It was worth a little bad blood.
Judging the Retro Baking Contest at the Orange County Fair gave me the luscious task of shoveling down spoonfuls of glorious homemade pies, everything from Peach n’ Berry to Deep Dish Plum, Sugar-Free Pumpkin Pecan to Old- Fashioned Cherry.
Who can resist pie? It’s such a happy dessert, innocent and nostalgic. But my annual physical was a few days later, and Doctor Chang wasn’t pleased with the results of my lab work. My cholesterol had gone up.
I showed him photos of those pies. The chorus line of pastry made him smile, especially when I showed him a shot of Betsy Sanz’ first place pie, a lattice-topped apple pie wonder. The crust was perfectly golden and crisp, not just on top, that’s ordinary, but on the sides and bottom, too. And the perky Granny Smith apples inside were blissed-out with orange zest and orange liqueur.
Sanz’ apple pie brought her the first place blue ribbon, both in the double crust and overall categories. But they weren’t her first blue ribbons.
She won first place at the 2010 Orange County Fair with her Four Berry Pie.
I had to find out her secrets. And as it turned out, not only is Sanz a prize-winning baker, she is also exceedingly generous. She invited me to her home in Old Towne Orange for a pie school session.
Inside, the open kitchen smelled like warm fruit and cinnamon. Sanz, clad in an apple-patterned apron, had everything ready. A perfect apple pie perched on the counter-top. Next to it, her husband’s marble chessboard was covered with a smooth towel, ready for rolling the dough. An American-style handled rolling pin rested next to it.
“The crust is everything,” she said with an honest grin. “If there is anything to obsess about, it’s the crust. You can put almost any filling in a great crust and the pie will be fabulous.”
She explained that she’s been a serious pie baker for about 2 1/2 years. Her friend, Jessica Hasenplaugh, who used to live in the neighborhood and made award-winning peach pies, was her teacher. Hasenplaugh’s family has a long pie-making history, and she taught Sanz how to perfect a crust that utilized butter-flavored vegetable shortening.
“But now I use butter in my crust, not Crisco,” she said, “and I think it’s the butter that makes the crust so good. Butter is just better. And it is flaky enough.”
I nibbled one of her “cookie pies,” crisp-baked strips of leftover crust augmented with sugar and cinnamon, while she showed me how she rolls the dough to avoid “crust-atastrophes.”
As she moved her rolling pin deftly over the dough, I asked her about making pies for Thanksgiving. She said that her apple pie can be baked a day in advance and left at room temperature. If it sits for more than 24 hours, the crust starts to lose its flakiness.
“I like it the best fresh and warm, served with good vanilla ice cream or whipped cream. But that’s not always possible.
Betsy’s dough upon completion – mixed in a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment.
Betsy’s Butter Crust
Yield: 1 single crust for 9-inch pie pan
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cups (1 1/2 sticks) cold butter (cut the whole stick in half, crosswise), unsalted butter preferred
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, such as Fresh & Easy’s organic unbleached all-purpose flour, divided use
1/4 cup ice-cold water (plus a few more drops if necessary)
Cook’s notes: Make sure your bowl starts out very dry. Keep ingredients and hands cold. The less you manipulate the dough, the flakier the crust will be.
1. Prep for later: Put a couple of ice cubes in a small glass of water and mix until the water is very cold; set aside. Place a smooth dish cloth on a smooth surface where you’ll roll out your crust (she wrapped the cloth around a marble chessboard). Flour the cloth generously wherever the dough will be rolled out. Put your 9-inch glass (such as Pyrex) pie pan very nearby.
2. Mix salt, butter, flour: In large bowl of an electric stand mixer, place salt, cold butter and 1/2 cup flour. Mix together using the paddle attachment by turning the mixer on low. When the butter is broken up a bit, add additional 1/2 cup flour. Mix on low speed a little more; mixture should not be creamy and butter will still be in fairly large pieces, but a little smaller than before. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl with a rubber spatula. Add the last 1/2 cup of flour and mix on low initially, then increase speed to medium-low. DO NOT let the mixture get creamy; it should always be floury-chunky. When the mix is ready for water, your (still cold) butter chunks should be on average the size of a pea – some a little bigger, some a little smaller, that’s okay.
3. Add water: Measure out 1/4 cup of your super-cold water (no ice cubes) and drizzle half of it evenly around your butter-flour mix. Mix on low speed. Add the last half of the water. Mix JUST until the water is evenly mixed into the flour – not more. The more you mix, the tougher the crust.
4. Remove the dough: Dough stuck in your mixer paddle? Gently poke it out with a fingertip to make it fall into the bowl. Use floured hands on the side of the bowl to bring all the dough together with as little manipulation as possible. Make a ball of the dough, compressing sides, top and bottom as you go, tossing it gently between cupped hands. Gently try to eliminate major cracks in sides as you compress. Flour your hands and the dough as needed.
5. Roll it out: As you place the dough ball on your well-floured cloth, gently compress the top and sides simultaneously. Notice where cracks may be forming. Sprinkle with flour. With a rolling pin, roll slowly and evenly. If cracks at the edges begin to form, avoid rolling straight into them. Roll around them and gently over them in a perpendicular direction, and they won’t grow and split the crust. When you have a solid (no-crack) circle of about 14 inches and about 1/8-inch thick, trim the edges and do a final roll to make sure your crust is a consistent thickness.
