Apple of My Pie Transcript

The Kitchen

GUEST: Alton Brownís mother

    Friends, neighbors, Americans. Iíve got nothing against culinary globalization. Heck, Iím down with Pad Thai and goulash, and even the occasional bowl of vichyssoise. But gosh dang it, I am sick of seeing families toss aside the classic dishes, like the ones so lovingly assembled in this homemade collection [holds up a hand-made cover, entitled ďBrown Family RecipeezĒ], in order to make more room on their shelves, and on their tables, for ridiculous pan-Asian, sub-Saharan, Danish fusion cuisine. America, we have got to get back to our roots. [sound of cheers and applause]

Brown Family Recipeez!

Apple Pie

    To that end, we have written the names of hundreds of threatened or endangered American classics onto the cards inside this spinning lottery cage. And we will choose one on which to concentrate our attention over the next half hour. [spins the cage, stops, extracts a card] Ahh, And the Good Eats treatment goes to apple pie! [sounds of more applause] And why not? I canít think of anything thatís more American than ...

AB's Mother: [walks in, wearing a baseball cap and glove and tossing a baseball]
AB: Oh, hey, Mom. Look, I canít play baseball with you right now. Iím working.
ABM: [throws down the glove and walks away angrily]
AB: But Iíll see you back at home. Weíll have a real good time then. Weíll ...

    Join us, wonít you? Because apple pieís not just patriotic, itís...

[ďGood EatsĒ theme plays]

The Kitchen

GUESTS: George Washington as a child
                   Abraham Lincoln

    Well, America, if youíre a loyal fan of this program, you know that weíve dabbled about with apples in the past [Apple Family Values]. Who can forget our bourbon-laced microwave applesauce? And on at least two occasions, pie crust has been the focus [Crust Never Sleeps & I Pie]. But if weíre to set things right with our national dessert, we need to investigate both of these subjects anew with the manufacture of an honest and true apple pie as our singular goal.
    Constructing a good pie crust is a balancing act, okay? Now on one side of the equation we have the structural members, the strengtheners, like the protein and starch and flour and water, which help those elements come together into a kind of, well, culinary concrete. On the other side of the equation, we have the weakeners, the tenderizers, such as fats, butter, lard and shortening and, of course, sugar. Now how we play one side of the equation against the other will determine the kind of crust that we have. Now for something like a cream pie, we might want a more tender crust. But for something like apple pie, we need a little more structure. So weíre going to go the opposite direction. Good. Now, letís build.

    We begin by weighing out 12 ounces of all-purpose flour, and dumping that into your favorite food processor. We will follow that with one teaspoon of standard table salt. Now I know youíre probably surprised to not hear me, you know, using kosher salt, but itís just too big and crunchy for this application. Next, we will go with three teaspoons of regular granulated sugar. And of course, three teaspoons is one tablespoon. Very good. I knew youíd get that. Now just slap on the lid and spin it for just a few seconds to bring the mixture together.

12 Ounces All-Purpose Flour
1 tsp. Table Salt
3 tsp. Sugar

    [after a few seconds] There, that should do it. Now we bring the fat to the party, starting with six ounces of chilled, unsalted butter, cut into about half-inch pieces. Just pulse that five or six times, until the texture just begins to look kind of mealy. That looks good.

6 Ounces Unsalted Butter,
    Cut into Ĺ Inch Pieces &

    Now, we bring two ounces of chilled vegetable shortening to the bowl. Small chunks, please. Pulse another three to four times or just until incorporated. Since they have different melting points, the butter and the shortening will work together to create a better texture. Now once thatís in, weíre going to need a liquid. Not much, but enough to hydrate the flour and activate a bit of gluten. Letís see, besides apple juice, or even apple cider, we could use water. But why bother when weíve got ...

2 Ounces Shortening, Cut into
     Ĺ Inch Pieces & Chilled

    [at the cupboard] Letís see... ah, applejack! If apple pie is the most American of desserts, than this is the most American of alcoholic beverages. You can keep your French calvados. This apple brandy, distilled from hard cider, is what America drank before there was a bourbon industry. George Washington turned his apples into this stuff, and Abraham Lincoln served it at the tavern that he used to run in Springfield, Illinois. Although applejack used to run anywhere from 50 to a whopping 120 proof, these days itís kept to 70% alcohol by law, and itís aged in wood for at least one year. And yes, Iím putting it in the pie. [George Washing and Abe Lincoln show up in background shots during AB's description]

    Iím putting it in the pie to the tune of five tablespoons right on top. And then just pulse until it comes together into a kind of big hunks. Yeah, like that. There, thatís what weíre looking for.

