Pi Day Recipe: Apple Pie from Jim Henle’s The Proof and the Pudding

Tomorrow (March 14, 2015) is a very important Pi Day. This year’s local Princeton Pi Day Party and other global celebrations of Albert Einstein’s birthday look to be truly stellar, which is apt given this is arguably the closest we will get to 3.1415 in our lifetimes.

Leading up to the publication of the forthcoming The Proof and the Pudding: What Mathematicians, Cooks, and You Have in Common by Jim Henle, we’re celebrating the holiday with a recipe for a classic Apple Pie (an integral part of any Pi Day spread). Publicist Casey LaVela recreates and photographs the recipe below. Full text of the recipe follows. Happy Pi Day everyone!

Notes on Jim Henle’s Apple Pie recipe from Publicist Casey LaVela

The Proof and the Pudding includes several recipes for pies or tarts that would fit the bill for Pi Day, but the story behind Henle’s Apple Pie recipe is especially charming, the recipe itself is straightforward, and the results are delicious. At the author’s suggestion, I used a mixture of baking apples (and delightfully indulgent amounts of butter and sugar).


All of the crust ingredients (flour, butter, salt) ready to go:


After a few minutes of blending everything together with a pastry cutter, the crust begins to come together. A glorious marriage of flour and butter.


Once the butter and flour were better incorporated, I dribbled in the ice water and then turned the whole wonderful mess out between two sheets of plastic wrap in preparation for folding. The crust will look like it won’t come together, but somehow it always does in the end. Magical.


Now you need to roll out and fold over the dough a few times. This is an important step and makes for a light and flaky crust. (You use a similar process to make croissants or other viennoiserie from scratch.)


I cut the crust into two (for the top crust and bottom crust) using my handy bench scraper:



The apples cored, peeled, and ready to be cut into slices. I broke out my mandolin slicer (not pictured) to make more even slices, but if you don’t own a slicer or prefer to practice your knife skills you can just as easily use your favorite sharp knife.


Beautiful (even) apple slices:


Action shot of me mixing the apple slices, sugar, and cinnamon together. I prefer to prepare my apple pie filling in a bowl rather than sprinkling the dry ingredients over the apple slices once they have been arranged in the bottom crust. I’m not sure if it has much impact on the flavor and it is much, much messier, but I find it more fun.



The bottom crust in the pie plate:


Arrange the apple slices in the bottom crust:


Top with the second crust, seal the top crust to the bottom with your fingers, and (using your sharp knife) make incisions in the top crust to allow steam to escape:


The apple pie before going into the oven (don’t forget to put a little extra sugar on top):


The finished product:


There was a little crust left over after cutting, so I shaped it into another pi symbol, covered it in cinnamon and sugar, and baked it until golden brown. I ate the baked pi symbol as soon as it had cooled (before thinking to take a picture), but it was delicious!


Apple Pie

The story of why I started cooking is not inspiring. My motives weren’t pure. Indeed, they involved several important sins.

I really am a glutton. I love to eat. As a child, I ate well; my mother was a wonderful cook. But I always wanted more than I got, especially dessert. And of all desserts, it was apple pie I craved most. Not diner pies, not restaurant pies, and not bakery pies, but real, homemade apple pies.

When I was six, I had my first homemade apple pie. It was at my grandmother’s house. I don’t remember how it tasted, but I can still recall the gleam in my mother’s eye when she explained the secret of the pie. “I watched her make it. Before she put on the top crust, she dotted the whole thing with big pats of butter!”

Several times as I was growing up, my mother made apple pie. Each one was a gem. But they were too few—only three or four before I went off to college. They were amazing pies. The apples were tart and sweet. Fresh fall apples, so flavorful no cinnamon was needed. The crust was golden, light and crisp, dry when it first hit the tongue, then dissolving into butter.

I grew up. I got married. I started a family. All the while, I longed for that pie. Eventually I set out to make one.

Success came pretty quickly, and it’s not hard to see why. The fact is, despite apple pie’s storied place in American culture, most apple pies sold in this country are abysmal. A pie of fresh, tart apples and a crust homemade with butter or lard, no matter how badly it’s made, is guaranteed to surpass a commercial product.

That means that even if you’ve never made a pie before, you can’t go seriously wrong. The chief difficulty is the crust, but I’ve developed a reliable method. Except for this method, the recipe below is standard.

For the filling:
5 cooking apples (yielding about 5 cups of pieces)
1/4 to 1/3 cup sugar
2 Tb butter
1/2 to 1 tsp cinnamon
lemon juice, if necessary
1 tsp flour, maybe

For the crust:
2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
2/3 cup lard or unsalted butter (1 1/3 sticks)

The crust is crucial. I’ll discuss its preparation last. Assume for now that you’ve rolled out the bottom crust and placed it in the pie pan.

