A is for Apples

In this case . . . Apple Pie. The other day my family and I were planning an upcoming meal and we got to talking about comfort foods; those foods that either remind you of your home or the foods that seem to wrap you in a warm embrace and chase away any hint of a bad day. One of the first dishes mentioned was Apple Pie; warm apple pie spiced with cinnamon and a pinch of cloves and nutmeg and made perfect with a generous scoop of vanilla bean ice cream or a large dollop of fresh whipped cream.

My mom taught me to make apple pie. Or rather, she taught me the science part of making apple pie, which is in the crust. She taught me the secret to a great apple pie is not actually in the apples (though these are important . . . more about these later), but in the pastry crust. Specifically, it’s about proportions; too much fat and the crust will be too heavy, too little and it will fall apart. In our family we have routinely used the recipe from the back of the Crisco package. It is easily and successfully doubled if needed - perfect for double crusts or for freezing half the recipe for another day. Here is a video on how to make the perfect pie crust.

Back to those apples. From experience, it is best to use a firmer baking apple else the apples will cook down too much and you will end up with an apple “sauce” pie. For this reason, I choose either Braeburn, Granny Smith or Gala apples. These are best used when they are fresh and firm, as this is when their pectin will lend to a more successful filling as the pie cools; too little pectin and the filling remains runny. For a more interesting taste, you could try mixing more than one type of apple, as long as their firmness is the same so that all the apple pieces will cook evenly.

Apples and cheese are a great combination and often I will include slices of sharp cheddar in my apple pie. This is common in a number of American recipes, and my Canadian friends look puzzled when I describe this addition. That is, until they try it and then . . ah hah! . . . they understand.

Below is my family recipe for Apple Cheddar Pie:

8 cups peeled, cored and sliced baking apples, preferably Braeburn, Granny Smith or Gala
½ cup all purpose flour
½ cup sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
¼ tsp ground cloves
½ cup raisins (optional)
8 slices sharp cheddar cheese (not processed slices)
1 egg yolk, beaten
1 double crust for 10” pie, rolled out and ready to use

Place one layer of pastry dough into 10” pie plate. Cover with moist tea towel so that it won’t dry out. Set second pastry layer aside. This will be the top.

In a large bowl, mix flour, sugar, spices and raisins. Add sliced apples and toss to coat. Arrange apples with spice mixture in unbaked pie shell. Place slices of cheddar cheese in a single layer over apples. Cover with second pastry layer. Trim, seal and crimp edges as shown in the above photo. With a sharp knife, cut decorative slits into the top pastry to allow for steam to rise. Brush pastry with beaten egg yolk.

Fold lengths of aluminum foil into strips about 3 inches wide. Gently wrap crimped edges of pastry dough with foil strips. This will prevent the pastry edges from burning.

Place pie in center of a 425F / 220C oven and bake for 20 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350F/175C and continue baking for 30 more minutes. Remove aluminum strips and bake a final 10 minutes.

Remove hot pie from oven and allow to stand and cool for at least 30 minutes before slicing. This will allow for the pie to start to set; cut too soon and the filling will still be runny and escape out of the crust. Serve warm with vanilla bean ice cream or fresh whipped cream.

Warm apple pie with hot tea on a cold day or just when you are feeling a little out of sorts is a great way to give yourself a little comfort and lift your spirits.(it is also a perfect way to cheer up a grumpy spouse or to earn a “Get Out of Jail Free” pass).

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