By BRENNA GRITEMAN
The recipe is clearly classified under “Pies Men Like,” but Donna Smith took a chance that this apple pie would appeal to the masses.
The bet paid off, and the Findlay woman swept all three categories — best crust, filling and appearance — of an apple pie baking contest hosted this fall by the Hancock Park District. Out of nine entries, hers was also the clear winner of the overall judges’ choice.
“I’ve got all three blue ribbons in my bedroom, hanging on the door,” she says.
In entering the contest, Smith reached for a classic: A 1953 pamphlet distributed by General Motors titled “Pies Men Like: 20 Pies that Men Like Best.”
She became familiar with this old-fangled collection of fruit, berry, cream and meringue concoctions as a child. Her father worked for GM in Elyria in the 1950s, and the company regularly distributed brochures to its employees, outlining such important life skills as sewing, tying knots and measuring.
Or, in this case, the secrets to a flaky pie crust, how to glaze a pastry, and how to keep the lower crust crisp. Smith’s sister ended up with the original copy, and the family was shocked to learn that the brochure nows sells for $45 on Amazon.
In preparing her practice entries (she actually entered two pies), Smith experimented with adding dates and other fruits to the recipe. In the end, she stuck with the traditional ingredient list, choosing to allow the “tart-as-you-can-get-it” flavor from the Granny Smith apples to take center stage.
For the crust, however, she looked to a new source.
As a younger woman, Smith was a faithful listener of the Detroit radio station CKLW, where she once heard a chef outline a foolproof recipe for pie crust. Smith adopted this recipe as her go-to through the years, but in prepping her practice pies, the crust came out tough.
This would never do. “So I asked Alexa, because that’s what you do now,” she says.
The crust she landed on calls for two sticks of butter and a half-cup of sour cream (full fat is a must). The rich, buttery taste makes it a winner, but Smith further elevated the crust to blue-ribbon status by getting creative with its appearance.
She bought a small, apple-shaped cookie cutter and cut a few dozen apple shapes out of the dough. Before baking, she covered the apples with a layer of the cutouts, overlapping just enough to create a stable top crust. Then she took it a step further: “I thought, ‘I don’t know how to make a fluted edge. I’m going to make leaves.'”
So Smith formed inch-sized bits of pie dough into leaf-shaped pieces, then meticulously cut vein designs into each leaf. These pastry leaves were used to ring the edge of the pie, becoming perfectly golden throughout the baking process.
Smith, who retired as director of the University of Findlay’s academic support program in 2011, says she is not typically an overzealous cook. She did, however, can over 800 jars of grape juice, peaches, plums, green beans, tomatoes and more in just one summer. And both her daughter and son-in-law graduated from the Arizona Culinary Institute in Scottsdale.
Smith and her husband, Dan, recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.
For the Crust:
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons white sugar (sugar may be doubled if you like a sweeter crust)
2 sticks unsalted butter
½ cup sour cream, full fat
1 teaspoon salt (only if you use unsalted butter)
Whisk salt, sugar and flour. Work butter into flour with hands until well combined. Add sour cream and work into mixture.
Divide dough in half, creating two circles of dough approximately 4 to 5 inches in diameter. Wrap each circle in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 30 minutes. Dough will keep overnight.
Remove chilled dough and roll out on floured surface.
For the filling:
6-8 Granny Smith apples (or other baking apples such as golden delicious or Fuji), peeled, cored and thinly sliced
1 cup white sugar
¼ cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons white all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons butter
Place apples in large bowl that has a cover. Mix dry ingredients and add to the apples. Cover and shake until all apple slices are coated.
Roll dough out into a circle about 3 inches larger than your pie plate. Carefully set into pie plate, making sure to seal together any cracks. Place apples into crust. Distribute butter in pats around top of apples.
Roll out second disk of dough and cover apples in desired design such as latticework, cutouts or solid dough, but cut dough with slits to allow steam out.
Bake in a 450-degree oven for 15 minutes, then reduce temperature to 350. Cook for a total of 50 minutes or until internal pie temperature is about 200 degrees or juices are bubbling.
Hint: To avoid over-browning crust, tent with aluminum foil until the last 10 minutes.
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