6. Transfer crust to pan: At the edge of the crust edge closest to you, gently rest the rolling pin. Lift the edge of the cloth and begin to roll the cloth, crust and rolling pin away from you. The crust will roll up onto the pin if you’re holding the cloth tautly.
7. When about half the crust is rolled up on the pin, let the cloth drop. Take the opposite edge of cloth and in a swift motion, lift the far side of the crust onto the rolling pin. Gently hold the crust on pin with one hand and with the other, lift the pin and position it squarely over the pie pan. Don’t let the pin quite rest on the pie pan, but slowly let the crust drop onto the pan. Gently press the crust to be flush with the inside of the pan. Trim edge leaving 1/2-inch overhang of dough.
Nutrition information (per serving): 100 calories, 54 percent of calories from fat, 6 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 20 mg cholesterol, 11 g carbohydrates, 1.5 g protein, 130 mg sodium, 0.2 g fiber
Source: Betsy Sanz, Orange
Grand Apple Orange Pie
Yield: one 9-inch pie, about 10 servings
2 butter crusts for 9-inch pie pan
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons corn starch
Minced zest of 1 large navel orange, colored portion of peel
1 1/2 tablespoons orange liqueur, such as Grand Marnier
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
6 medium large Granny Smith apples (about 2 1/4 pounds), peeled, cored, cut into 1/4-inch thick slices
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 egg white
Optional: enough sanding sugar to dust on top crust, see cook’s notes
Cook’s notes: Sanding sugar is a large crystal sugar that adds sparkle to the surface of baked goods; it is also called “pearl sugar” or “decorating sugar.” It is sold at baking supply shops such as Classic Cakes in Garden Grove, or Michael’s. To make lattice crust, cut cold dough into about 12 strips about 1/2–inches wide using a sharp knife or pastry wheel. Arrange about 6 strips across the filling in one direction, using the longest in the center. Place remaining strips over the top in the opposite direction, weaving them under and over the bottom strips. Trim the ends to the inner edge of the pan. Press the ends to the edge of the bottom crust. Roll the overhand of the bottom crust up over the edges of the strip to form an even rim. Flute or crimp the edge. Brush the lattice with egg white and sprinkle with sanding sugar.
1. Prepare butter crusts; roll out crusts separately and use one to line 9-inch Pyrex pie pan. Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Mix and fill: Mix sugar, cornstarch, orange zest, orange liqueur and cinnamon in a large bowl. Peel and core apples. Cut apples into 1/4-inch thick slices and mix with sugar mixture, gently tossing with a spatula to blend well. Place apple mixture in pie crust and dot evenly with butter pieces.
3. Top with second crust (there are several options for this). Either cut top crust in strips to do a lattice crust (see cook’s notes), or leave top crust whole and cut an apple shape right in the middle of it before placing it on filling; or keep it solid and cut 3 to 5 slits after placing it on top. Make it pretty: Fold bottom crust edges over top edges, or vice versa; crimp edges. Brush evenly with egg white over entire top crust surface, even the little crevices of the crimps. Dust with sanding sugar, if using.
4. Monitor the baking: Turn on oven light so you can watch to see how the pie crust is browning. Bake 50 minutes or until crust is lightly browned and apples are tender. Avoid over-browning by tenting crust areas with aluminum foil as pie bakes, or use a pie shield (a ring that fits over the edge of the crust after it has browned, but before the rest of the pie is cooked). Cool for about an hour before serving. Serve with fresh whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. Pat yourself on the back for a job deliciously done!
Nutrition information (per serving): 350 calories, 61 percent of calories from fat, 21 g fat, 8 g saturated fat, 22 mg cholesterol, 32 g carbohydrates, 4 g protein, 270 mg sodium, 2.8 g fiber
Source: Betsy Sanz adapted this recipe from Eileen Beran’s recipe at everybodyeatsgourmet.com
Betsy’s Four Berry Pie
Yield: one 9-inch pie
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
A pinch and a half of salt
1/3 cup cornstarch
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries, see cook’s notes
1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen strawberries, see cook’s notes
1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen blackberries, see cook’s notes
1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen raspberries, see cook’s notes
1/3 cup raspberry liqueur, such as Chambord
1/4 cup water
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 butter crusts for 9-inch pie pan
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 egg white
Sugar or sanding sugar for sprinkling on crust
Cook’s notes: Use fresh or frozen berries. If frozen, let thaw enough to separate.
1. Combine sugar, cornstarch, salt and cinnamon in a large saucepan or Dutch oven. Fold in berries. Add liqueur, water and lemon juice. Cook over medium heat until mixture thickens, stirring frequently (about 10 or 15 minutes). Turn off heat and let cool for about 20 minutes. Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Prepare 2 butter crusts for 9-inch pie pan. Line a 9-inch glass (Pyrex) pie pan with a crust. Pour filling into bottom crust and dot with butter. For a steam vent, cut a heart out of the center of the second crust. Top filling with second crust and crimp edges to seal. Brush top crust with egg white and sprinkle with sugar.
3. Bake in preheated oven for 50 minutes. Avoid over-browning by tenting browned crust areas with aluminum foil as pie bakes, or use a pie shield (a ring that fits over the edge of the crust after it has browned, but before the rest of the pie is cooked). Cool for about an hour before serving. Serve with fresh whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.
Nutrition information (per serving): 375 calories, 58 percent of calories from fat, 24 g fat, 9 g saturated fat, 29 mg cholesterol, 35 g carbohydrates, 4 g protein, 290 mg sodium, 3.2 g fiber
Source: Betsy Sanz, Orange