carl sagan's apple pie

November 14, 2018 Portland, OR, USA


"If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe." — Carl Sagan


I didn't grow up idolizing heroes; I was never the kind of kid who revered athletes, actors and actresses, and musicians. There were a couple of exceptions — when I was younger, I loved the Olsen twins and wished I had a twin of my own. I definitely also went through a Spice Girls phase that resulted in my sister decorating my bedroom with a bunch of their posters as a birthday present. But the Olsen twins and the Spice Girls were exceptions to the rule and, quite frankly, a passing phase — my fandom was so lukewarm that I was never able to convince my parents to shell out the cash for a VHS copy of an Olsen twins movie, or, more ambitiously, a ticket to a Spice Girls concert.

It didn't occur to me how strange this lack of conviction was until I started working in tech several years ago. The start-ups and companies I worked for were full of (often) young, (often) white men whose interests were (often) some variation of programming and gaming, followed by coffee, bikes, beer. On lunch breaks and social events hosted by our workplaces, I would listen as these men bonded over their shared love for the works of their childhood and current heroes — but instead of athletes and entertainers and musicians, they revered astrophysicists Carl Sagan and Neil deGrasse Tyson, writers Kurt Vonnegut and Douglas Adams, and titans of industry Steve Jobs and pre-2018 Elon Musk. Their love for these men was deep and sincere, unconditional and unending in a way I couldn't quite understand.


Later, I tried to ingratiate myself among my peers by learning more about these men by picking up their biographies and their most famous/recommended works. I thought that maybe I was missing something — I'd already read Steve Jobs' biography when it had come out several years ago; despite many hailing him as a visionary because of that book, I instead walked away with the impression that he was kind of an asshole. Similarly, I'd read a fair number of Kurt Vonnegut books and Douglas Adams' much beloved The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy; none made a particularly lasting impression on me. I bought a copy of Cosmos and Astrophysics for People in a Hurry; I kept falling asleep during the former and I have yet to even attempt the latter (though I believe I'm not the only one).

For a while, my lack of appreciation for these works and these men convinced me that I was somewhere between a rube and a philistine. It was only until the recent tide of wokeness about the lack of Asian representation in media and a re-reading of Nicole Chung's wonderful article on the lack of Asian role models in her childhood that I understood that I wasn't the problem, no. My coworkers revered these works not because they were especially interesting (though they sometimes were, admittedly); nor did they idolize those men because they were particularly good and noble men (though they sometimes were too, admittedly). Instead, they celebrated these men because they were a combination of being the most realized representations of their interests and the most successful versions of themselves.


The universe, in theory, is the same for everybody: the laws of space and time do not discriminate, and the same planets, stars, and galaxies exist for all. But despite what these scientists and authors and titans have you believe, the reality is much more complicated than that. My white male coworkers have—and have always had—an abundance of heroes to choose from and to show them what is possible for men who look and sound like them,  who hold the same interests and beliefs, and even with the same flaws and imperfections. But as a non-white/immigrant/Filipino/woman, my own universe is much smaller and quieter, with leaders that are harder to find, and ultimately, as a result, possibilities that are harder to reach for. Although the accomplishments in my life have been varied and plenty, many have come with no guidance or benchmark from a public role model who looked and sounded like me — it's almost like I've been creating a universe from scratch with every success. So this year, I'm grateful for all the Asian voices and individuals that are finally being heard and celebrated around the world: from movies like Crazy Rich Asians to To All the Boys I've Loved Before, judicial cases like the Students for Fair Admissions versus Harvard University, athletes like Chloe Kim and Morgan Hurd, comedians like Ali Wong, writers like Nicole Chung, Celeste Ng, and more. My heroes are finally visible, and our universe has slowly begun to expand at last.


featured:

Some baker's notes:
  • For the design, I used these cursive alphabet cookie cutters and these star fondant stamps for the letters and constellation pattern. I then brushed the shapes with egg wash to "glue" them on to the pie lid, and then used a fork to crimp down the borders of the pie. For the sharpest pie design, roll out the pie dough into the size and shape needed for the lid (if using a 9-inch pie pan, roll out a circle about 9 1/2 to 10-inches wide). Place on a parchment-lined sheet pan and transfer to the freezer to chill for 10 minutes; after 10 minutes, remove from the freezer and use the cookie cutters to stamp out the shapes. Although there will always be some pie shrinkage, the pie will keep its shape best if its frozen for at least 24 hours after being molded and shaped. Be sure to check out all my best pie making tips in this post for salty honey pie! For a more simple lattice, don't miss my basic pie lattice tutorial complete with step-by-step photos. 


