Monday, November 23, 2009

Food/Apple Pie

In my latest novel, Across the Table (scheduled for release in June 2010), Rose Dante is a first-generation Italian-American straddling the world of her immigrant parents and the life of an American working woman whose husband is away at war.

Here's a scene from a pivotal Thanksgiving:

I was up to my elbows in pastry dough for the pies. I’d convinced Mama to make an American apple pie in addition to the sweet ricotta pie with ten eggs and grated orange peel she always made for the holidays—not only Thanksgiving, but Christmas and Easter as well. I wanted Al Jr. to grow up an American. It was hard enough, with him spending my workweek with grandparents who only spoke Italian to him. But his father was an American serviceman, fighting for his country. The least we could do was teach Al Jr. to eat apple pie, sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce.

“You spend too much time with those Americans at the bank. What’s wrong with what I cook for the holidays?”

“Nothing’s wrong, Mama. It’s delicious. But we’re Americans too! It’s not such a bad thing. You and Papa chose to come here.”

“I don’t know how to make apple pie and I’m too old to learn. If you want your son to know apple pie, then you make it.”

Which is why I was kneading dough when the doorbell rang. I wiped my hands on my apron and answered the door.

My own recipe for apple pie is a composite of pie crust from Julia Child and filling from The Joy of Cooking. Here it is!

Pie crust (for top and bottom of 9” pie)

  • 1 ¾ cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 ¼ sticks (5 ounces) chilled butter
  • 2 tablespoon chilled shortening (Crisco)
  • 1/3 to ½ cup ice water

Place flour and salt in food processor with regular blade and blend for 1 second. Rapidly cut butter and shortening into ½ -inch bits and drop into machine. Turn on for 3 seconds. Stop. Add all but 2 tablespoons of the ½ cup ice water and turn on the machine. In 2 to 3 seconds the dough should begin to mass on the blade and the pastry is done.

Turn it out onto a work surface and with the heel of your hand, rapidly and roughly smear it out in front of you to make a final blending of butter into the dough.

Form into a cake 5 inches in diameter, flour lightly, wrap in plastic and a plastic bag, and chill for at least 2 hours before using.


  • 5 to 6 cups apples (peeled, cored, and cut into very thin slices)
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2 tablespoons butter

Place apples in a large mixing bowl.

In a small bowl, blend sugar, salt, cornstarch, and spices until well mixed.

Gently stir sugar-spice mix into apples, coating them well.

Making the Pie

Divide the pie dough into two slightly uneven parts, keeping the smaller one for the top. Roll each part into a circle about 1/8 inch thick. The larger circle should be about 2 inches larger than the pan, and the smaller circle should be about 1 inch larger.

Place the larger circle in the pie pan and press it into place. Brush the bottom with egg white.

Fill the pie crust with the apples.

Cut the butter into small bits and place around the apples.

Cover the apples with the smaller circle. Pinch together the top and bottom crusts and press together with a fork.

Cut vent holes in the crust with the point of a sharp knife. If you wish, decorate the center of the crust with scraps of dough (I usually make the shape of a turkey--see above).

Brush the crust with a beaten egg yolk.

Bake the pie for 10 minutes at 450 º. Reduce the heat to 350 º and bake for an additional 45 minutes.

Serve with freshly whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

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