Core, peel, and slice the apples. Place them in the crust. Sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon. Dot with butter. Roll out the top crust and place it on top. Seal the edge however you like. In about six places, jab a knife into the crust and twist to leave a hole for steam to escape. Sprinkle the crust with the teaspoon of sugar.

Bake in a preheated oven for 15 minutes at 450° and then another 35 minutes at 350°. Allow to cool. Serve, if you like, with vanilla ice cream or a good aged cheddar.

Now, the crust:

Mix the flour and salt in a large bowl. Place the lard or butter or lard/butter in the bowl. Cut it in with a pastry cutter.

Next, the water. Turn the cold water on in the kitchen sink so that it dribbles out in a tiny trickle. Hold the bowl with the flour mixture in one hand and a knife in the other. Let the water dribble into the bowl while you stir with the knife. The object is to add just enough water so that the dough is transformed into small dusty lumps. Don’t be vigorous with the knife, but don’t allow the water to pool. If the water is dribbling too fast, take the bowl away from the faucet from time to time. When you’re done, the dough will still look pretty dry.

Recipes usually call for about 5 tablespoons of water. This method probably uses about that much.

Actually, the dough will look so dry that you’ll think it won’t stick together when it’s rolled out. In fact, it probably won’t stick together, but trust me. This is going to work.

Tear off a sheet of plastic wrap and lay it on the counter. Place a bit more than half the dough on the sheet and cover it with a second sheet of plastic.

With a rolling pin, roll the dough out between the two sheets. Roll it roughly in the shape of a rectangle.

It won’t look great and it probably would fall apart if you picked it up.

Don’t pick it up. Remove the top sheet of plastic wrap and fold the bottom third up, and fold the top third down, then do the same horizontally, right and left.

Now replace the top sheet of plastic wrap and roll the dough out gently into a disk.

This time it should look pretty decent. This time the dough will stick together.

You should be able to remove the top sheet of plastic and, using the bottom sheet, turn it over into the pie pan. The crust should settle in nicely without breaking.

Form the top crust the same way.

This method rolls each crust twice—usually not a good idea because working the dough makes it tough. But remarkably, crusts produced this way are tender and light. I’m not sure why but I suspect it’s because the dough is fairly dry.

• Cooking apples are tart apples. The best I know is the Rhode Island Greening, but they’re hard to find. Baldwins and Jonathans are decent, but they’re hard to find too. The British Bramleys are terrific. I’ve made good pies from the French Calville Blanc d’Hiver. But we’re not living in good apple times. Most stores don’t sell apples for cooking. When in doubt, use a mixture.
• The lemon juice and the larger quantity of cinnamon are for when you have tired apples with no oomph. The cheese also serves this purpose. It should be a respectable old cheddar and it should be at room temperature.
• Consumption of too many commercial pies makes me loath to add flour or cornstarch to pie filling. The flour is here in case you fear your apples will be too juicy. I don’t mind juice in a pie, in moderation. If adding flour, mix the apples, sugar, cinnamon, and flour in a bowl before pouring into the crust.
• Lard is best. Its melting point is higher than butter’s. It successfully separates the flour into layers for a light, crispy crust. Butter is more likely to saturate the flour and produce a heavy crust. Some like half butter/half lard, preferring butter for its flavor. But the flavor of lard is nice too, and its porkiness is wonderful with apple.

This recipe is taken from:


The Proof and the Pudding

What Mathematicians, Cooks, and You Have in Common

Jim Henle

“If you’re a fan of Julia Child or Martin Gardner—who respectively proved that anyone can have fun preparing fancy food and doing real mathematics—you’ll enjoy this playful yet passionate romp from Jim Henle. It’s stuffed with tasty treats and ingenious ideas for further explorations, both in the kitchen and with pencil and paper, and draws many thought-providing parallels between two fields not often considered in the same mouthful.”—Colm Mulcahy, author of Mathematical Card Magic: Fifty-Two New Effects

Princeton Cooks… Beef Ragoût

We invited our Princeton colleagues to try their hand at cooking and baking the delicious treats found in Cooking for Crowds: 40th Anniversary Edition by Merry “Corky” White. Here, Deborah Grondahl, Digital Publications Assistant at Princeton University Press, takes on a Beef Ragoût recipe, swapping out flour for a gluten-free friendly alternative. Recipe is below.  Bon Appetit!


Beef Ragoût

Deborah Grondahl

in bowls

After reading through the cookbook, Cooking for Crowds–this is the recipe that said “Cook Me”. Maybe it was the peppercorns, maybe it was the orange zest but I needed to make this recipe.  One problem—the recipe calls for flour. I have a gluten-free kitchen. What do I do?  After reading and re-reading the recipe, the flour is used to coat the meat, so substituting with a different type of flour is easy.  I used an all-purpose mix that has potato, garbanzo, tapioca and sorghum flours, but I’m sure you could easily use potato or corn starch.  I went with the all-purpose mix because I thought the bean flavor might lend itself to the complex flavors of the dish.

