The abounding selection of firm, crisp apples that form pyramids at the market find their way to my kitchen counter top, and ultimately into a crust. Turning apples and dough into pie may be a ritual of autumn baking, but you can also think of this rite as the mingling of butter and fruit -- an excuse to stratify layers of buttery flavor in a pastry-based sweet.
It's not that I don't love a perfectly baked apple or a mound of soft, silky applesauce. But lightly sweetened apples, tinged with just enough spice to heighten their taste, nestled in a buttery shell, and topped with a butter-graced crumb topping spoils me for anything else.
An apple crumb pie is the perfect match of velvety cooked slices and a tender streusel. Pulled from the oven, sliced into thick wedges, and served warm, the crumb pie, with its crust nearly splintery from layers of butter baked through it, is irresistible.
That fundamental baking ingredient, good unsalted butter, once again takes center stage. Butter stretches and enriches the flavor of fruit in general, and apples in particular. The unsalted variety has the purest flavor and the creamiest texture for mixing with flour, sugar, and an egg yolk
This buttery crust has just enough sugar to offer a light crackle after baking and it's firm enough to support both the apples and their crown of crumbs. If you roll it out a little thicker than usual, and use all of it to form a stable base and edge, then once it is arranged in a pie tin, you can rest the dough in the refrigerator so it bakes without shrinking.
To make sure that it holds up nicely with an ample filling, bake the crust partially first, then brush it with egg white to make it waterproof. (You'll have a white left after you add a yolk to the dough.)
Then fill the crust with a mound of sugared and spiced apples tossed in cornstarch, and cover it with a moist and lumpy streusel. The butter in the streusel makes the topping crunchy and bastes the apples.
As the pie bakes, the crust turns deeply golden, the craggy topping sets, and those apple-scented juices bubble up in a jam-like way. A glossy, nearly satiny layer of fruit awaits you.
Lisa Yockelson is the author of the award-winning "Baking by Flavor."