How to Make a Killer Apple Pie

Elizabeth Stegner, who bakes the superlative pies at Prairie Grass Cafe, showed us how it’s done.

September is the month when Jonathan apples start showing up at the soon-to-be-gone green markets around the city. The crisp varietal happens to be the favorite pie apple of Elizabeth Stegner, mother of chef Sarah Stegner, who presides over the homey, seasonal kitchen at Prairie Grass Café (601 Skokie Blvd., Northbrook; 847-205-4433) and once ran a four-star ship at the Ritz-Carlton Dining Room. Sarah loved her mom’s pies so much that she hired her: Elizabeth, 68, donated her recipes and also works in the kitchen two days a week (Tuesdays and Fridays), baking the daily batch of the month’s featured pie. Elizabeth barely embellishes her tart apple filling, using just squeezes of lemon, sugar, salt, and some cornstarch to thicken the juices-and no cinnamon. She shared her recipe with Chicago.

    

Elizabeth Stegner’s Apple Pie
 8medium Jonathan apples (you’ll need a minimum of 4 cups, sliced)
 1/2cup sugar
 1 1/2tablespoons cornstarch
 1/4teaspoon salt
juice of half a lemon (pits removed)
 1/4cup water
 2cups unbleached all-purpose flour (plus extra to dust)
 1cup vegetable shortening
 1/4teaspoon salt
 1tablespoon butter

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

FOR THE FILLING: (1) Combine the sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a small bowl. (2) Peel and core the apples; slice into a large bowl, alternately tossing them as you go with a squeeze of lemon juice and a spoonful of the sugar-cornstarch mixture, until you’ve used it all.

FOR THE PASTRY: (1) Remove 1/3 cup of flour from the 2 cups and mix the smaller amount in a bowl with 1/4 cup of cool water until it forms a paste. (2) In a large bowl, cut the shortening into the remaining flour and salt with a pastry cutter or a fork until fully absorbed. Mixture should be crumbly. (3) Add the paste to the flour-shortening mixture and stir, using the back of a fork, until the dough forms a ball.

ASSEMBLE AND BAKE: (1) Divide your dough into two equal pieces. Heavily flour a pastry cloth and cloth-covered rolling pin. (2) Assemble by rolling out the bottom crust to 1/8 inch thickness using quick, light strokes from the center outward. Place in a nine-inch pie plate; fill with apples and dot with butter; roll out the top crust and place gently to cover. Use a fork to crimp the crust edge and also to pierce the top of the pie a dozen times. (3) Bake at 450 for 10 minutes, then 350 for 50 minutes. Let cool to room temperature before cutting.

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