I first met Maida Heatter—I know many of you must have her wonderful baking books—when I went to Miami to judge a baking competition in the early nineties. Maida arrived at the hotel where the event was taking place a little early and we started chatting about baking and recipes, and cookbooks, and haven't stopped since. Over the years Maida has become a dear friend and a valued mentor; the precise detail in her recipes has been an example for me to emulate and the taste and appearance of her cakes, cookies, pastries, and desserts are the finest you'll find anywhere.
Once when visiting Maida in Miami Beach we fell to talking about pies. "They're the hardest thing of any to get right, don't you think?" Maida asked me. True perfectionist that she is, Maida meant that to get the pastry dough to a golden flakiness and the filling to just the right stage between runny and set required a lot of work. She then told me that a young friend had just asked her to teach her to make an apple pie, and that she had thought about it for a while and decided to make a big free-standing pastry that partially enclosed a cinnamon and brown sugar-scented cooked apple filling. She had filled in the open area at the top of the pie with overlapping apple slices and glazed them with apricot preserves after the pie had cooled.
We really didn't discuss any particulars of the recipe, but it sounded intriguing, so I stored it the back on my mind in the "that's a great idea I have to try some day" section, and there it stayed.
A few years later, when I used to appear as a substitute host on Sara Moulton's popular Food Network show, Cooking Live, once a week, the producer asked me if we could plan a show on apples. She asked me to come up with something original, and that's how my recipe for Maida's Big Apple Pie was born. I worked out a simplified version, without the final finish of apple slices and glaze. I was excited about it because Maida watched the show faithfully whenever I was on and would always leave me a phone message as soon as the show ended. So I was able to surprise her with her apple pie recipe, and it's one I've made often since.
It's great for a crowd; in fact, it's perfect for Thanksgiving if you have a lot of people over. Best of all, it's baked on a big round pizza pan or cookie sheet, so you don't need any special equipment.