After spending an afternoon picking apples and bringing them home, it’s time to settle in and satisfy all those autumnal desires.

But baking the perfect pie crust can be intimidating. Maybe you’ve tried it once or twice and possibly thrown a bag of flour across the floor out of frustration — not that we’d know anything about that. But with a few tips and a couple deep breaths, the end result can be a delectable, mouth-watering apple pie.

With nine generations of baking under its collective belt, the kitchen at Ricker Hill Orchards in Turner is the “go-to” place for helpful hints and directions.

Co-owner Jeff Timberlake admits that pre-made pie crusts may be convenient, but if you want an old-fashioned pie that tastes like Grandma’s, you need to start from scratch.

“There is nothing better than a homemade pie crust. Especially when it’s filled with freshly picked apples, cinnamon and sugar. My favorite though is an apple dumpling, where they peel and core an apple, fill the hole with sugar and cinnamon and pull up a pie crust around the sides of the apple and bake. . . . It is heaven in a package of crust.”

“The pies here are made by Kelly Twitchell,” adds the owner. “And she’s the best. A few things here are automated, like using a pizza roller for mass producing consistent thicknesses on the crusts, but the process is the same as making one in any home kitchen.”

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Twitchell says their ingredients are simple: flour, fat, salt and water. The trick to a perfect crust is getting small pieces of stable fat distributed throughout the dough. During the baking process, the water turns into steam while the melted fat creates unyielding layers of air pockets keeping the steam trapped. The result: layer upon layer of flaky crust.

The ingredients?

“We prefer Crisco here,” Twitchell says. “It’s better for you than lard and much easier to work with than butter, which can soften too quickly while you’re working with it. The flour can be any brand as long as it is all-purpose.”

“The secret ingredient is actually ice-cold water,” she says with a smile. “Fill a measuring cup with ice and add water before you mix the Crisco and flour; when it comes time to use it, it is icy cold. This keeps the Crisco solid to guarantee flakiness.”

The first step is to mix the flour, salt and Crisco, which is referred to as cutting.

“The best tool is a hand pastry blender,” says Twitchell. “The curved knives cut the Crisco evenly and quickly, keeping it cold. When it resembles bread crumbs you are ready to add the water.”

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Now for the best part:

“Digging in with your fingers,” Twitchell instructs, laughing, “gradually add water and work until a dough, which stays together, is formed.”

Twitchell says the last step is to roll the dough out evenly on a floured surface, about 1/8-inch thick and two inches larger than the inverted pie pan it will go into.

“Once flat, the easiest way to transfer it to the pie pan is to roll the dough on the roller itself and unroll over the plate. Push in the corners and make a few pokes with a fork at the bottom to prevent blistering. Then load it up with your favorite filling and top with a few thin slices of butter. Place the top crust, crimp the edges and make a few small slices with a knife to release the steam.”

“And for a shiny finish, brush milk or an egg wash on the top crust just before baking,” Twitchell adds.

Time to make the doughnuts

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Steve Maheu is the master doughnut maker at Ricker Orchards and admits that doughnut making can be a bit intimidating.

“It took a long time to perfect our doughnuts,” he says. “They tasted good, but just weren’t perfect. Some would come out a bit too greasy, sink (while frying) or crack on the top, but with a lot of experimenting we’ve got it right. There is actually quite a science behind it (involving) the cooking oil and its absorption, allowing the batter to set and adding the exact amount of liquid to the batter when making such doughnuts as apple cider doughnuts.”

Maheu says the batter can be homemade or a mix.

“In fact, we buy pre-mixed base, but add our own, tested, secret ingredients that make them unique. But there are 100s of recipes out there to choose from. We use soy oil, which seems to work the best, but safflower and canola oils work as well, as they have high smoking points. Lard may give a good flavor, but can make the doughnuts heavy.”

The keys are the temperature and the timing.

“The temperature is crucial. The oil needs to be 375 degrees,” says Maheu. We have two doughnut machines constantly making doughnuts, dropping the batter at a perfect pace and moving down the line to help keep the temperature constant. At home, the best thing to do is to heat the oil in a stainless steel pan and be sure to have a thermometer. Only cook a few at a time, as overloading will cause the temperature to drop and allow the doughnuts to absorb more oil and be greasy. And you don’t need a lot of oil. Just a few inches. . . . Just enough to allow the doughnut to float and be flipped.”

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Maheu says timing is also important: “You want each side to be about 45 seconds to a minute, depending on the size of the doughnut.”

Cool on a rack, not directly on a counter or towel.

“And if you want to dip them in sugar, wait a minute or two so the sugar doesn’t melt on application, but don’t wait too long or it won’t adhere.”

“In no time at all,” he says with a laugh, “you’ll be a master too!”

Deep-dish double pie crust

2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

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1 cup of Crisco shortening

6-12 tablespoons ice-cold water

Using a pastry blender, blend flour, salt and Crisco until the consistency of bread crumbs.

Sprinkle 6-8 tablespoons of water into flour mixture and mix with hands, gradually adding water by the tablespoon until dough is moist enough to hold together when pressed.

Divide dough in half, shape each into a ball and chill for 30 minutes or up to two days.

When ready to prepare pie, roll out each dough ball onto a floured surface. Place one crust in pie pan, overlapping the edge, and prick with a fork. After filling pie with desired filling, cover with the other crust and seal edges. Trim excess crust.

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Bake according to specific recipe directions.

(For a pre-baked crust, cook at 425 degrees for 10 minutes or until golden brown.)

Apple pie filling

Ingredients:

4-5 pounds of apples (your choice)

1 cup sugar

Juice of 1 lemon

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2 tablespoons flour

1 pinch nutmeg

1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt

A few thin slices of butter

Prepared, deep-dish double pie crust

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Milk or 1 beaten egg for egg wash (if desired)

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Peel, core and slice apples as desired.

Mix all ingredients, except butter, in a large bowl and toss.

Spoon into prepared pie shell.

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Dab with butter before adding top crust.

Add top crust and crimp edges. Trim excess crust.

Brush egg wash onto crust and slit in a few places with a knife to vent.

Cook 55 minutes to 1 hour.

Peach pie filling

Ingredients:

5-6 cups peeled and pitted peaches, sliced

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1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/2 cup flour

1 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon salt

Few thin slices of butter

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Milk or 1 egg beaten for egg wash (if desired)

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Slice peaches as desired.

Mix all ingredients, except butter, in a large bowl and toss.

Spoon into prepared pie shell.

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Dab with butter before adding top crust.

Add top crust and crimp edges. Trim excess crust.

Brush egg wash onto crust and slit in a few places with a knife to vent.

Cook for 55 minutes to 1 hour.


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