With Thanksgiving coming around in, hello, two days, menus are still being finalized, and New Yorkers like us are frantically stockpiling at Whole Foods to prepare for the day of cooking. Luckily, we tapped Rachel McBride of Blue Stove Pies in Williamsburg, who was able to give us a short demo on the fly of her iconic Apple Pie—plus, a little about how she got to where she is.
“I’ve been doing Blue Stove Pies since 2006, but I’ve been baking for much longer. My mother taught me how…That’s kind of the whole thing behind the blue stove itself, that wooden stove was my great grandmother’s, and she taught my mother how to bake pies, and my mother taught me. I had no idea that I would end up doing this. One thing that I always knew is that I wanted to have my own shop or my own business… My background was in art so at first I thought I was going to do a gallery, and then I thought it would be a boutique. But there was this light bulb that went off in my head when my mom got sick. She was such a great pie maker, always bringing her pies to parties to share. And it was something that I wanted to share, all of these delicious things that I grew up with. I thought, this is what I need to do.
This is her pie dough recipe—I haven’t changed anything, just a little bit of the technique. I’ve got the pie dough already done and I’m just rolling out our bottom shell right into the pan. Often with pies you mix the filling in a bowl and then just dump it in, but this is more of a layered approach, so you really construct each pie individually. Then—this is one secret that also came from great grandmother— I roll out the pie dough between wax paper. A lot of people will roll it out in flour, and when you incorporate more flour you’re incorporating more gluten and more protein and you’re losing the flakiness in the crust. Then you cut the bottom so that steam can release and you start the layering…sugar on the bottom, then flour next, and so on.
Then we add apples. I was always raised to only use Northern Spy Apples, but you can’t find them anymore, so I’ve adapted to using a combination of different kinds. Right now we are using Cortlandt Apples and Crimson Crisps—I like tart, crisp apples because they’re flavorful and the Cortlandt will kind of cook down and become nice and soft.
Then, we’re going to add spices right on the apples. Some nutmeg, some cloves. I try to keep the spices really light because some apple pies just get overly spiced and it just gets so heavy. Then you repeat the layering, but opposite—flour first, and then sugar. And then pads of butter right on top, right under the crust.
Then, we are going to roll out the top layer and then you just put it right on top. To join the top and the bottom you just go around and crimp the dough together, pulling off any excess. With all of our pies we do a different design or decoration around the edge, and it helps us to differentiate what kind of pie it is. However apple isn’t very juicy—you really want it to steam in there, so you just do a few little vents.
Then, we just brush it with some milk for a nice brown top and sprinkle a little more sugar, and that’s it. It gets baked in the oven for about an hour.
If you over manipulate it, roll it out too much, or add too much flour, then you really lose flakiness… and I think the key to a good pie crust is the flakiness. It’s kind of hard to do, even though it’s so simple, it’s three ingredients, one of which is water, and but it is all technique and to me that’s what makes it really interesting.
One of the reasons I really love pie making, especially this apple pie, is because it changes and you have to react a little more like you would when you’re cooking… if the apples are not that sweet, or if they’re more tart, you might put in a little more sugar, or if they’re super juicy, it might need a little more flour—or the opposite. It’s difficult to express, when the recipes are simple and it’s all technique, but I think that’s what intrigues people.