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Apple pie

SERVES 8

Inspired by a photograph of beautiful apple pies in American Family Style, by Mary Randolph Carter (Viking Studio Books), we figured out how to make various pie-crust decorations -- with cut-out leaves, squares, a figure of an apple tree, and block letters spelling out "apple pie" -- to show off this traditional recipe.

PASTRY (FOR DOUBLE CRUST)

3 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons sugar

10 tablespoons butter, cut up

1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening

1 egg, lightly beaten with 3/4 cup ice water

Extra flour (for the board)

In a bowl, sift together the flour, salt, and sugar. With a pastry blender or two knives, cut the butter and shortening into the flour until the mixture forms crumbs. Every minute or so, shake the bowl from side to side -- the large pieces will rise to the top of the flour.

Sprinkle half of the egg-water mixture onto the pastry and toss it with a fork to moisten the dry ingredients.

Add the remaining liquids and toss again until the mixture comes together to form a dough.

Scrape the dough out of the bowl onto a lightly floured board and knead it gently until smooth. Divide the dough in half and shape each piece into a smooth, flat cake; wrap each cake in foil. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

On a lightly floured board, roll out one piece of the dough, turning it often to prevent it from sticking to the board, and ease it into a deep 9-inch pie pan.

Mound the filling (below) into the pie.

FILLING

10 cooking apples (see above)

Grated rind of 1 lemon

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2/3 cup granulated sugar

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

2 tablespoons flour

2 tablespoons butter, cut into tiny pieces

Peel, core, and slice the apples and toss them in a bowl with the lemon rind and lemon juice.

Stir in the sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and flour.

Pile the apples into the crust and dot the top with butter.

DECORATIONS

Overlapping squares: Roll out the remaining dough to make a 16-inch round and, using a ravioli cutter or long straight-edged knife, cut the pastry into 2-inch squares, making about 23 to 25 altogether. Crimp the bottom dough all around, using your thumb and forefinger.

Brush the edge with egg wash (1 egg lightly beaten with 1 teaspoon of cold water). Overlap the squares around the edge, brushing each one with egg before laying another one on it.

Arrange a second circle inside the first one, still brushing each square with egg wash, then a third circle, and finally a square in the center. If there are no cracks between the squares, make three vents in the dough. Bake as directed below.

Overlapping leaves: Roll out the dough to make a 16-inch round and, using the tip of a small paring knife, make about 32 2-inch-long free-form leaves. Crimp the bottom dough all around, using your thumb and forefinger.

Using an egg wash to make the leaves adhere to one another, arrange them in concentric circles, working from the outside edge to the center, until the pie is covered completely. Brush with glaze. Bake as directed below.

Apple tree: Roll out the dough to make a 12-inch round. Set the round on the mounded apples and, using a scissors, trim the top and bottom crusts so they hang over the pie dish by 1/4 inch. Crimp them with your thumb and forefinger. Reroll the scraps.

Using a small paring knife, cut out a tree with a 3-inch trunk and several branches. Cut out small leaves and apples. Brush the top of the pie with egg wash (1 egg lightly beaten with 1 teaspoon of cold water) and set the tree, leaves, and apples on the pie.

Brush the pie again with egg wash and make three vents in the dough. Bake as directed below.

Block letters: Roll out the pie dough to make a 12-inch round and set it on the pie. Using a scissors, trim the top and bottom crusts so they hang over the pie dish by 1/4 inch. Crimp the edge.

Reroll the scraps and use a small paring knife to cut out block letters to make up two short words, such as "apple pie" (or whatever inspires you). Use a fork to prick the block letters several times so they don't puff up during baking.

Brush the top of the pie with egg wash (1 egg lightly beaten with 1 teaspoon of cold water) and set the words on the pie. Brush again with egg wash and make three steam vents in the center of the pie. Bake as directed below.

BAKING

Use the following baking times for all pies: Chill the decorated pies for 30 minutes or until the pastry is cold to the touch. Set the oven at 350 degrees. Bake the pie for 45 to 50 minutes or until the top is golden brown. Leave the pie to settle for a few minutes, then serve at once.

Sheryl Julian

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