Carl Sagan's Apple Pie
(adapted from this Serious Eats recipe)

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Ingredients

Special Equipment:

For the Pie Dough:
(makes a 9-inch, double lidded pie crust)
  • 6 tablespoons (3 ounces) very cold water
  • 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup ice
  • 1 cup (8 ounces) very cold unsalted butter
  • 2 1/2 cups (11.25 ounces) all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

For the Apple Pie Filling:
(enough for a 9-inch pie)
  • 3/4 cup (5.25 ounces) granulated sugar
  • "tightly packed" 1/2 cup (3.75 ounces) dark brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • a pinch of kosher salt
  • 6 cups (around 2 lbs) cored and sliced apples

For the Eggwash:
(enough for a 9-inch pie)
  • 1 large egg white
  • 1 teaspoon water

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Recipe

For the Pie Dough:
  1. Combine 6 tablespoons very cold water, 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar, and 1 cup ice in a liquid measuring cup or small bowl. Whisk to combine and transfer to the refrigerator while you work with the other ingredients.

  2. While the liquid mixture is chilling, use a sharp knife to slice 1 cup very cold unsalted butter into 1-inch cubes. Transfer to the freezer to chill while you work with the other ingredients.

  3. In the bowl of a food processor, combine 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 tablespoon granulated sugar, and 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Pulse 2 to 3 times until the ingredients are combined. Remove the chilled butter from the freezer and add to the dry ingredients; continue pulsing in short, 5-second intervals until the mixture resembles cornmeal with no butter pieces larger than the size of your thumbnail.

  4. Once the mixture resembles cornmeal, remove the liquid mixture from the refrigerator and add 6 tablespoons to the dry ingredients. Pulse another few times and pick up a tablespoon of the dry ingredients with one of your hands and give it a squeeze. If the mixture still feels dry and crumbly and does NOT hold together even when squeezed, add about 2 tablespoons of water, pulse, and test again until it passes the squeeze test. If the mixture holds together, dump it out into a medium bowl and use your hands to knead it together into a ball. 

  5. Use a bench scraper to divide the ball into two even halves. Wrap each half in plastic wrap and mold it so that it resembles a rough ball; punch the ball down into a disc. Transfer to the refrigerator to rest and chill for at least 1 hour, but preferably overnight.

Filling and Assembly:
  1. Once the pie dough has rested, remove one disc from the refrigerator and use a rolling pin to roll the disc into a 10 1/2-inch circle on a lightly floured surface. Fit onto a 9-inch pie plate. Transfer to the refrigerator to chill while you make the filling.

  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together 3/4 cup granulated sugar, "tightly packed" 1/2 cup dark brown sugar, 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg, and a pinch of kosher salt until well combined. 

  3. Place 6 cups cored and sliced apples in a large bowl. Sprinkle the dry ingredients (from the 1st step) over the apples and toss until evenly coated. Spoon into the prepared pie shell in the pie plate and cover loosely with plastic wrap; transfer to the refrigerator to chill while you roll out and work with the second disc of pie dough for the lid.

  4. Roll out the second disc into a 10 1/2-inch circle for the pie lid; carefully transfer to a parchment paper-lined sheet pan and place in the freezer to chill for 10 minutes, before using cookie cutters to stamp out the pattern of your choice across the circle. Once satisfied with your design, transfer back to the freezer to chill for another 10 minutes to firm up the lid. 

  5. Once the lid is firm, remove the pie crust base from the refrigerator. Carefully transfer the pie crust lid on top of the fruit, centering the lid accordingly. Use kitchen shears to trim any dough overhang from both the lid and the crust, using the edge of the pie plate as a guide for trimming. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and transfer to the freezer to chill for at least 24 hours before baking.

Egg Wash and Baking:
  1. Once the pie is frozen solid and you're ready to bake it, prepare an oven by positioning a rack in the lowest possible position in the oven and another in the center of the oven. Preheat to 375 (F). Prepare a sheet pan by lining with parchment paper.

  2. In a small bowl, whisk together 1 large egg white and 1 teaspoon water. Remove plastic wrap from the pie and place in the center of the lined sheet pan. Use a pastry brush to quickly brus the top of the pie with the egg wash.

  3. Transfer to the bottom rack of the oven and bake for 60 minutes, covering the top with aluminum foil if the edges and top of the pie begin to brown too quickly. At 60 minutes, remove from the oven and check the pie — if the top is an even, golden brown and the fruit juices in the center of the pie are bubbling slowly, the pie is done. If the center of the pie is still pale, transfer back to the oven, this time positioning on the center rack, and bake for another 10 to 20 minutes until the juices in the center of the pie are bubbling slowly.

  4. Transfer to a wire rack to cool for at least 1 hour to allow the juices to settle; serve warm, with a dollop of ice cream or whipped cream. 
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