With Christmas approaching and South Florida's ever-so-slight autumnal chill in the air, I embarked on a baking frenzy.
I gathered fall fruits -- apples, pears, dried cherries -- and let them fill my home with the aromas of my Northeast childhood, where bushels of apples like Honeycrisps, Idareds and dozens you never heard of flew from fruit stands and farmers markets.
Then I went to work on some cooking. I tried Southern Living's apple-pear-cherry pie from the October/November issue of Fine Cooking magazine and an apple crisp from Ruth Reichl's new book "Ruth Reichl, My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life."
If you want to go beyond a traditional apple filling, you'll love the apple-pear-cherry pie. Fine Cookings' editor, Jennifer Armentrout, took over the mantle as chief pie maker from her father, who always baked the family's holiday pies until he passed away. She inherited his pie pans and rolling pin and soon began playing in the kitchen.
She came up with this recipe when trying to find a pie that could be assembled ahead and baked from the freezer -- a godsend during the hyperbusy holiday season. The pears and cherries, which are plumped by poaching in a simple syrup, make for a fabulous filling, warmed with cinnamon and fresh nutmeg.
Best? You can assemble the pie ahead of time, freeze it, then pop it in the oven from the freezer. "There are not that many recipes out there with pies that you can do this with," Armentrout said. "And make sure you have some left over. I absolutely love this pie for breakfast."
If making a pie crust from scratch scares you, Reichl's apple crisp is the perfect antidote. It's simpler and melts in your mouth like warm applesauce touched with lemon, cinnamon and brown sugar.
For the filling:
- Half a cup granulated sugar.
- One cup dried tart cherries.
- Two pounds (about four large) firm, tart apples such as Braeburn, Jonagold or Pink Lady.
- One pound (about three medium) firm-ripe pears such as Anjou.
- Three tablespoons all-purpose flour.
- Half a teaspoon ground cinnamon.
- Quarter teaspoon ground nutmeg.
- Pinch of kosher salt.
- Two cups (nine ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour.
- Two tablespoons granulated sugar.
- Half a teaspoon kosher salt.
- Eight ounces (one cup) very cold unsalted butter cut into half-inch cubes..
- Two tablespoons to a quarter cup ice-cold water.
- One egg yolk, beaten.
- Two tablespoons heavy cream or milk.
In a small saucepan, combine a wuarter cup of the sugar with half a cup water; bring to a boil. Add the dried cherries and simmer for three minutes. Set aside to cool to room temperature. Drain. (Save the liquid to drizzle on ice cream.)
Peel, core and cut the apples and pears into one-third-inch-thick slices. In a large bowl, toss the apples, pears and cherries with the remaining quarter cup sugar, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Set aside.
Put the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large bowl, if mixing by hand). Mix for a second or two to blend. Add the butter, and with the mixer on low or by hand with a pastry cutter, work the mixture until it's crumbly and the largest pieces of butter are no bigger than a pea, about two minutes.
Test the butter to make sure it is still cold enough by collecting a small amount and molding it into a small cube. If after handling it your fingers are greasy, refrigerate the mixture for 15 minutes before proceeding.
With the mixer still on low (or tossing with a fork if mixing by hand), sprinkle two tablespoons of the cold water evenly over the flour and butter. Work the dough until it just pulls together in a shaggy mass, adding more water, if needed, one teaspoon at a time. Divide the dough in half and pat each piece into a disk; refrigerate one piece.
On a floured work surface, roll the other piece of dough into a 12-inch circle, turning the dough and reflouring as necessary to prevent sticking. Transfer the dough to a nine-inch pie plate, fitting it into the plate without stretching. Trim so that there is 1 inch of dough hanging over the edge of the plate. Pour the filling into the pie shell and press down with your palms to arrange it evenly. (This will keep the apples from poking holes in the top crust.)
Refrigerate while you roll out the other half of the dough. Roll out the other piece of dough the same way as the first half. Drape it over the pie and trim the edge of the top crust to the same size as the bottom. Roll the edges together and under so they rest on the rim of the pie plate and form a tall edge. Crimp the edge, making sure the crusts are sealed. Vent the top by poking the tip of a paring knife through it in a few places.
Wrap the pie in plastic wrap and freeze for at least a day. (If freezing for more than a day, also wrap in foil.)
Position a rack at the bottom of the oven. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and set it on the rack. Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl, whisk the egg yolk with the milk or cream. Brush the top of the pie with the egg wash (you won't need it all). The egg wash may freeze as you are applying it; re-pierce the steam vents if they become clogged.
Bake on the heated baking sheet until the crust is deep golden and the juices are bubbling, about one hour and 45 minutes. If the edges start to get too dark, loosely drape foil around the sides or cover the edges with a pie guard. Cool on a rack to room temperature, about four hours, before serving.
Per serving: 400 calories, 17 g fat, 10 g saturated fat, 4 g protein, 61 g carbohydrates, 55 mg cholesterol, 60 mg sodium, 5 g fiber. Yield: Eight servings.
- Five to six heirloom apples.
- Juice of one lemon.
- Two-thirds of a cup flour.
- Two-third of a cup brown sugar.
- Salt to taste.
- Cinnamon to taste.
- Six tablespoons unsalted butter.
Peel a few different kinds of apples, enjoying the way they shrug reluctantly out of their skins. Core, slice and layer the apples into a buttered pie plate or baking dish and toss them with the juice of the lemon.
Mix the flour with the brown sugar, and add a dash of salt and a grating of fresh cinnamon. Using two knives -- or just your fingers -- cut in the butter, then pat the mixture over the top of the fruit.
The cooking time is forgiving; you can put your crisp into a 375-degree oven and pretty much forget it for 45 minutes to an hour. The juices should be bubbling a bit at the edges; the top should be crisp, golden and fragrant. Serve warm, with a pitcher of cream. It makes you feel grateful for fall.
Yield: Eight servings.