I used to be really afraid of making pies. Like phobia-level afraid of it. (And tape worms. But the pie thing too.) Pie is something that is hard to get to come correct and everyone has different expectations and on top of that it’s not exactly the fastest thing to make, and that alone is pretty fucking horrifying. What if it comes out wet? What if the crust is tough? What if you forget to cut slits in it and turns into an apple and cinnamon sugar bomb and your grandmother cuts into it on Thanksgiving Day and her face is scoured off by a wall of searing hot apples fountaining into the air?
Shut up and sit down. I’m not gonna lie: pie is not fast. We’re not talking about putting a steak in a pan. But it’s not hard. Pour yourself a drink, no ice allowed if it’s scotch. This recipe was passed on to me by my mother, and if she heard you were drinking scotch with rocks she’d write me out of her will for even knowing you.
The number one important lesson is that everyone loves home-made dessert. Doesn’t matter how bad you fuck it up! I made a four-layer Italian wedding cake for my own birthday in college and the top two layers split in twain and fell to the sides in a frostinglanche. And NOBODY CARED. They were all, “Holy shit, your cake didn’t come from a box? I didn’t know that was an option!” So no matter what, if you attempt this pie, you’re golden. Put something in a pie-tin shaped container out on a table at Thanksgiving and people will eat it all and will compliment you forever. They’ll give you the key to the city. You are going to be a dessert hero!
Feeling cocky? Good. That’s how you should feel when you’re baking: like you have just made love to a beautiful lady or man or ladyman, and it is the next morning and you know that anything is possible. Being afraid when you bake is like being afraid when wrestling a bear: the pie will smell your fear and will lunge at your throat. If it will help your attitude, go make love to someone beautiful and come back. I’ll wait.
All confident? Then let’s go…. to the liquor cabinet.
The secret to good pie dough is vodka. Get some out. It should be chilled, so if it’s not throw that bottle in the freezer and come back later. (Why isn’t your vodka in the freezer? Did you leave it under your pillow again?) Start by learning how to stop being a wuss and make a pie crust. That recipe is basically right. (BASICALLY.) Mostly his recipe lacks excuses to drink, so: replace about half the water with an equal amount of vodka.
SCIENCE CORNER: The vodka makes the dough flakier by evaporating as the dough cooks. The flavor disappears, so your family won’t know that you can’t even bake a fucking pie without booze being involved. (If your family members cannot cook without alcohol [hi mom!] then maybe serve the pie with a shot of tequila?) The vodka also provides an excuse to have an open bottle in the kitchen without needing to explain why there are no mixers around.
OK choose your own pieventure time: are you a nervous person? Do you read the safety manual on an airplane? Do you have time to kill? If so: pre-bake that pie crust. It’ll guarantee that your pie does not come out with a soggy/raw bottom, and it is EASY. Preheat that oven to like 425, and put something in your pie tin on top of the crust to keep it from rising into the air like a flock of crows and flying out of your apartment. They sell pie weights, but who the fuck owns them? [Ed. Note: Umm, THOSE OF US WHO KNOW HOW TO MAKE PIES? Sorry! Carry on.] Not me. I have in the past used: Dry beans! Rice! Coins! Think heavy and dry. Put down foil first, though, or your pie will taste like nickels. After ten minutes, yank the foil and the nickels and turn the heat down to 375. In ten more minutes, tug that shit out and it will be GOLDEN and DELICIOUS LOOKING. Don’t be fooled into eating it by how great it looks! It’s just a crust! That’s like eating just the frosting packet in the toaster streudel bag!
OK I waited till you made pie dough to tell you the bad news: apple pie involves a lot. Of fucking. Apples. You can try to find pre-sliced apples, or maybe try posting on Craigslist to get someone else to do it for you, but failing that you need to take like a pound of apples and peel them and core them and slice them. Maybe have friends help. Maybe do it while you watch a Wings marathon. Just make sure there aren’t any seeds in the slices or they will grow in your grandmother’s stomach and she’ll turn into a tree, right at the table in front of the whole family. How embarrassing!
Once you’ve got those apples ready, you are DONE WITH THE HARD PART. Set that oven to 350 and put those apples in your crust. Mix a cup of sugar, 3 tablespoons of flour and maybe a few pinches of cinnamon and nutmeg if you want to be able to brag about putting nutmeg in your pie. Watch out for nutmeg psychosis. Pour about a third of a cup of orange juice onto your apples, less if you have a fear of wet pie fillings. The orange juice makes a big difference! This is the “original recipe” version but pretty much any citrus will work! Make it your own! Who cares! Other things I’ve added before: ginger, bourbon, brown sugar, cloves.
(You may find that baking will lead you down a road of megalomania. “If I can bake a pie”, you’ll say, “I can do anything!” This is entirely 100% true. If you’re good enough at baking, you’ll be able to rob banks and the police won’t touch you. Forget it Jake, it’s Pietown.)
Dust your flour/sugar/etc. mixture over your filling and cut up a quarter stick of butter into pea sized bits and sprinkle them over your apples like pixie dust. Usually I’m pretty impatient at this point and just throw them all at once, but seriously pay attention or you’ll end up with seven slices of apple pie and one slice of butter pie. (Although, again: would anyone eating a slice of butter pie be unhappy? No. This is a matter of principle, not of making delicious pie.)
ALMOST DONE: Put that lid of dough on your pie (a pie, like a lady, is uncivilized if it goes to Thanksgiving dinner topless) and if you are feeling fancy brush on some evaporated milk and sprinkle it with sugar. Cut some slits in it, too, because pie bombs are something you can never be too careful about. Make sure you pinch the edge of your pie dough all around the rim so it doesn’t come off in the oven leaving your pie with a little yarmulke of dough in the middle.
Put it in the oven! THERE. Pie ACCOMPLISHED. It is not hard, it is just a little time consuming. And speaking of hard and time consuming, consider doing this in front of your significant other: pie gets mad ass. Seriously. Nobody is unimpressed by a homemade pie, including all sorts of attractive ladies and men. Your pie will bake for 40 or 45 minutes (until it looks delicious) so I would use this opportunity to go back to the bedroom and work off those calories you’ll be eating later. Bring it to your friends’ house/grandmother’s/soup kitchen and impress the shit out of your friends/family/homeless people. Although knowing them, they’ll probably be too drunk to be impressed. Tell them how great it was when they’re all hungover the day after Thanksgiving and they’ll believe you.
Christian Brown is thankful for Mary HK Choi, long-form reporting and scotch.