New to the United States, and living in New York City, known as “the Big Apple,” I heard the phrase “as American as apple pie” many times. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of eating my first slice of apple pie, but I was intimidated by the prospect of making an apple pie because that would require baking. Back home in India most cooking was done on top of the stove, so I was unfamiliar with baking, and unlike stir-fry techniques used in India, which do not require careful measuring of ingredients, baking requires more exact measurements and timing.

Although my first baking project, a pasta casserole, turned out successfully, the prospect of making an apple pie from scratch was still a bit unnerving.  However, my brother-in-law Jim showed me that it was indeed as “easy as pie.” With his help I learned the basics of pie making, and my first attempt to make an apple pie was rewarding.

Here is a version of Brother Jim’s Apple Pie made with layers of raw apple slices and chunks of cooked apples.  Also, below, another fun baking project: an Easy Strawberry Pie.

Shanta Nimbark Sacharoff, author of Flavors of  India: Vegetarian Indian Cuisine, lives in San Francisco, where she is manager and co-owner of Other Avenues, a health food store.

Brother Jim’s Apple Pie

For the Pie Crust
2 cups unbleached white flour or  2 cups whole wheat pastry flour for a more wholesome  crust
8 tablespoons (½ cup, or 1 stick) of chilled butter or  ½ cup vegan “butter”
substitute (non-hydrogenated margarine)
3 tablespoons of oil, any type with a mild flavor such as canola or sunflower seed oil
2 to 3 tablespoons cold water
For the Filling
10 to 12 apples, enough to yield 10 cups when cut into chunks and slices.
Mix crispy Pippin or Granny Smith apples with more juicy Gold Delicious
(if these are unavailable, any mixture
that combines apples with hard and soft flesh)
1/3 cup orange juice
¾ cup sugar
1½  teaspoons cinnamon
2 tablespoons butter, cut into very small pieces

To make the dough for the pie crust:

If mixing the dough by hand, first cut the chilled butter (or vegan spread) into small pieces. Add it to the flour, and cut the butter into the flour using a pastry cutter or two knives, cutting again and again until the mixture is the texture of coarse corn meal.  Then drizzle in the oil and 1-2 tablespoons of cold water, toss the mixture with a fork to distribute the oil and water, and quickly gather the dough into two loose balls.

If using a food processor combine all ingredients, except the water, in the processor jar and mix it for a minute. Then continue to process the mixture by using the pulse button, adding a small amount of water, until it turns into small pea-size portions. Quickly gather the dough into two loose balls.

Do not compact the balls. Wrap each ball with waxed paper, or a plastic bag, and refrigerate the balls for approximately 20 to 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

For the filling: 

Peel 8-9 apples and cut them into small chunks.  Place them in a sauce pan, add the orange juice, cover, and cook for about 20 minutes, until the fruit is tender but not mushy. Drain the excess juice using a colander. Toss the cooked apples with 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, ½ cup of sugar and 2 tablespoons of butter cut into tiny pieces. Set this mixture aside.

To assemble the pie:

Remove one ball of dough from the refrigerator. Place the dough in the center of a piece of wax paper and cover it with another piece of wax paper. Roll the dough into a circle approximately 11” in diameter, just a bit larger than the outer edge of the pie plate. When you are ready to place the dough in the pie plate, peel back and discard the top layer of wax paper.  Lay the crust onto the plate so that the second layer of the wax paper is on top.  Next, peel back the second sheet of wax paper and remove it.  Gently center the pie crust into the plate, patting it and spreading it evenly to cover the edges.  If a parts of the crust is broken, it can easily be fixed with a piece of dough.  Cover the pie crust with a cloth napkin or place it in a large plastic bag, and refrigerate it for half an hour, or put it in the freezer for 10 minutes to chill.

While the pie shell is chilling, cut the remaining apples into thin slices and combine them with ½ teaspoonful of cinnamon, ¼ cup sugar and 1 tablespoon of butter cut into tiny pieces.

Remove the chilled pie shell from the refrigerator and bake it in the preheated oven for 20 minutes or until the shell looks dry and beige in color. Remove the crust from the oven, and carefully line it with the raw apple slices, placing them evenly, overlapping each other to cover the bottom completely.  Cover the raw apple slices with the cooked apple mixture, and set the filled pie shell aside.

For the Lattice Crust: 
Remove the second ball of dough from the refrigerator and divide it into two parts.  Using waxed paper as before, roll out one part into a strip that is longer than the pie plate is wide.  Remove the top sheet of waxed paper and cut the strip into 1” wide ribbons, using a small knife.  Lay these ribbons on top of the filling, side by side, with some space in between.  Roll out the second piece of dough in a similar fashion, and weave the two sets of strips together in a criss-cross pattern as shown in the illustration. Next, seal the edges of the pie using bits of left-over pie dough and by pressing and pinching the lattice strips and bottom crusts together.

Bake the pie for 50 to 60 minutes, until the lattice is golden brown and the filling starts to bubble up between the lattice strips.  Remove from the oven and allow the pie to cool to room temperature before cutting. Enjoy the festive smell of freshly baked apple pie!

Easy Strawberry Pie
There are many variations to making strawberry pie. This one requires lining the pre-baked pie crust with berries glazed with sugar, corn starch and vanilla. The result is a fragrant pie that can be served warm or cold.

For the Crust:
Using the same ingredients and the method described previously, prepare two balls of dough and place them in the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes to chill. While they are chilling, prepare the filling.

For the Filling:
5 cups of fresh strawberries, hulled and washed and cut into halves
2 tablespoons cornstarch or arrowroot powder
½ cup orange juice
¾ cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons butter, cut into pea-size pieces

To assemble the pie:

Remove one ball of dough from the refrigerator and follow the method described previously to roll it out and line a 9” pie plate. Bake the bottom crust for about 20 minutes as specified above. Set the crust aside.

Increase the heat of the oven to 450 degrees and allow the oven to reach that temperature while preparing the filling.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk the cornstarch or arrow root powder into the orange juice until well blended. Add the sugar, vanilla and butter to the bowl and mix all the ingredients well.
Gently fold the berries into the juice mixture being careful not to crush them. Set this mixture aside to stand at room temperature for 15 minutes. Then, spread the berry mixture evenly into the prebaked pie crust.

 For the Lattice Crust:

Remove the second ball of dough from the refrigerator and divide it into two parts. Using the same method described previously, make a lattice crust for the top. Arrange the lattice strips attractively on top of the berries, weaving them to cross each other. Carefully seal some of the strips of lattice to the bottom crust, pinching and stretching where necessary so as to keep the juice of the cooking berries from overflowing.

Bake the pie in an oven set at 450 degrees for 10 minutes. Then, without removing the pie from the oven, turn the oven down to 350 degrees and let it bake for another 35 to 45 minutes until the crust is golden and the filling is hot and bubbly.

For added richness (or an over indulgence) you can serve this pie with topped with whipped cream or ice cream after it has been cooled for at least half an hour.