She started baking pies after her husband tragically died. She did it to cope with her grief. Now she travels the country baking and sharing her pies to help others in their time of need. Read more from Beth Howard below. Beth lives in and sells pies out of the iconic Grant Wood American Gothic House in Eldon, Iowa. This is the house that inspired the American Gothic painting. Learn more by visiting theworldneedsmorepie.com. Her signature apple pie recipe is below.
This is my signature pie. Apple is the first pie I ever learned how to make—when caught stealing apples from an orchard in Washington State and the owner turned out to be a retired pastry chef. It’s the first pie that Mary Spellman taught me to make when I worked for her at Mary’s Kitchen in Malibu. (I still make it her way and think of her every single time I make it.) Apple is one of the most universally loved pies. It was the first pie I made for Marcus and then it became the pie I made to heal from the loss of him. It’s the pie I teach in my pie classes. And it continues to be the pie I share with others in need, to help in their healing.
Basic Pie Dough for double-crust pie
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, chilled and cut into large chunks
1/2 cup vegetable shortening, chilled
2 1/2 cups flour, plus at least 1/2 cup extra for rolling
Dash of salt
Ice water (fill a full cup but use only enough to moisten dough)
- In a deep, large bowl, work the butter and shortening into the flour and salt with your hands until you have almond- and pea-sized lumps of butter.
- Then, drizzling in ice water a little at a time, “toss” the water around with your fingers spread, as if the flour were a salad and your hands were the salad tongs. Don’t spend a lot of time mixing the dough, just focus on getting it moistened. Translation: With each addition of water, toss about four times and then STOP, add more water, and repeat.
- When the dough holds together on its own (and with enough water, it will), do a “squeeze test.” If it falls apart, you need to add more water. If it is soggy and sticky, you might need to sprinkle flour onto it until the wetness is balanced out. The key is to not overwork the dough! It takes very little time and you’ll be tempted to keep touching it, but don’t!
- Now divide the dough in two balls (or three, if your pie dishes are smaller) and form each into a disk shape.
- Sprinkle flour under and on top of your dough to keep it from sticking to your rolling surface. Roll to a thinness where the dough almost seems transparent.
- Measure the size of the dough by holding your pie plate above it. It’s big enough if you have enough extra width to compensate for the depth and width of your dish, plus 1 to 2 inches overhang.
- Slowly and gently—SERIOUSLY, TAKE YOUR TIME!—lift the dough off the rolling surface, nudging flour under with the scraper as you lift, and fold the dough back. When you are sure your dough is 100 percent free and clear from the surface, bring your pie dish close to it and then drag your dough over to your dish. (Holding the folded edge will give you a better grip and keep your dough from tearing.)
- Place the folded edge halfway across your dish, allowing the dough of the covered half to drape over the side. Slowly and carefully unfold the dough until it lies fully across the pie dish.
- Lift the edges and let gravity ease the dough down to sit snugly in the dish, using the light touch of a finger if you need to push any remaining air space out of the corners as you go.
- Trim excess dough to about one inch from the dish edge (I use scissors), leaving ample dough to make crimped, fluted edges.
7 to 10 large Granny Smith apples, peeled (see tip below)
1/2 tsp salt (you’ll sprinkle this on so don’t worry about precise amount)
1 to 2 tsp cinnamon (use however much you like, but remember it’s a powerful spice)
3/4 cup sugar (more or less, depending on your taste, tartness of apples, and number of apples)
4 tbsp flour (to thicken the filling)
1 tbsp butter, to pat on top of filling
1 beaten egg, to brush on top crust
The pie is “assembled” in two layers, which is not only a nice shortcut, it saves you from having to wash an extra bowl!
- Prepare the Basic Pie Doughfor a double-crust pie
- Prepare the Filling: Slice half of the peeled apples directly into the pie, arranging and pressing down gently to remove extra space between slices. Fill the dish enough so you don’t see through the first layer to the bottom crust.
- Cover with half of salt, cinnamon, sugar, and flour.
- Slice the remaining apples into the pie, arranging and pressing down gently on top of first layer, and cover with second half of ingredients.
- Add a pat of butter on top, then cover with the top crust.
- Trim the edges with a scissors, leaving about 1 to 2 inches overhang,and then roll the top and bottom crust together underhand so that it’s sealed and sits on the rim of your pie plate.
- Crimp the edge with your fingers or a fork, then brush with a beaten egg. (The egg gives the pie a nice golden-brown shine. Do be careful not to let egg pool in crevices. (You will use about half an egg per pie.)
- Use a knife to poke vent holes in the top (get creative here with a pattern), then bake at 425 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes to set and brown the crust.
- Turn oven down to 375 degrees and bake for another 30 to 40 minutes, until juice bubbles. Keep an eye on it as it bakes. If it gets too dark, turn down the temperature.
- To be sure it’s done, poke with a knife through the vent holes to make sure apples have softened. Do not overbake or apples will turn mushy.
VARIETY IS THE SPICE OF LIFE…AND PIE: It’s okay to use a variety of apples. Try Braeburn and Royal Gala. I don’t use Fuji (they are too juicy) or Red Delicious (they have no taste). Tart apples work best for pie. The number of apples you use will depend on the size of apple and the size of pie dish, but the general amount is about 3 pounds per 10-inch pie.
BETH’S TIP: Slicing your apples too thick will mean your pie takes longer to bake. But slicing them too thin will translate in filling that’s like applesauce. I don’t like to suggest numbers, but think 1/4 inch thick. Also, keeping your slices a consistent size will help the pie bake more evenly.
Don’t worry about your apples turning brown. I mean, think about it: what color is cinnamon? Exactly! No one will ever know.