5-7 Tbs. Applejack

    Now I know you. I know what youíre thinking. Youíre thinking thatís too much liquid. That itís going to whip up with all that flour to create too much gluten and, therefore, a hard crust. Well, you know what Iíve got to say to that? Unh-unh!

    [at the kitchen table] See, applejack contains a lot of ethyl alcohol, and alcohol wonít combine with wheat proteins to make gluten the way that water does. Donít believe me? Letís do a little experiment, shall we?

A lot of Ethyl Alcohol


    [AB pours water into one bowl of flour and an equal amount of alcohol in another bowl of flour.] Hah hah hah hah. In go the fluids. [mixes both with hand-held electric beaters] See? Water and wheat flour, big gluteny, gluey mess. Ethyl alcohol and flour, not so much. The alcohol, though, wonít make gluten, but it will hydrate the flour granules making the resulting dough a lot easier to handle. So, you get the best of both worlds. A dough you can work with without too much of this [holds up the flour/water result]. And, of course, you get the added apple flavor. Now since alcohol boils at, 172.4 Fahrenheit, most of the alcohol will cook out during the baking process.
    [at the refrigerator] Divide the dough in half by weight. Shape each half into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least an hour and up to overnight. That will give the fat time to re-solidify and the flour time to soak up all that lovely applejack.

In pie lingo, the original name for a crust which enclosed a filling was coffyn.

Harry's Farmers Market
Marietta, GA - 10:15am

GUEST: John Chapman, a.k.a. ďJohnny AppleseedĒ

    Technically speaking, the only native American apple is this one, the crabapple: a small, bitter, distant relative of the fruit that now dominates grocery store produce aisles. Which most botanical historians agree, came to being in one of the ďstans,Ē most likely Kazakhstan. So, how is it, then, that the American landscape from Washington state to New York, Pennsylvania to Georgia, is so strewn with different types of apples?

John Chapman: [saunters up behind AB in the grocery aisle in full garb and wearing a pan] Howdy.
AB: Howdy.

    Yes, John Chapman, or ďJohnny Appleseed,Ē really did exist. He really did plant an awful lot of apple trees around Ohio, Illinois, and Indiana. And, he really did wear a pot on his head.
    Anyway, the reason there are so many apples in the rest of the country is that a lot of immigrants from the Old World came here with apple seeds in their pockets. And they planted those seeds. And each and every one of them created a new, different variety of apple. Apples are kind of like humans that way.
    Anyway, thereís unfortunately not a perfect apple-pie apple. Itís just not a solo part. To do the pie justice, you really need at least a quartet. Now if apples are grown, you know, locally where you live, I strongly suggest you seek out and try as many combinations of those apples as you realistically can. Otherwise, you may use this list, which I feel does as good a job as can be done by nationally available varieties.

    Hereís what I go with: for tang the Granny Smith apple, for sweetness the Honeycrisp apple, for its texture the Golden Delicious, and for its, well, being different the Braeburn. Oh, and for one pie, youíre going to need three to three and a half pounds of apples, evenly divided between these varieties. [noting JC has been suspiciously following him the whole time] Excuse me.

Granny Smith
Golden Delicious

The Kitchen

    If youíre not going to make pie right away, store your apples in a plastic bag in the fridge. As long as you keep them cold, theyíll stay fresh for weeks. Back in the days before refrigeration, apples would be placed in barrels and sunk in rivers or lakes for the winter. In the spring, they were fresh as daisies. [closes the fridge door and immediately reopens it] What am I thinking? I want pie now.
    Although a host of gizmos exist for the express function of peeling apples for pie, I find that as long as weíre talking about less than 10 pounds, Iím better off with just a good old-fashioned peeler, like this. I like the ones with the serrated blades, by the way.
    Now I have to admit that when it comes to coring and slicing these apples, I do have a weakness for a particular gadget, an apple corer. But not one like this, that only has eight blades. No, this is a puny unitasker. I go for the 12-bladed model, which is not only good for apples, but pears and even small pineapples. It will create perfectly uniform half-inch slices, which is crucial. Because if the pieces arenít uniform, the pie will not set and cook evenly.

    Once youíve harvested your slices, move them all back to a bowl, and toss with one-quarter of a cup of plain old-fashioned sugar. Once youíve got that tossed in, youíre going to want to move the apples and whatever sugar is still hanging onto them into a colander. Then, put the bowl back underneath that, so that we catch every bit of liquid that drains away. There. Weíre going to let this just sit and drain for an hour and a half. Just enough time for a little trip to the beach.

