Leesburg has grown tremendously since our family moved here 16 years ago, but it remains a small town in the most important ways. When we walk downtown on the weekends, we greet most of the shopkeepers by name — and we return to a neighborhood where everyone looks out for each other.
Our neighbors Bob and Stephanie are perfect examples. They would restore even a curmudgeon’s faith in humanity. Here’s a text from Bob:
How cool is that? A minute later he was at the fence holding a bounty of peaches.
I had planned to make some mini pies with the peaches, giving one back to Bob and Stephanie, but it was a busy week and I didn’t have time. Instead, I made these super easy Peach Pops (most of which were eaten up by my daughter and her friends).
I have made peach pops before, but this time I added a few dried apricots. They really amp up the flavor and help the texture of the pops: A good addition.
Next time Bob is mowing the lawn, or Stephanie is tending her dahlias, I’ll offer them a pop that tastes like Virginia, and the season, and friendship.
While considering dessert for Independence Day, I naturally thought of red, white & blue desserts first. Then a radical thought: What could be more American than Apple Pie? Love of Apple Pie is like a sign of wholesome American-ness in presidential candidates.
Apple Pie is a fun project, it need not be a chore. Break it down, if that makes it easier. Making the pie crust dough a day or two before (store in plastic wrap in fridge til you are ready to roll) and make the apple filling a day or two in advance, too (let cool and store in a plastic container in fridge) and then when you’re ready, you just assemble as you wish. Think about the many ways you can present it: One single pie (infinite top crust options– Pinterest is loaded with ideas), a couple small pies, hand pies (pretty trendy these days and fun for a party) and even pie pops (this sounds nutty, but it can work! I tried it. Basically, you make little hand pies and bake popsicle sticks or lollipop sticks in position.)
My recipe for Apple Pie is something I worked on over several years. (Now I do the “poor me!” face and talk about the arduous task of not just flinging flour and shaking sugar in the kitchen, but the endless taste testing! Oh, my life is hard!) Here’s what I have learned:
• I prefer apples cut in chunks rather than slices because it makes the pie easier to eat and because the filling is easier to use in small hand pies that way.
• Also, I like the apples in my final pie to be soft and I like the top crust to be fairly snug against the apples. To achieve this, you need to pre-cook the apples on the stove before baking. A cooked-apple pie is both juicier and softer than a raw apple pie. That’s a fact.
• And finally, I do suggest pre-baking the bottom crust. You will be judged on your pie crust. People notice if it is flaky vs. soggy, so take heed. Former White House Pastry Chef, Bill Yosses, dubbed by President Obama as “The Crust Master”, advises pre-baking the bottom crust and adds this note, ” Placing the pie on the bottom oven rack or, even better, atop a baking stone will help ensure a nice, crisp pastry.”
You can use a variety of apples in Apple Pie. I generally use an assortment possibly including some combination of these: Crispin, Honey Crisp, Gala, Fiji, Jonathan, Jonagold, Pippin, Gravenstein, Braeburn, Fuji and Pink Lady.
Everyone enjoys a well-executed classic–everyone from presidents & hopefuls to salt-of-the earth regular guys. And all that diversity is just what America is all about. How do you like them apples?
P.S. Apple pie can keep at room temperature for 2-3 days or in the refrigerator for about a week if it has not been polished off well before then.
Make the pastry dough in advance and have it chilling in the refrigerator as you prepare the apples.
Peel, core and cut the apples in to chunks. (should be about 7-8 cups by volume)
Melt the butter in a very large skillet, then add the apples and toss them until covered.
Set heat to medium and cover the apples. Stir occasionally for about 5-7 minutes until the apples are softened on the outside but still slightly crunchy.
Stir in the sugar, honey, cinnamon,salt, lemon zest and lemon juice.
In a separate bowl, combine the corn starch, with just enough water to make a thick but not lumpy liquid then stir this mixture into the apples to and increase heat slightly. Continue stirring occasionally as the juices become thick and syrupy (about 3-5 min.)
Immediately after the filling is ready, pour it onto a baking sheet to cool--this will stop the cooking process so it won't get soggy. At this point, if you want to let it cool fully and store in the refrigerator and assemble the pie another day, you can do that, or after it cools you can continue.
Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat it to 400 degrees. Roll out your bottom crust and put it in the prepared 9" pie pan. Crimp the edges and use pie weights, dried ride or dried beans with a layer of parchment between to hold that crust down while it bakes for about 10 minutes. Then take it out and let it cool.
Now add that apple filling and add your top crust. Brush it with egg wash and maybe sprinkle some coarse sugar to make it look extra nice. Bake for about 40-50 minutes until the top is richly browned and the filling has begun to bubble.
There’s a line I love in “Anything You Can Do,” the song from Annie Get Your Gun where Annie Oakley trades boasts with Frank Butler.
Spunky Annie pretty consistently tops Frank — in sharpshooting, drinking, fast-talking, and more — until they reach the ultimate challenge: “Can you bake a pie?”
“Neither can I,” shrugs Annie.
And I must say, pie-baking can be intimidating — until you learn a few things about pie crust.
Sticky dough, crumbly dough, difficulty rolling, trouble transferring a rolled crust to the pie pan: I’ve been there at various times. But as with scones and biscuits, the basic techniques and a trustworthy recipe will do the trick every time. Ready for pie perfection? Let’s roll!
1.Use the Right Recipe
First off, you need to start with an iron-clad recipe. I always use this one. For chicken pot pies as well as for fruit pies. For lattice top pies, for hand pies and mini pies.
2.Chill The Dough Just Enough
When I was first making pies, I misunderstood this direction and I wound up chilling the dough til it was completely solid then trying to smash that down and roll it. That does not work, in case you don’t know. The dough just cracks and is unworkable. You chill the dough until the butter is firm but still malleable. If your dough is too cold, let it sit on the counter a bit before you roll it. On the other hand, if it is too soft, you might keep putting flour on your rolling pin and counter top, but it will just keep sticking. That’ll be because the butter is too warm and you need to chill the dough before continuing.
3.Use A Light Dusting Of Flour
You should have already made the perfect pie crust, so don’t alter the proportions much by adding in a bunch of flour now. Use only just what you must to prevent sticking–a light sprinkling on your work surface and rolling pin a few times should be enough to do the job.
4.Work All The Angles
The idea here is that if you keep rolling in the same direction such as from 6 o’clock to 12 o’clock on your dough and back again, you will get some unevenness. If you alternate with some rolling in other directions such as a diagonal roll from 5 o’clock to 11 o’clock and 7 o’clock to 1 o’clock. Mix it up to get your smoothest, most level crust.
5.Use a Bench Scraper
This tool is so helpful! You use it as you are rolling to lift the dough up a few times along the way and re-position it by lightly flouring again underneath and giving it a 1/4 turn. Doing so prevents sticking and helps keep it smooth. (Bench scrapers are also useful in cutting strips for a lattice top if you wish, for easily lifting scones to the tray, and as a tool in icing cakes.) You’ll use it again in the next step.
6.Easiest Way To Get It In The Pan
Once you’re satisfied that you’ve rolled the dough out nice and evenly, grease your pan and hold it above the rolled dough to make sure your dough extends past its size and will fill the pan with room for a pinched crust. Looks good? Ok, now use your bench scraper to pick up the edge of the fully rolled crust and gently lift it over the rolling pin. Slowly roll the pin with the dough scrolling around it like a window shade. Hold this above your pie pan and unscroll it until it drapes slightly off all sides. Press out any air bubbles so it’s flat against the pan. Now you’re ready to crimp the edges, trim, fill it and bake.
That’s it, hot shot. Now you’re baking pie that really hits the mark!
I started by selling cookies at the farmers' market. Then, in 2006, I rented a few small rooms in an old Victorian building in historic downtown Leesburg, Virginia, and turned them into the bakery of my dreams.
We baked everything in our open kitchen using no preservatives and no artificial flavors — because that's how it tastes best.
Lola's was featured on The Rachael Ray Show and Fox 5 TV; in Washingtonian magazine and Northern Virginia magazine; and on the cover of Loudoun Magazine.
In 2013 our building was sold and converted to office spaces, so we closed — at least for the moment. So many customers asked for our recipes that I started this blog in response.