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Former White House Chef Reveals President Barack Obama's Favorite Pie

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Bill Yosses was the personal pastry chef to President George W. Bush, First Lady Laura Bush, President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, and all the guests that entered the White House for eight years. In this limited series, Chef Yosses will walk you through the president’s favorite recipes...while spilling all the most glorious presidential tea. In the third episode, Bill makes President Barack Obama's favorite dessert: Apple pie.

Video Transcript

BILL YOSSES: Hi. My name is Bill Yosses. And I was lucky enough to be the pastry chef for two presidents, George W Bush and Barack Obama.

I'm going to be making one of Barack Obama's favorite desserts, American apple pie.


So when President Barack Obama was first elected and ready to move into the White House in 2009, we had been told by the advance team that he really likes pies. So we started to up our pie game and started making pie crust that I'm going to show you today.

Start out with chopped up butter, chopped small, and then we add our salt and all purpose flour. Now, this is important that we mix this together before we ever add any water. The reason for that is once you add the water, you start to develop the gluten, which are those strands that make a pie tough and sort of rubbery. So let it start to come together on its own.

You'll notice that this doesn't look like much. It looks like it's not finished. That's exactly what you want. So when you have a dough that's perfectly smooth, that means that all the gluten has been overdeveloped and you have a tough dough. What you really want to make a flaky dough is this sort of very crumbly, falling apart mess. Because after 24 hours in the refrigerator, or even, like, six hours, that's when all of the water is absorbed into the flour and you can roll it out into a very nice flaky pie crust. You see those big lumps of butter? That's no problem. That's going to disappear as we start to roll the dough out.

Similar to puff pastry, where you really add a thousand folds, with pie dough I find it helpful to fold it just a few times like this. And then again when you're rolling it out the next day. And that helps to increase the layers of flaky pastry.

You could compare a pie dough, in a way, it's kind of like a crude puff pastry in the sense that the butter is distributed throughout and then in the oven, the butter expands, releases its water, which evaporates into steam, and that's what makes for flaky pastry.

Making this pie always reminds me of the first time that I met President Barack Obama. In 2009, you may remember, there was a huge financial crisis. The country was really in trouble. The economy was tanking. Lehman Brothers folded. And the president had just come into office. So that first week, there was no time for meeting new staff and getting to know one another. But after about the first 10 days, things calmed down a little bit. And there was time for us to meet the new president.

So we were all called into the East Room, the largest room in the White House. And the president went around the room, one by one, meeting everyone and having a word with them. During that whole time, Susie Morrison and myself, the two pastry chefs at the White House, we had heard that the president loves pies. So we really brought it on. We made pies every day, delicious pies, different kind of pies. And so as he was going around the room, we were waiting to get our compliments. We were waiting to hear how great our pies were. That's not exactly what happened.

So as he had these very cordial relationships, saying hi to everybody around the room, when he got to us and we were introduced as the pastry chefs, he said, "Oh, it's you, " in a very accusatory way. "Stop making those pies. You're going to make me as fat as Taft if I keep eating pies every day." We got off to a rocky start, but we improved things from there.

So we wrapped our pie dough. We're going to let this set overnight so the flour really absorbs all the water. And tomorrow we're going to roll it out.

Luckily, I already had some pie dough ready, so we'll dig into it now. There are many honors bestowed by the president of the United States on people who serve their country. And since the only thing I really know how to do is bake, I was proud that he used the term-- a nickname for me, that was the crust master. So I can think of no greater compliment. Once you have a name like that, you have to live up to it.

I sort of started to look into pie dough. And some of the things I learned are keep your dough cold. Working by hand is one of the best ways to work with pie dough. Most recipes will tell you, use minimal flour. Only as much as you need. Yes, that's true. But for the beginner, or the person that's working in a warm kitchen, let's put it that way, use all the flour you need. You're not really hurting it by adding flour to the recipe.

One of the frustrating things about making pies, which turn people off to the whole process, is they will be rolling out their pie dough as I'm doing now, and everything seems to be going great. Oh, fine, it's rolling thin, it's doing exactly what I want. But what they don't realize is that it's sticking to the counter. So they keep going like this. And all of a sudden, they're tugging at their pie dough, oh, it won't come off. And by the time they do, they rip it off, rip the whole thing in half. So here's the biggest secret I can share with you. Flip your pie dough often, even when you think it's not ready.

The next step is going to be to cut out our circle. You may or may not have the right size circle. You can usually find a plate or a platter in your kitchen that's just the right size, such as this one. So we're going to cut this out. And there we have our perfect circle pie crust.

