).  Feel free to scallop the edges, or to use a fork to make a decorative pattern in the edge of the crust.  It matters not to me (I didn't say this was the Most Beautiful Apple Pie In the World Recipe, just the Best Tasting.)  Depending on how large your apples were, you should end up with something that resembles this:
You may end up with small holes or tears in your crust - just use some of the excess to patch things up.  Now brush the milk over the top of the crust, making sure to not let milk puddles form in the nooks and crannies - dab the extra milk out of there with a paper towel (JS insists, not me).  Finally, sprinkle your flair sugar all over the top, depending on how sugary you like your crust to be on top.  It's really just for show, because the apple filling is sweet enough as it is.

Place the pie plate on a baking sheet and put in your pre-heated oven for approximately 25 to 40 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown all around.  Rotate the pie a half-turn, then reduce the heat to 375 degrees and bake until the pie has been in the oven for a total of one whole hour (35 minutes if the browning-all-around only took 25 minutes, and 20 minutes if the browning took 40 minutes.)  If the edges of the crust start to get very dark much sooner than the rest of the crust, you can cover the outer edges with tinfoil to slow things down. It's almost impossible to prevent the pie filling from boiling over and out of the crust, and that's ok.  Just as long as things don't get out of hand.  The glory of a glass pie plate allows you to see how well the bottom crust is cooked.

To Vent Or Not To Vent?  A lot of people like to cut cutesy vent patterns or holes in the top of their crusts, but JS says that Marion Cunningham doesn't believe in them.  And if Mrs. C was savvy enough to act as the Fonz's surrogate mom, well then I wouldn't doubt her pie-making abilities.  I only vent when my pie looks as if it's about to explode - sometimes, so much steam builds up that the upper crust begins to rise up away from the apple filling.  This looks cool, but once the pie has cooled down, and you cut into it to serve, you end up with a big gap between the apples and the crust.  So vent if you want to make sure the crust doesn't lift away from the filling, but not just to make it look cute.  You can vent after the pie has begun baking if you start to feel uneasy about the occurrence of a molten apple pie filling revolution (venting, like television, eases societal tensions by providing a release valve for the resentment caused by the perception of class differences, but I digress).

Before you eat the pie, let it cool for as long as you can stand it (usually long enough for your significant other to run to the grocery store for some vanilla ice cream, because Mr. Luz forgot to tell you that it is one of the essential ingredients for this recipe).

Once you've mastered the Crust Massage, you can make virtually any kind of pie.  Try Strawberry Rhubarb next, and remember, keep those filling ingredients as dry as possible, and keep your Butter Cold.  For extra extra flaky (but less tasty) crust, use 1 1/2 cups of Crisco or pure lard (the kind only your local butcher will sell you, not the stuff you find in a supermarket).  Under no circumstances shall you use any medieval spices in your fruit filling mixture, particularly not any cinnamon or nutmeg or mace or cloves.  Apple with cinnamon is like Apple in Blackface - it's not funny, artful or ironic at all, despite what Australians, Spike Lee, or Ted Danson might think.  It's just plain offensive.


Mr. Luz


  1. Hahaha, I mean, I KNOW that reading this post is like reading a transcript of what goes on in that ridiculous, hilarious head of yours but I can't believe it. Great job, baby!

  2. Completely enjoyable post and a very thorough description of the recipe! I immediately reserved J.S.'s book at the library. Well done!

  3. Mr. Luz, you're better than Bob Ross's beard. The next time I arrive at Chateau Foxy, I expect a slice of this pie and an ice cold glass of BlingH20 to be presented to me at the doorstep.

  4. I dare say you might be the only person to ever seamlessly incorporate a reference to the archaic pratice of blackface into a spot-on recipe. Loves it..

  5. Butter-Flour Apartheid!!!! Yhis is one of the funniest recipes about pie making I have read. The way you describe the crust making to so funny and so accurate superbly done. I love it and yes the Fibonacci sequence would be an efficent method to cut the butter. Excellent article and well written and oh so funny. Cheer from Audax in Australia.

  6. Excellent! I glanced briefly at it yesterday and have been dreaming of that pie ever since. Power of suggestion!

  7. Wow, I think Mr. Luz has got your number! I didn't know you let him actually write it I thought he sat and looked on as you typed! You two aren't way varied stylistically; I thought it was you the whole time...(that's a quote for the books). Great recipe! I'm still waiting around for Rhubarb season *huge smile*

  8. Oooo, I've never been particularly good at pie crust. I'm so using this. Great article by the way; nerds are so awesome.

  9. This looks delicious...the pie crust looks so tasty with the perfect amount of crispness;-)

  10. I say "bah!" to haute cuisine - that looks like just the ticket, well done!

  11. I just made two of this recipe, uber excellent pastry!!!
    Also, for one of them I put in a frangipani base under the apples. Worked just fine, thanks for the tips on pastry makin'

  12. This is by far the most enjoyable food-blog post I have ever read.

    And, I'm definitely going to be making this pie. When it's based on the recommendations of a man who has tested every single pie for the last near-century... how could I not. Really.

    I will pass it along.