Making this seems straight forward enough—Prep, Sear, Simmer, Eat. The recipe scales easily to accommodate the crowd you are serving.  Two, is not a crowd, but I like to make extra for lunch the next day or another diner and the recipe does say its better the next day.


I love using fresh herbs, but often don’t have them on hand. I had planned to make this so I had the thyme. Finely chopped


Half-moons of Onions—sounds so fancy

Orange zest.  This is what drew me to this recipe, strips of orange zest.

orange peel


onions in pot

Okay, so this isn’t a picture of the meat being seared.  It’s the after picture with those fancy half-moons of onions.


in pot

A pot of promise.  The recipe says you can use either beef stock or red wine or both. I used stock, because I didn’t have wine. After you put everything in the pot, the recipe says to cover with additional liquid (not mentioned in the ingredients). Luckily I had additional stock on hand and there was no issue.


Sserved over rice:

in bowls



Beef Ragoût

After watching me try several recipes for beef stew, my daughter developed this one, which is especially good because of the added orange peel. Use only the orange part: do not use white of peel as it is very bitter when cooked.

  6 12 20 50
butter 2 tbs 4 tbs 7 tbs 1 c
cooking oil 1 tbs 2 tbs 3 tbs 8 tbs
stewing beef, preferably chuck,cut into ½ -inch chunks 1½ lbs 3 lbs 6 lbs 12 lbs
medium onions, sliced 2 4 7 16
all-purpose flour 2 tbs 4 tbs 7 tbs 1 c
dry, red wine 1 c 2 c 3½ c 7 c
beef stock 1 c 2 c 3½ c 7 c
carrots, peeled and roughly chopped 2 4 7 16
garlic cloves, finely chopped 1 2 4 7
fresh thyme, finely chopped 1 tsp 2 tsp 1 tbs 1½ tbs
dried thyme ½ tsp 1 tsp 1½ tsp 2 tsp
bay leaves 1 2 4 8
tomato paste 1 tbs 2 tbs 3½ tbs 1½6-oz cans
2-inch, thin strips of orange peel 2 4 7 12
peppercorns 6 12 20 40
salt 1 tsp 2 tsp 3½ tsp 2 tbs

Melt the butter and oil together in a large, heavy saucepan. Have a large casserole at hand.

Over medium heat brown the meat, several pieces at a time, and as they are browned, remove them to the casserole. Add the onions to the pan and cook until soft over a medium flame.

Add the flour to the beef and toss to cover well, add the browned onions to the beef. Add the wine or stock, and bring to a simmer, stirring. Then add the carrots and the remaining ingredients. Add extra stock, wine, or water to cover all the ingredients.

Reduce the heat to very low, cover, and simmer for about 2 hours, or until the meat is soft to the touch or the fork. Do not let it cook too much or the meat will disintegrate. And watch the liquid, so that it doesn’t boil away. Let the ragoût cool to room temperature, then refrigerate.

Reheat slowly and serve with whipped potatoes, boiled noodles, or rice. Or just crusty French bread and salad.

NOTE: This is 100 percent better the next day, so be sure to make it ahead.

This recipe is taken from:


Cooking for Crowds
40th Anniversary Edition
Merry White
With a new foreword by Darra Goldstein and a new introduction by the author

“[Merry White’s] book, made up of recipes she collected as the caterer for the Harvard Center for European Studies, suggested a new way of entertaining, with self-serve spanakopita, petite shrimp quiche and that savior of the anxious cook, the casserole that can be made a day ahead. Edward Koren’s woolly illustrations set the tone: vegetables are our friends, and food tastes best in groups. Even though pesto and vindaloo are no longer exotic, during the holidays her attitude (and her meatballs) may be what every stressed-out host needs.”–Alexandra Lange, New York Times

The Dinner Party Is Back!

What does cooking for crowds look like?

Last week, Merry “Corky” White assembled a dream team of friends, family, and Boston area chefs to celebrate the publication of Cooking for Crowds: 40th Anniversary Edition. The chefs each offered up their own twist on one of the recipes from the book and as you’ll see in the video below, everyone had a fantastic time. Does this make you want to grab a copy of Corky’s cookbook and host your own festive gathering? Here’s a Baklava recipe to get you started.


Thank you to Cat who taped this video and gave permission for us to use it here.

Warm up with Lentil Soup with Mettwurst from Cooking for Crowds

Plummeting temperatures means hot soup for dinner, so I wanted to share this delicious recipe for Lentil Soup with Mettwurst from Cooking for Crowds: 40th Anniversary Edition by Merry White. The image is taken directly from the book so you can see the layout and cute Edward Koren illustration that accompanies the recipe in print, but a text version is below, too, in case you need it.

