Published September 1, 2005.
We wanted mounds of tender, juicy apples in our deep-dish pie, but first we had to wade through half-baked apples, soupy fillings, and sodden crusts.
We wanted our deep-dish apple pie to have at least twice the apples found in a standard pie--a minimum of 4 pounds versus 2 pounds. But this posed several serious challenges. With our first attempts, the apples were unevenly cooked (some mushy, some crunchy) and the exuded juice left the apples swimming in an ocean of liquid, producing a bottom crust that was a pale, soggy mess. Then there was the gaping hole left between the apples (which had shrunk when they lost all that moisture) and the arching top crust, making it impossible to slice and serve a neat piece of pie.
We wanted our piece of pie to be a towering wedge of tender, juicy apples, fully framed by a buttery, flaky crust.
Precooking the apples solved the shrinking problem, helped the apples hold their shape, and prevented a flood of juices from collecting in the bottom of the pie plate, thereby producing a nicely browned bottom crust. Why didn't cooking the apples twice (once on the stovetop and once in the oven) cause them to become insipid and mushy? We learned that when the apples are gently heated, their pectin is converted to a heat-stable form that keeps them from becoming mushy when cooked further in the oven. But the word "gentle" is key. We found that heating the apples and seasonings in a large covered Dutch oven to a temperature of 120 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit stabilized the pectin; higher temperatures caused the pectin to break down. With this knowledge, we could boost the quantity of apples even higher than our initial goal--to 5 pounds--and all that was left to do was to choose the right combination of sweet and tart apples and stir in a little brown sugar, salt, lemon, and cinnamon.list of recipes