Why is my apple pie so runny and the bottom crust so soggy?
These are the two most common laments from the home baker, and there is one culprit for both problems: moisture. As they cook inside the crust, apples exude juice. The juice makes the pie filling runny and the crust soggy.
The most ingenious -- and delicious -- solution I've ever come across is that of Rose Levy Beranbaum. In this famous recipe from "The Pie & Pastry Bible" (Scribner, $50), she combines the apples with sugar and seasonings and lets them macerate for a few hours, after which she drains off the liquid, reduces it, and adds that back to the apples.
Beranbaum's recipe also features an unorthodox cream-cheese crust, flaky, tender and easy to work with. In her 1998 book, she had you knead the dough inside a plastic bag to reduce sticking, but she has since simplified the instructions: just wear latex or vinyl gloves.
This is an exacting recipe, but people swear by it.
THE BEST ALL-AMERICAN APPLE PIE
For the crust:
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold
2 cups plus 3 tablespoons pastry flour, or 2 cups bleached all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
4 1/2 ounces cream cheese (1 1/2 packages), cold
2 tablespoons ice water
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
For the filling:
2 1/2 pounds baking apples (about 6 medium), peeled, cored and sliced 1/4-inch thick
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 to 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cornstarch
For the crust:
1. Cut butter into 3/4-inch cubes. Wrap in plastic and freeze 30 minutes. Place flour, salt and baking powder in a gallon resealable bag and freeze for 30 minutes.
2. Place flour mixture in a food processor with metal blade and process for a few seconds to combine.
3. Cut cream cheese into 3 or 4 pieces and add it to flour. Process for 20 seconds or until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add frozen butter and pulse until no butter is larger than a pea. Add the water and vinegar. Pulse until most of butter is reduced to small peas; mixture will not hold together.
4. Lightly flour a board, divide the mixture in half and, wearing the gloves, lightly knead with the heel of your hand a few times until it holds together. Place dough on plastic wrap, press into a flat, half-inch disk and wrap in plastic. Repeat with remaining dough. Refrigerate dough for at least 45 minutes, preferably overnight.
For the pie:
5. Remove one disk from refrigerator. Let sit for 10 minutes, until soft enough to roll. On a floured pastry cloth or between two sheets of lightly floured plastic wrap, roll the bottom crust 1/8-inch thick or less and 12 inches in diameter. Transfer to a 9-inch pie pan. Trim the edge almost even with the edge. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate it for 30 minutes to 3 hours.
6. In a large bowl, combine the apples, lemon juice, sugars, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt and toss to mix. Macerate at room temperature for 3 hours, then transfer the apples and their juices to a colander suspended over a bowl to capture the liquid. The mixture will release at least 1/2 cup of liquid.
7. In small saucepan over medium-high heat, boil down liquid with butter, to about 1/3 cup (a little more if you started with more than cup of liquid), or until syrupy and lightly caramelized. Swirl liquid but do not stir. Meanwhile, transfer apples to bowl and toss them with the cornstarch until all traces of it have disappeared.
8. Pour the syrup over the apples, tossing gently. (Do not be concerned if the liquid hardens on contact with the apples; it will dissolve during baking.)
9. Roll out the top crust large enough to cut a 12-inch circle. Use an expandable flan ring or a cardboard template and a sharp knife as a guide to cut the circle.
10. Transfer apple mixture to pie shell. Moisten border of the bottom crust by brushing it lightly with water and place the top crust over the fruit. Tuck the overhang under the bottom crust border and press down all around the top to seal it. Crimp the border using a fork or your fingers and make about 5 evenly spaced 2-inch slashes starting about 1 inch from the center and radiating toward the edge. Cover the pie loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour before baking to chill and relax the pastry. This will maintain flakiness and help to keep the crust from shrinking.
11. Preheat oven to 425 degrees at least 20 minutes before baking. Set oven rack at lowest level and place a baking stone or baking sheet on it before preheating. Place large piece of greased foil on top to catch any juices.
12. Set pie directly on foil and bake for 45 to 55 minutes or until juices bubble through slashes and apples feel tender but not mushy when a cake tester or small sharp knife is inserted through a slash. After 30 minutes, protect edges from overbrowning with a foil ring. Cool pie on a rack for at least 4 hours before cutting. Serve warm or at room temperature. Makes 8 servings.