If you’re looking for a snack that is tasty, healthful, transportable and cheap, an apple is your best bet: sweet, tart, juicy and crisp, but most of all, delicious. Even kids like them. With autumn suddenly approaching, apples are in season and abundant in numerous varieties at grocery stores, farmers’ markets, u-pick orchards and cider mills. Every year at this time, I decide to bake an apple pie. Plain apple pie, Dutch apple topped with streusel, caramel-nut apple, sour cream apple, they all sound good to me. However, I am not much of a baker. Despite years of making an occasional pie, I never seem to be able to roll out dough with the ease of the television chefs. The dough always seems too stiff and usually cracks at the edges as it spreads out under my rolling pin. Therefore, I decided to go to the experts at Achatz Handmade Pie Company to learn how to do it right. Sixteen years ago, the Achatz family closed their family restaurant in Armada, in northern Macomb County, and started what would become an award-winning pie company; there are now three Achatz stores in Michigan, and the company sells a few thousand pies each week.
I called the Troy store and explained my dilemma to Krista Shoobridge, the manager, who offered to give me a crash course in dough making. Krista started with the company six years ago at age 15, washing dishes. She is now a baker and store manager. When I arrived, she handed me an apron and put me to work. She’s a good teacher: An hour later, I was confident that I could make the apple pie crust that had eluded me for so long.
Pie dough is a combination of flour, fat, salt and water. Certainly there are variations to this, but let’s keep it simple like they do at Achatz. After all, their Michigan Four Berry Pie was voted the number one berry pie in the nation by the National Pie Council. First, Krista and I combined pastry flour, non-trans fatty shortening and salt by hand until the fat clumped into small pieces (the clumps melt while baking, which makes the finished crust flaky). According to Wendy Achatz, the head baker and owner of the company, the unbleached pastry flour, made from Michigan-grown wheat, makes a discernible difference in the finished product. Next comes the water. Mix it in by hand, but don’t overwork the dough; that will make the crust toughen. The dough is then formed into two balls and given a chance to “rest” for about 20 minutes, refrigerated, before being rolled out (this makes it more malleable). Don’t refrigerate for too long: If it’s too cold, the dough becomes stiff and difficult to roll without cracking the edges. Before rolling, make sure the counter surface, the top of each dough ball, and the rolling pin are amply floured. Roll each dough ball quickly, first in one direction, then perpendicular, keeping the shape as round as possible. When finished, fold one piece of dough into quarters, place it in the pie pan, and unfold it so it’s centered and ready to fill. After adding the filling, place the second piece of dough on top, and seal the edges.
Use a recipe that sounds good to you. The one listed below is basic, using a minimum of ingredients, relying on the flavor of the apples without a lot of embellishment. It should serve you well. If, for some reason, you choose not to make the crust from scratch, there are ready-made crusts available at your neighborhood market.
If this seems like too much work, there’s always the Achatz Handmade Pie Company. There are 35 varieties of pies: four different apple pies, eight berry pies, four cream pies, citrus pies, pumpkin pies and more. If you can’t make up your mind, they are sold by the slice. You can try several.
Achatz Handmade Pie Company has three locations:
75700 North Ave., Armada; call 586-784-4743.
1063 E. Long Lake Road, Troy; call 248-457-1372.
40 North Washington, Oxford; call 248-628-4010.
The pies are also sold at various metro Detroit restaurants and stores: For a complete list visit achatzpies.com.Jeff Broder is a chowhound for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]