Following the latest recipe found in Porterfield’s Dining by Rail, we’re aboard a restaurant car of the Northern Pacific line, just having passed through Wenatchee, Washington, which proclaims itself, “The Apple Capital of the World.” Civic pride (boastfulness?) aside, people in these parts certainly know their apples, as demonstrates the sweet slice of golden flakiness about to be brought from the galley.
Indeed, Wenatchee Apple Pie soon became one of the Northern Pacific Railroad’s signature menu items. It simultaneously promotes the Northwest’s leading crop, as well as the rail chefs’ talents, and it earns the travelers’ acclaim. Savor just one piece of the buttery, sweetly tangy juiciness and you’ll know why. Though it’s hardly possible to limit this indulgence to just one bite.
Not only did the line’s cooks develop the pastry, but they also came up with a recipe for a light, buttery crust which soon was copied aboard trains everywhere. The other secret is in using two types of apples, yielding a subtle contrast in. and complexity of, flavors. Today’s selections were Gala and Granny Smith varieties, as shown by the peelings: Would you look at this guy, posting pictures of scraps? Maybe, but what luscious remainders.
Once peeled, the apples are combined with suitable quantities of sugar, lemon juice, cinnamon and, in a personal touch, nutmeg, then are piled into the waiting crust. You’ll want to mound the fruit, as it reduces a bit while baking, and you want a pie that’s nice and full of apple lusciousness, obviously:
That’s right, stack ’em high!
The aroma drifting from the oven as the pie bakes is divine, nearly as enticing as is the first bite. Nearly, but not quite. When in Rome, or in Wenatchee…
Wenatchee Apple Pie
For the Dessert Pie Crust (*1)
- 2 cups flour
- 1 tablespoon powdered sugar
- pinch of salt
- 1/2 cup shortening
- 1 tablespoon butter, melted
- 2 teaspoons milk
- 2 teaspoons heavy cream
- 1 cup ice water (*2)
In a large bowl, mix together with a fork the flour, sugar and salt. Using a pastry tool (not sure if that’s what it’s called – see the picture below), cut in the shortening until the mixture has a pea-like texture.
Add the milk, melted butter and cream. Cut them in with the pastry tool until the mixture is of an even consistency. Gradually pour in the ice water, mixing it in with your hands (Really. There’s no better tool for the job!) When the dough is cohesive, turn it out onto a lightly-floured surface and knead it briefly. (*3)
Divide the dough into two spheres of equal size. Wrap each with plastic wrap and refrigerate them while you prepare the apples (providing, of course, you’re moving on to the next recipe and making apple pie).
1 – I’ve doubled all the quantities and modified the instructions accordingly. In preparing the original recipe, I realized there was only enough dough for one crust. You’ll need two. Avoid the same mistake I made.
2 – Actually, a little over a cup works best. I used 1-and-1/4 cups.
3 – Try to keep the kneading/rolling to a minimum, as the more you “work” the dough, the tougher in becomes. Instead, “soft” and “flaky” are the operative words here.
For the pie:
- 6 large apples (*4)
- 1-and-1/2 cups sugar
- juice of 1 lemon (*5)
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1/3 teaspoon ground nutmeg, optional (*6)
- dessert pie dough (see above)
Place a cookie sheet on the oven’s lowest rack, to catch any juices the pie spills. Preheat the oven to 450°. On a lightly-floured surface and using a floured rolling pin, roll one of the refrigerated spheres of dough into a circle about a quarter-inch thick, and four inches wider than the pie plate you intend to use. Lay the dough in the pie pate and smooth it so it adheres to the bottom and to the sides. An inch or so of dough still will hang over the edge. This is fine.
Core and peel the apples, then wedge them vertically into pieces half an inch thick. Lay these on the crust in the pie plate, mounding the center, if possible, to about two inches higher than the outer edge. Douse the apples with lemon juice, then sprinkle on cinnamon and nutmeg (if using).
Remove the second ball of dough from the fridge and, similar to the lower crust, roll it on a lightly-floured surface into a round 1/4-inch thick and two inches wider than the pie plate. Cut small slits at random points over the surface to allow steam to escape when cooking.
Lay upper crust over the apples and “mate” it with the lower crust, crimping the perimeter to seal the pie and doing what you will with the leftover dough. (*7)
Place in oven, on the center rack, for 15 minutes, then reduce temperature to 350° and cook for about 45 minutes more, until the crust is golden brown. Let cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes if you want to serve it warm, for an hour or more if you prefer room temperature.
4 – Using two different kinds of apples increases the flavor’s depth and sophistication. Granny Smith apples are the classic pie apples and are perfect for the “tart” option, whereas something sweeter, such as Gala, Rome or McIntosh rounds out the taste nicely.
5 – A Meyer lemon is a great choice, as it has the requisite acid to slow the apples from browning, yet its mild tangerine-lemon profile compliments the other ingredients.
6 – Not in the original recipe, but a toss or two of nutmeg adds a deliciously intriguing note
7 – My late grandmother made the world’s best apple pies. By far. Sorry other grandmothers, but it’s true. She had a great way of using up the extra dough (the Depression inspired such creativity) – she made it into a rectangle as thick as the pie crust and twice as long as it was wide.
On top she sprinkled a mixture of cinnamon and sugar, and perhaps a dab or two of butter, then rolled it tightly along the long end. This was placed, seam side down, on a piece of aluminum foil and both joined the pie in the oven about halfway trough cooking (i.e., after about half an hour).
A great snack for grandchildren (and non-grandchildren) too bedazzled by the pie’s aroma to wait until after dinner.