Holiday Feast Issue

Pie and a Connection to a Family’s Past

Local chef who learned about pies from grandmother shares a deep dish apple pie recipe

By Mike Kordenbrock
An apple pie by Julie Laing on Nov. 17, 2021. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Julie Laing’s favorite pie is rhubarb—“actual rhubarb”—but she’s not one to force a pie into the picture when the ingredients are out of season. Part of her appreciation for the dish is fitting the right pie with the right time. Amid the crisp air and fall foliage of the Flathead Valley approaching Thanksgiving, it’s apple pie, brimming with locally picked apples, that Laing pictures on her plate this year.

The Bigfork-based blogger, cookbook author, chef and former journalist is just a year removed from the publication of her cookbook “The Complete Guide to Pickling.”

Beneath the appeal of making, baking, and then eating a buttery, flaky, oven-baked pastry filled with spiced fruit, there’s a deeper, sentimental joy for Laing when it comes to pie. 

Her culinary passion is guided by a love for growing, harvesting, cooking and preserving food that traces back to family influences, including her childhood in Battle Ground, Washington. 

When Laing was 9 her grandmother Gertrude Wilcox, known as Grandma Tiny, moved in down the street. After-school visits gave Laing a chance to learn from an expert. 

“Everybody was more than happy to come to her house when she was going to make a pie,” Laing said. 

Grandma Tiny was in her mid-80s by then, and measured everything out by hand. During wartime butter shortages she also picked up the habit of using Crisco for fat in the crust. She also used a top crust, which she would sometimes cut her grandchildren’s initials into.

For this apple pie recipe Laing has provided standard measurements and uses a combination of butter and coconut oil for fat and a crumble top. 

An apple pie by Julie Laing on Nov. 17, 2021. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Crumble-Top Deep-Dish Apple Pie

Serves 8-10

For the crust:

1-1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon flaky kosher salt

1/4 cup unsalted butter, chilled and diced

1/4 cup coconut oil, chilled

3–4 tablespoons ice-cold water

For the filling and topping:

4 pounds tart apples (about 12 cups peeled and sliced)

1–2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 cup granulated sugar, divided

10 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour, divided

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1/8 teaspoon ground mace

1/4 cup unsalted butter

An apple pie by Julie Laing on Nov. 17, 2021. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

In a mixing bowl, combine the flour and salt. Work in the butter and coconut oil with your fingertips until the dough becomes mealy. Drizzle in a tablespoon of water at a time, working it in briefly with your fingers, until the dough starts to cling together. On a piece of parchment paper, press the dough into a disk, wrap it up, and chill for at least 1 hour.

Peel and slice apples, tossing them with a splash of lemon juice in a medium bowl as you work. Mix in 1/2 cup of sugar and 4 tablespoons of flour; set aside. In a small bowl, mix the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar and 6 tablespoons of flour with the spices, and then cut in the butter with a fork until crumbly; set aside.

Remove the disk from the refrigerator and roll it out on a lightly floured surface until the diameter is at least 1 inch larger than the top of a 9-inch deep-dish pie plate. Fit the dough into the pie plate, trimming away any that hangs more than an inch over the edge. Flute the dough along the plate’s lip, pinching it between your thumb and forefinger to form a wavy edge.

Layer the apples into the pie shell, and then sprinkle on the butter mixture. Wrap a foil strip the rim of the pie plate so that it covers the edge of the crust. Bake at 375°F for 30 minutes, remove the foil, and then bake for another 30 minutes until the crust is golden. Let cool as long as you can before cutting. Serves 8–10.

An apple pie by Julie Laing on Nov. 17, 2021. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Chef’s Tips 

For a firmer interior use tart apples for the filling. Tart apples have more pectin, which will help gel up the filling of the pie. It’s primarily a matter of texture and appearance, although different types of apples will yield different flavors. If a pie doesn’t have picturesque firm filling, but instead spills juice when sliced, Laing assures it will still be delicious. “That just gives you another excuse to put more ice cream on top,” she says of a less firm filling.

Mace is a spice derived from the coating of nutmeg seeds and has a similar flavor. The recipe calls for 1/8 of a teaspoon. Cooks can substitute nutmeg or skip it altogether if need be. The spice isn’t commonly used, and Laing recommends trying to buy it from a place that sells spices by volume. 

Place a baking sheet on an oven rack below the pie while baking to catch any liquid that might spill over the sides of the deep pie dish. 

“Apple and cheddar, they just go well together,” Laing says. Vanilla bean flavored ice cream pairs well with this apple pie, but Laing says for her and some other members of her family, she likes her pie with a slice of “very sharp cheddar cheese.”

“I don’t know if it’s a Norwegian thing,” she said. “It kind of balances the tart and sweet in the pie, and (gives) that little extra fat. I prefer that to ice cream.” 

Julie Laing will soon be joining the Flathead Beacon as a food columnist. Look out for her work starting next month.  

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