Thursday, December 02, 2010

Mile High Apple Pie with Spicy Caramel Sauce

I eat apples year round -- they've been a favorite (and daily) snack since I was a child -- but I especially look forward to apple season each year. I'm smitten with fresh-from-the-orchard heirloom varieties brimming with crispy crunch and bright flavor. I'm particularly fond of Sierra Beauties, which I discovered in 1994 and, quite by accident, made into the best pie ever. (Sorry to toot my own horn, but...1994, guys! Sierra Beauties are that good.)

Sadly, this year apple season pretty much passed me by. But I am enjoying the last few late-harvest organic Arkansas Black apples from Whole Foods, and I did manage to turn a pile of humble Granny Smiths into a Mile High Apple Pie for Thanksgiving.

Spicy and comforting, this pie even has a sauce. I highly recommend you make it for your next gathering or random craving. I know it looks like a lot of steps, but I'm nothing if not overly-descriptive. Making it is a simple, satisfying endeavor.

Mile High Apple Pie with Spicy Caramel Sauce
Makes one 8- or 9-inch pie

Perfect dough for double-crust pie:
2/3 cup cold water
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, measured with the scoop and sweep method
3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks or 12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, very cold, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 cup (4 tablespoons) cream cheese, very cold, cut into 1-inch pieces
5 tablespoons vegetable shortening, very cold

9 medium Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and cut into eighths
Juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (or 1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste)
1 tablespoon apple brandy or liquor of choice (optional)
3/4 cup brown sugar, tightly packed
1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
Pinch ground cloves
1/4 cup heavy cream
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 cup half and half
Granulated or sanding sugar

Egg wash:
1 large egg yolk
2 tablespoons water, milk, cream or half and half (don't say I don't give you choices)

1. Make the pie dough:
Dough can be made in a large bowl with a pastry cutter, in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a food processor.
- Dissolve salt in water and keep it very cold. (I make the saltwater in a glass measuring cup and set it in the freezer.)
- Cut butter into flour just until large pea-sized lumps remain.
- Add cream cheese and vegetable shortening and gently stir, mix or pulse until the cheese and shortening are just incorporated. Big shaggy lumps should remain.
- Add water in a slow, steady stream -- all the while gently stirring, mixing or pulsing -- until dough just comes together.
- Transfer dough to a floured surface, knead gently a few times and cut in half. Shape into balls, flatten into discs about 1 inch thick, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

2. Blind bake the bottom crust:
- Heat oven to 350 degrees F.
- Remove one pie dough disc from refrigerator and place it on a floured surface. Roll to a 10-inch circle and place it in an 8- or 9-inch pie dish with deep sides (at least 1-1/2 inches).
- Gently press dough into the corners and sides of dish and trim edges to no more than 1/4 inch from the top edge.  (Dough will shrink as it bakes.) Prick all over with a fork, line with parchment, fill with beans or pie weights, and "blind bake" for about 30 minutes or until evenly browned.
Note: I use the dough scraps to make decorative shapes for the top crust. Gather the scraps into a ball, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, macerate the filling:
- In the biggest bowl you can find, toss the apples with lemon, vanilla, brandy, sugar, flour, salt and spices. Let sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes. 

4. Roll out the top crust:
- Remove the second dough disc (not the ball of scraps) from the refrigerator and roll out as instructed above, except this time make an 11-inch round.
- Cut a 1-1/2 inch circle (or other shape if you have small cookie or pie cutters) from the middle.

5. Make egg wash:
- In a small bowl, whisk the egg yolk with the water, milk, half and half or cream. 

6. Assemble pie:
- Add cream to the macerated apples, toss to combine, and transfer apples with half their juices to the bottom crust, piling high in the middle.
- Dot apples with the 4 tablespoons cold butter pieces.
- Center and lay top crust over apples, gently pressing it against them to avoid big air pockets.
- Use a pastry brush to apply egg wash to edges of bottom crust (I know this seems weird because the bottom crust is baked; work with me here), then press the top crust firmly against the bottom crust to form a seal. (The egg wash glues the crusts together.)
- Trim excess dough from around the edges and place pie in the refrigerator while you cut decorative shapes from the dough scraps.

7. Decorate and bake:
- On a floured surface, roll the ball(s) of scraps into a rectangle and cut decorative shapes such as leaves, apples or whatever strikes your fancy.
- Brush both sides of your decorative shapes with egg wash, remove pie from the refrigerator, and glue the pieces to the edges of the crust (they look quite pretty if they slightly overlap).
- Brush the surface of the top crust with egg wash, sprinkle with sugar and, if you have extra decorative pieces, glue them randomly or in a pattern on the surface of the crust.
- Prick crust with a fork if you like, for extra ventilation.
- Bake for about 45 minutes to an hour, or until the crust is nicely browned and the apples are soft and bubbling. (Tent with foil if the crust browns too quickly.)
- Remove from oven to cool and set. Serve warm, with ice cream and caramel sauce.

8. Make the caramel sauce:
- Bring reserved juices from macerating the apples to a simmer over medium-low heat.
- Cook, stirring constantly, until thickened, 1-2 minutes.
- Slowly stir in the half and half and cook for another minute or two. Serve warm, for drizzling over pie.

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