Wednesday, December 1, 2021
Dec. 1, 2021

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Try award-winning pie with wonderfully flaky crust


PITTSBURGH — Travis Harhai is pretty proud of his deep-dish apple pie. Piled high with fall’s favorite fruit under a sugary blanket of crispy crumb topping, it’s exactly what you picture when you think of the classic all-American dessert — sweet and fruity, with a wonderfully flaky crust you can’t wait to dig into.

The fact that the recipe has been handed down over the generations makes it even more special. His maternal grandma, Angeline Schultz of Acme, Pa., was the first to make it, and it has been served at countless family gatherings over the years, says Harhai, 30, who works for People’s National Gas repairing gas lines.

Still, he didn’t think it could be a winner of the 2021 Blue Ribbon Apple Pie Contest at the Westmoreland County Fair.

“I couldn’t even put it into words,” the Mount Pleasant resident says about his win, and the $100 prize that came with it.

It’s all the more surprising when you consider Harhai only recently took up baking, and that he didn’t decide to enter the Aug. 21 competition until the night before, after learning about it from his girlfriend, Ashlee.

“Then I woke up at 5 a.m. that day and started peeling apples,” he says. The finished product went straight from the oven to the judges’ table “because everyone likes warm apple pie.”

Harhai baked his first pie four years ago, for a friend’s dinner party, after lying about knowing how. It didn’t go well, he says. “So I had to call my mom and got grandma’s recipe.”

It took a little trial and error to perfect: He learned the hard way that it’s much better to use butter than margarine in the topping. He also now knows that if you use too much water in the dough, you’ll have a hard time getting pretty crimped edges.

He estimates he’s made at least 100 pies for family and friends. “It took off pretty quick when it started tasting like grandma’s,” he says with a laugh.

Though his mother, Ginny, says his pie is better than his grandmother’s, Harhai was nervous that day at the fairgrounds. He jokes that he paced about three miles during the judging process. In the end, he won everyone over with his tasty mix of Granny Smith and McIntosh apples, and simple crumb topping made with sugar, butter and flour.

The crumb top, he says, it what makes his apple pie special. “If you can get that right, everything else tastes good afterwards.”

Blue Ribbon Apple Crumb Pie

Makes 1 pie. Recipe from Travis Harhai, Mount Pleasant, Pa.

For crust

1¼ cups flour

⅛ teaspoon salt

⅓ cup plus 1 tablespoon vegetable shortening, chilled

¼ cup cold water

For filling

10 Granny Smith and/or McIntosh apples

½ cup sugar

1 tablespoon flour

1 teaspoon cinnamon

For crumb topping

½ cup sugar

¾ cup flour

6 tablespoons butter, cut into chunks

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Prepare crust: In large bowl, combine dry ingredients. Cut in shortening using a pastry blender or until mixture is crumbly. Mix in water a tablespoon at a time to form dough. (It should hold together when pinched.) Shape into a ball, flatten with your palm into a disc, then roll out on a floured surface into a circle about 2 inches wider than the pie plate. Transfer dough to pie plate.

Prepare filling: Peel, core and slice apples, then place in a large bowl. Add dry ingredients and mix by hand until all apples are covered. Pour into pie crust. (It will look like a lot, but the apples will bake down.)

Prepare topping: Place sugar and flour into a medium bowl. Rub the butter into the mixture with your fingers until it’s crumbly. Pat crumble mixture on top of unbaked pie.

Place pie on a cookie sheet (to capture any drippings) and bake for 60 minutes or until apples are completely soft when pierced with a knife. (My pie took about 20 minutes longer.)

Transfer pie to a rack to cool completely, then enjoy.