Now this part is going to be used for the top, so you can push it back together and refrigerate it again.

Many people ask me, what kind of apples should I use in my apple pie? If you are only going to use one apple, I would recommend Golden Delicious. It has a nice firm texture. It bakes into a soft, sort of almost pudding-like consistency. But some people, myself included, like a little more variety in the type of apples that they mix into their pie. So in this case, we have Granny Smith and Honeycrisp. So Fuji apples, Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, almost any apple besides-- no Red Delicious. Those just don't work in pies.

We're going to peel our apples and slice them into nice bite-size chunks. The filling is a simple recipe. We have cinnamon and sugar. We're going to add that and toss it in with our apples. Make sure that it gets evenly distributed. The next step is to add the honey. At that point we go to the stove and begin to cook the filling.

You already know how important I believe food is for people, for communities, and especially for families. So one of the stories that President Obama often tells is that when he was running for campaigns for senator, and for president, of course, he was often taken away from home. He was on the road. He couldn't be with his family. And, of course, his girls were quite young at the time so it hurt him to be away. And as hard as the job of president is, it did have that one benefit that his office is a five-minute walk away from his residence.

So he would go every day to the Oval Office and be back in time for dinner at 6:30 every single day. And that includes the times when he was traveling. So with Air Force One, if he was anywhere east of the Mississippi, he would be back in the house by 6:30. Of course, if he was on the West Coast it's not as easy. But there were very few dinners that I remember-- his family dinners at home where he was not present at the table with Mrs. Obama and the girls.

You'll see these apples will start to give up their juices, and they'll become-- there'll be a lot of liquid on the bottom of this pan. And once it starts to produce all the apple juice, then we're going to add what's called a slurry. That is cornstarch and cold water. And once that goes in, that's going to bind all that apple juice that has sunk to the bottom of the pan. These juices that you see now, they're delicious, but they also will tend to go down to the bottom of the pie and make the bottom soggy. That's what we're trying to avoid by adding our cornstarch. Some people add potato starch, tapioca, all of those starches help to keep the juices from flowing out into the pie crust.

OK, now look at the difference. Where's the liquid? It all was absorbed by the cornstarch and now it becomes this wonderful, creamy, delicious filling. When you cut the slice of pie, it doesn't all ooze all over the plate. So there's a gentle balance between, you want some ooze, but you don't want it all over the plate. This is the perfect amount here, where it holds up together, but just gives a little slight ooze, which makes the whole experience of pie eating something above and beyond.


So this is the process. We have our piecrust here. The foil keeps it in place. It's a flaky dough. If you bake it on its own it will puff up too high. This is going to be pre-baked 30 minutes at 350 degrees. It's going to be golden brown. Then we take it out, let it cool, and we put our apple filling into this pie crust, pre-baked, and with egg wash we seal the edge, egg wash the top. And we take this raw pie dough, put it on the top, cut vents. Now we're going to add the egg wash and the granulated sugar on top. And then we bake the whole pie again, 350 for 30 minutes.

In the newspapers and television, you often hear, sort of, these wild stories about presidential behavior. One of the funny ones about President Obama was that every night he had seven almonds set aside for a snack at exactly 10:00 PM. Knowing that he was very disciplined and conscientious person, that one's probably true. It was probably seven, maybe eight, but not nine. And it was probably exactly at 10:00 PM.

Time to take the pie out. There is our beautiful apple pie. So I made many of these apple pies at the White House during the Obama years. Brings back great memories. Not only about the baking, but about the family themselves. President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama, devoted to each other, just so supportive of each other. In a way, very independent people-- remember, both had careers, strong careers before they ever came to the White House. In fact, President Obama was Mrs. Obama's intern when he first met her. They had this wonderful kind of synergy, this wonderful supportive relationship.

I think the best example of that and kind of the most endearing moment was for his 50th birthday, she gave a speech at the birthday party with just full support and loyalty and devotion to her chosen partner. It was really moving. Everyone who was there, was just, like, stunned silence. It was such a beautiful tribute to each other and to their marriage.

You know, pies shouldn't be eaten directly out of the oven, but I think we can break that rule.

Am I allowed to say I like it? Apple pie is hard to beat. There is-- people always ask, is there a difference between President Bush and President Obama? When it comes to pie, I think it's one of the things they agree on, maybe one of the few things. But there is one major difference, and that is that President Bush would always ask for pie a la mode. Do I get ice cream with that? President Obama, no, is more the pure experience, just pie, that's it. It was an honor and a pleasure to work for both families. And I'm happy to share that time with you here.