Also, you might enjoy this interview Merry gave over the winter break.



Lentil Soup with Mettwurst

A rich and filling soup, with which you will need only bread, salad, and dessert to make a good lunch or supper. Try it with other sausages or cooking salamis, too. Any uncooked (but smoked) fine-grained sausage may be substituted.

6 12 20 50
dried green lentils 1 c 2 c 3 ½ c 7 c
butter 2 tbs 4 tbs 7 tbs 2 sticks
large onion, finely chopped 1 2 3 ½ 8
celery stalks, finely chopped 1 2 3 8
carrots, peeled and thinly sliced 2 4 7 14
bay leaves 1 2 3 5
thyme Pinch ½ tsp 1 tsp 2 ½ tsp
bouillon, or rich chicken stock 1 qt 2 qts 3 ½ qts 7 qts
mettwurst ½ lb 1 lb 2 lbs 4 lbs
salt & pepper (to taste)

Soak the lentils in water to cover overnight.

The next day, drain the lentils well. Melt the butter in a large saucepan and add the chopped onion, celery, and carrots, then the bay leaves and thyme. Let simmer, covered, for about 15 minutes. Add the bouillon or stock, lentils, and sausage and cook at a gentle simmer for about 2 hours, or until the lentils are tender.

Remove the sausage and set aside. Put the soup in a blender in small batches and blend until smooth. Leave about one-quarter of the soup unblended and add to the smooth soup for “texture.”

Slice the reserved sausage and add to the soup with salt and pepper to taste.

NOTE: The soup can be reheated, but more stock or water will be needed because lentils thicken as they stand. It can also be kept in a cool place, unrefrigerated.

Merry White Brings “Cooking for Crowds” to Harvard Bookstore

White_CookingForCrowdsF13As the holidays are approaching, some people are looking for that perfect recipe to cook up something delicious to wow all of their friends and family. Merry White, author of Cooking for Crowds, has released the 40th anniversary edition of her book, which includes a new introduction and new illustrations, and will offer her readers the recipes they’ve been searching for.

She will be at the Harvard Book Store on December 5th at 7:00 PM to discuss the book and to sign copies, which will be for sale in the store. Want more information? Click here.

When Cooking for Crowds was first published in 1974, home cooks in America were just waking up to the great foods the rest of the world was eating, from pesto and curries to Ukrainian pork and baklava. Now Merry White’s indispensable classic is back in print for a new generation of readers to savor, and her international recipes are as crowd-pleasing as ever–whether you are hosting a large party numbering in the dozens, or a more intimate gathering of family and friends.

In this delightful cookbook, White shares all the ingenious tricks she learned as a young Harvard graduate student earning her way through school as a caterer to European scholars, heads of state, and cosmopolitans like Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. With the help of her friend Julia Child, the cook just down the block in Cambridge, White surmounted unforeseen obstacles and epic-sized crises in the kitchen, along the way developing the surefire strategies described here. All of these recipes can be prepared in your kitchen using ordinary pots, pans, and utensils. For each tantalizing recipe, White gives portions for serving groups of six, twelve, twenty, and fifty.

Looking for something to do with all those fall apples? We recommend Senegalese Soup from Cooking for Crowds

Senegalese Soup

Senegalese soup is a smooth cream of chicken with curry. A classic French adaptation of Oriental tastes, this soup is elegant and smooth, and acceptable as a beginning to any meal.

6 12 20 50

onions, chopped 2 4 7 15
celery stalks, chopped 2 4 6 10
apples, peeled and chopped 2 4 7 10
butter 3 tbs 6 tbs 10 tbs 3 sticks
curry powder 2 tbs 4 tbs 8 tbs ¾ c
all-purpose flour ¼ c ½ c ¾ c 2 c
chicken stock or broth 4 c 8 c 4 qts 8 qts
salt (to taste)
chili powder (to taste)
cayenne (to taste)
heavy cream 2 c 4 c 5½ c 10 c

fresh parsley, chopped
avocado, peeled and chopped

In a large saucepan (or two kettles) sauté the onions, celery, and apples in the butter until the mixture is soft but not browned. Add the curry powder and sauté for 2 minutes more, then add the flour, stirring well. Cook, stirring, for a minute or so more. Gradually stir in the chicken stock or broth and cook the soup until it thickens. Add the salt, chili powder, and cayenne to taste.

Puree the mixture in a blender or put through a food mill, a few cups at a time, until smooth. Chill the soup, if serving it cold. Just before serving, stir in the cream and garnish each portion with parsley (hot) or avocado (cold).

note: While the soup can be served hot or cold, it is best (and easiest for a crowd) if served cold.

White_CookingForCrowdsF13This recipe is taken from Cooking for Crowds by Merry “Corky” White. We are publishing a 40th edition of this classic cookbook in December.