Week 9: when cheddar cheese and an apple pie really love each other…

One of the very first pies I made when I was a teenager just starting to teach myself how to bake, was an apple pie with a cheddar cheese crust. The recipe came from a Gourmet magazine which made me feel a little snooty but in a good way, like I was starting to know things about the world of food that existed far beyond my middle-of-nowhere town. (Note: I loved that middle-of-nowhere town a lot, but it is a sad thing that I had never even seen – let alone eaten – an avocado until I was past twenty). It was a funny thing that I chose this recipe, because I had never gone for the slice-of-cheese-with-pie experience, and almost nobody in my family enjoyed that either. So I can’t say what inspired me to make this particular pie, but am I ever glad I did. Everyone loved it. Everyone thought it was pie heaven.

That pie taught me some of my first lessons about pastry, and it was a very forgiving place to start. It helped me discover that it really does matter the type of apple you use, that cold pie from the fridge can sometimes taste even better than warm pie, and that a deep dish pie is something extraordinary to behold. Making that pie made me feel proud, like I had accomplished something impressive and worth celebrating.

The Gourmet magazine is long gone, but thank goodness I copied the recipe into a notebook of my grandmother’s recipes a long time ago. This week I was inspired by that pie. I decided to try another cheddar crust apple pie and compare, but I’ll have to make the original before I tell you which one wins. If you like salty / sweet and if you like a slice of cheese with your apple pie, then you will certainly be satisfied by this pie experience. And the smell when it’s baking… lemony, cinnamon, apple-buttery goodness. It made me remember those first days baking in my mom’s kitchen.

Apple Pie with Cheddar Cheese Crust
(a mash-up of the recipes from Ken Haedrich’s Pie and Martha Stewart’s New Pies and Tarts and my original Gourmet recipe)

Crust
2 3/4 cups all purpose flour
2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into little pieces
1/2 cup cold vegetable shortening, cut into little pieces
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 cup ice water
egg yolk and water
coarse sugar

Filling
7 cups worth of peeled, cored, and sliced tart / firm apples (I used Honeycrisp – my new pie apple of choice. They are tart, but they are awesome).
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup honey
1 1/2 tbsp cornstarch
pinch of salt
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp cold unsalted butter, in little pieces

1. Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl and toss to mix. Scatter the butter and shortening over the dry ingredients and toss to mix. With your fingers or with a pastry blender, rub or cut the butter into the flour until you have mostly pea-sized bits. Add the cheese at this point and cut in. Sprinkle half of the water over and toss with a fork. Add the rest of the water a tbsp at a time and toss and mix being sure to get the flour that likes to hang out at the bottom of the bowl. Continue to do this until the pastry can be packed. Pack it into two balls, making one slightly larger than the other (which will be the bottom crust). Flatten each ball into disks and then wrap in plastic. Refrigerate at least an hour or overnight.

2. Roll the larger disk out into a 13-inch circle and then invert over a 9 1/2 inch deep dish pie plate. Tuck the pastry in and let the overhang hang, then put in the fridge for 15 minutes while you get on with the filling.

3. Combine the apples with the lemon juice and all but 2 tbsp of the sugar in a large bowl and let it juice up for about 10 minutes.

4. Mix the 2 tbsp of sugar with the cornstarch and salt in a little bowl and once the apples have juiced up, toss that over the fruit. Pour the honey over and stir to mix into the apples. Turn the filling into the chilled shell and dot it with the butter bits.

5. Roll out the top crust to about a 12-inch circle. Now would be the moment to do any cut-outs if you wish. Moisten the rim of the lower crust with a little water and then drape the top crust over. Press them together. If you need to, trip the pastry to leave about 1/2-inch overhang. Make an upstanding ridge and crimp if you like. Create vents with a sharp knife. Preheat the oven to 400º. Chill the pie for about half an hour in the fridge.

6. Brush the crust with egg wash (yolk + 1 tbsp water) and sprinkle with sanding sugar. Place on a baking tray lined with parchment on the center rack and bake for 30 minutes and then reduce the temperature to 375º and rotate the pie a half-turn. Bake until the top is golden and the juices are bubbling thickly, about 35-40 minutes. Tent the pie with foil if it is browning too fast.

7. Let it cool completely before serving.

8. Be happy. It is beautiful.

I am thinking it might add to the pie’s beauty if the little hearts did not brown so fast. Perhaps next time, to bring the pie even closer to perfectionhood, I would put the little hearts on after it had baked a while. I think that the cheese also adds to the fast-browning factor.

I made this pie on a cold, rainy Fall day, and it felt like just the right thing to be doing as the rain came down on the grey afternoon. I listened to mellow jazzy music and felt all was right in my small piece of the world. You really need to try that.

Blue Ribbon for Best-Trip-Down-Memory-Lane pie

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