3-3 Ĺ Pounds Apples, Sliced
    Into Ĺ Inch Pieces
ľ Cup Sugar

    Letís say that this fabulous seaside abode [a three story dollhouse with female dolls] is a slice of apple and that the lovely ladies inside are water molecules. Then, letís say we add sugar [a male doll playing a guitar] to the party. Now being seriously hydroscopic, sugarís silent song calls to the aqua girls [they begin to dance], eventually coaxing them out to mingle with him to form a sweet syrup that we will then drain away. [all of the females are piled on top of the male] If enough water vacates the premises, the apple will collapse, at least partially.

    [back at the kitchen] Although apple collapse sounds rather catastrophic, itís actually a good thing. Because if the apples donít collapse before they go in the pie, they will collapse after theyíre in the pie during the baking process. And that could leave you with a phenomenon called ďthe pie domeĒ which looks like this. [pulls away the top of a pie which is mostly air] Ahh, see? What happens here is that the starch and protein of the crust set while thereís still a big pile of apples inside. And then as the apples collapse down, youíre left with this big dough dome which is not good eats. Unless, of course, maybe you stuff it with marshmallow cream and then you ... No. That wouldnít be right.
    Now while our sugared apples drain, letís consider the rest of the software beginning with spices.
    [at the cupboard] Right up front, let me say that cinnamon, cloves, allspice, and nutmeg are all fine spices. But theyíve got absolutely nothing to do with apples, okay? If you want your apple pie to taste like pumpkin pie, go ahead. Itís your food. Me? Iím keeping it clean, with just another quarter cup of sugar, a quarter teaspoon of salt, and a quarter teaspoon of Grains of Paradise, freshly ground. Now you may remember Aframomum melegueta from our okra show. Itís also called ďalligator pepperĒ although it doesnít taste like pepper or alligators, now that I think about it. You can easily find this through Internet spice purveyors. If you donít want to bother, consider the traditional Scandinavian spice for apples, caraway, in the same amount. Next up, the fridge ...
    [at the fridge] ... where our apple pie filling software continues with two teaspoons of freshly squeezed lime juice to keep the acidity up, a tablespoon of apple cider. And I donít mind telling you, in a pinch, you could just use a little bit more of the old applejack. And two tablespoons of apple jelly for flavor and to help bind the apples together via pectin, a kind of fruit glue that holds cell walls together. Itís like gelatin, only a carb, not a protein.

The worldís largest apple pie, measuring 18 feet round & 18 inches deep,
was made at the 1982 Hilton Apple Fest.

The Kitchen

    Although we could use a wide variety of starches to successfully bind our pie, I prefer a flour ground from cassava, called tapioca flour. I like it because it dissolves more easily than cornstarch. It doesnít gum up like flour. It gels at a wide range of temperatures, even in the freezer. And it gives everything it touches a nice, sparkling shine.

-Dissolves easily
-Doesn't gum up
-Gels at more temperatures
-Gives nice shine

    By now the apples will have given up quite a bit of juice, and although we donít want them in the apples, it doesnít mean that we donít want them in the pie. So, into a small sauce pan or saucier, and over medium heat until it reduces down to a glaze of two tablespoons.

    Now we assemble the rest of the filling. [adds all the ingredients and then mixes by hand]

ľ Cup Sugar
3 Tbs. Tapioca Flour
2 Tbs. Apple Jelly
1 Tbs. Apple Cider
2 tsp. Freshly Squeezed Lime
ľ tsp. Kosher Salt
ľ tsp. Freshly Ground Grains of Paradise

