The house we rent has the most miraculous apple tree. Last year, we harvested buckets and buckets of huge red-green apples. They grew so tightly on the branch that, in removing one, three or four more would fall to the ground. There were too many even for the worms to keep up with. At the end of the harvest, though, the gardener came by and pollarded its branches back to the quick and, I’m sorry to say, this year there were no apples. I’ve been obsessively monitoring and scavenging other peoples, and finding ways to use any and all that come to me so as not to waste the resource (although I understand that returning to the soil and providing food for animals are also legitimate uses of the resource). It helps that it’s the Jewish New Year, for which, at least in the Eastern European tradition, eating apples is auspicious for a round and sweet year to come. And I enjoy the English pride in local heirloom apple varieties, similar to what I grew up with in the northeastern US, and with some overlap – but I’ve barely begun to scratch the surface of tasting all the colorfully named fruits.
One of my favourite ways to eat apples is with sharp cheddar. I’d be happy to make a daily habit of lunch consisting of alternating slices of apple and cheese. But variety is good, too, and baked goods are another perfectly good way to eat up a glut (whatever that is) of apples and, if you’re so lucky, cheese. Hence this pie, based on Williams-Sonoma’s recipe. I like to use a good Canadian or Welsh cheddar as many of the cheaper English varieties have a certain flavour-note that I don’t get on with. Fortunately my mother-in-law’s tree was heaving with apples this year, so when we brought her back to Cambridge – with a bucketful – it seemed like a good opportunity to try the recipe which, while a bit long and fiddly, benefits from the detail.
With its crisp, flaky, cheesy crust and melting apples, this pie did not last long.
For the dough:
315 g (2.5 cups) plain (all-purpose) flour
2 tsp salt
1 Tbs sugar
170 g sharp cheddar cheese, finely grated
225 g (2 sticks) frozen unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch dice
75 to 120 ml (1/3 to 1/2 cup) ice water
For the filling:
1.75 kg (3.5 lbs) cooking apples, peeled, cored and cut into slices 1/4 inch thick
1 1/2 lb. Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and cut into slices 1/4 inch thick
3/4 cup sugar
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
3 Tbsp cornstarch
2 Tbsp cream
In the food processor bowl – without processing, yet – add the flour, salt, sugar and cheddar, breaking apart any large clumps of cheese. Put the diced butter on top and put bowl in the freezer for 10 min.
When the mixture is chilled, return the bowl to the machine and pulse until combined, about 25 to 30 pulses. Add 1/3 cup of the ice water and pulse twice. The dough should hold together when squeezed with your fingers. If it is crumbly, add 1 Tbsp more water at a time, pulsing twice after each. Divide dough in half and shape each half into a disk. Wrap the disks separately in cling film and refrigerate for a good hour or more; the dough is much easier to work with if quite cold.
While preparing your apples, have lemon juice ready in the bottom of a large bowl, and toss the slices in the lemon juice as you go along. Add sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt, and stir to combine. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes to 1 hour.
Rolling out the bottom crust:
While the apples etc. are macerating, remove one dough disk from the refrigerator. Flour a smooth work surface. Peel back the cling film partway, and place dough on the work surface. With the cling film on top, roll the dough into a 12-inch round about 3/16 inch thick, evening out by hand any uneven edges. Scraping it up if you need to, drape the rolled-out dough onto your rolling pin; transfer it to an ungreased pie dish and press into the dish Trim the edges if needed to leave a 1/2-inch overhang. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 200°C (400°F).
Reduce the apple/lemon juice as follows, to produce a glaze for the apples: Remove the juice by draining apples through a sieve over a small saucepan, then transfer the apples to a large bowl. Heat the juices over medium-high, add 1 Tbsp butter and cook until reduced to 1/3 cup, 3 to 5 minutes, then remove from heat. Sprinkle the cornstarch over the apples and toss to combine, then stir in the reduced juices. Transfer apples with juice to the pie shell.
Rolling out the top crust:
As above, roll out the remaining dough disk into a 12-inch round about 3/16 inch thick. Drape the dough over the apples and press gently to eliminate air pockets. Trim the dough flush with the rim of the dish. Fold the bottom crust over the top crust and squidge the top and bottom together as decoratively as you’d like; I did it with my fingers. Cut slits in the top of the crust to allow steam to escape. Brush the top of the crust with the cream.
Bake for 20 minutes at 200°C. Cover the edges and top with aluminum foil if they begin to get too dark. Reduce the oven temperature to 175°C and continue to bake until the apples are easily pierced with a knife and crust is nicely browned, 65 to 70 minutes more. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool for at least 1 1/2 hours before serving, or eat warm, with poured cream or vanilla ice cream.