    Time to convert these doughy rounds into a crunchy crust. First, we need our station set. I have here some flour, just all-purpose flour for sprinkling. Iíve got a nice, big, open, clean expanse. Iíve got a rolling pin. I prefer French, that is, one without handles. And weíll need a couple feet of wax paper on which we will actually do the deed.
    A little bit of flour goes down, because this is sticky stuff, and the first disk comes out. A little flour on top of that, fold over the wax paper, and then roll. And I just kind of like rolling in one direction, and then the other, and then turn all the way around. Weíre looking to bring the dough all the way out to the edge of the paper, just about 12 inches.
    This is a relatively moist dough, so itís not going to take a lot of downward pressure. Just barely push down on the rolling pin as you push it away from you. Turn and roll. Donít worry if you get a few cracks or if a fissure opens up. Itíll patch up later, so donít worry about it. If things start to feel too sticky, peel back the paper, add a little flour, and keep going. There. Now when you get one done, move to number two, and we will use the same methodology. Time to pan up.
    Now, the traditional metal pie pan or glass pie plate might seem the logical, if not obvious, choices here. But personally, Iíve never managed to cut and remove a piece of pie from one of these without making a big mess. Well, cream pie, maybe, once or twice. But fruit? Never. What I need is a pan that will allow me to get a clean shot at the side and bottom crust without having to negotiate all of these nasty curves and angles. The answer is ... [reaches behind and pulls out] NOT A SPRINGFORM PAN! I thought Iíd gotten rid of all these wretched vessels. Yuck! I wouldnít even use one of those for a cheesecake. No, what I need is a tart pan. The side and the bottom are two pieces for easy de-panning, and these ridges will make for a very pleasantly crunchy crust.
    The tart pan also makes loading of the dough extra easy. Just flip the bottom piece over onto your disk, replace the wax paper, flip it over, and then fold the edges of the dough until everything is up onto the bottom of the tart pan. Then, you just drop it down inside. Easy. Fold out the edges, and donít worry if they crack or tear. You can take off the excess and patch the holes. There, just push it down against the flutes. There, thatís it.
    Okay, time to load up the fruit, right? Well, not so fast. If we fill this up with apples, which are full of moisture, and then we clamp on an upper crust, we put it in the oven, the moisture turns to steam. The steam expands and blows out the top of the pie like Mount Vesuvius. Now we could get around this by putting a lot of slits in the crust or making a lattice top. But still, filling is going to come up over the edges, make a big, sticky, ugly mess, and probably a good bit of smoke while weíre at it. There is a way around this, however.
    Check out your grandmotherís tchotchke shelf, and I guarantee you will find at least a couple of pie birds. Developed in England during the pie-crazed 19th century, the bird is basically a ceramic steam stack designed to vent a pieís internal pressure. The blackbird is standard, a play on ď... four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie.Ē If you canít find one at a kitchen store or online, you can make one out of aluminum foil, like this, or you can do what I did, and just, well, take them when your grandmotherís asleep.

In England, pie birds are still considered major collectibles.

The Kitchen

    Okay, finally, we build. Pie bird, dead in the center. Boom. The apples weíll start layering from the outside in, which is convenient, because the curve of the apple actually matches the curve of the pan. The goal here is to overlap them evenly as you go around. Just make another circle and then another circle inside that one, until youíre in the middle. There. Now start building another layer on top of that and move outward. The goal: to have all of the apples evenly interlaced and piled slightly higher in the middle than the outside. Of course, being able to kind of pile things against the pie bird helps in doing that.
    Now, whatever liquid is remaining in the bowl, go ahead and pour that over. The top piece of crust just gets laid right over, and kind of poke the little birdieís head through. And then sealing this is simple. Just use the heel of your hand, and just push down against those crimps. Let the pan do the work for you. Again, if any splits or tears show up, like that one, weíll patch. Now the final step is the reduction - the glaze that we made. We just want to brush that on. You see, itís pretty sticky stuff. Thatís going to add a good bit of flavor and, because of the sugar, color. Just try not to get it right up against the edge where the pan is or it will literally glue the pie to the pan.

    [at the oven] Remove the bottom rack from your hot box. Crank it to 425 degrees, and slide your pie right onto the floor of the oven. This way the bottom of the pie will brown and cook quickly, before the apples have a chance to get too far along. Thatís important.

425 Degrees

    After 30 minutes, we need to get the pie off of the floor of the oven so that the crust wonít actually burn. So move a rack into the lowest or next to lowest position, get the pie back in, and then bake for another 20 minutes.
    Ahh, time is up. You know, Iím really sorry that we havenít worked out that scratch-and-sniff television yet, because nothing stinks up a house quite as pretty as apple pie.
    [at the window sill] Now the hard part. America, this pie must cool for a minimum of four hours. Itíll take that long for the apple pectins and the tapioca starch and the jelly to set. Skip this and you will have cobbler. Believe me, your patience will be rewarded. You know, Aunt Bee might have been okay parking a pie in the windowsill, but she didnít live in this neighborhood.  [takes the pie away]
    When the time finally comes to cut that pie, hereís how we de-pan. This is the cool part. Just find something that is narrower than the bottom of the tart pan [uses an inverted ceramic pot], and ... Ha ha, off it comes. I love that. You can either use a spatula and a paring knife to kind of jimmy off that bottom plate, or you can just leave it in place, which is what I do. Always cut with a serrated knife. Itís a lot easier on the crust. And just kind of carve around the little blackbird. Here I come, birdie.
    In closing, I just want to say that, I donít really think I need to say anything at all. See you next time on Good Eats, America.

Transcribed by Michael Roberts
Proofread by Michael Menninger

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Last Edited on 05/01/2011