This is the third incarnation of my Apple-Cranberry Pie, with the same apples, same basic crumble, but a different crust. The crust here, an all-butter version, is from Cindy Mushet's terrific Art & Soul of Baking.
For the apples in this version of the pie-in-progress, I used a mixture of sweet and tart baking apples. There are so many varieties of apples to choose from, and everyone has their favorites. I like to mix and match apples according to sweetness and texture. I choose some that are tart, some that are sweet; some that hold their shape well after baking, some that break down to fill in the gaps. You can use whatever is available to you. Some of my favorites:
- Golden Delicious
- Granny Smith
With Thanksgiving nearly upon us, pie has been on my mind a lot. In my family, I'm the designated Thanksgiving pie baker, and for our dinners (we have 2), I bake at least 8. For years, I've used the same recipe, given to me over a decade ago by a college roommate. It's a good, serviceable recipe made with cold water and shortening. It holds together well and doesn't distingrate overnight in the fridge, even under juicy fruit pies. But in the flavor department, it's a bit bland.
So lately, I've been experimenting with different types of crust ~ all vegetable shortening with added flavoring agents like sugar and spices, recipes that use part shortening and part butter, and crusts made with all butter and no shortening.
All the crusts I attempted turned out well texture-wise. If you pay attention to a few basics of technique, you can achieve a really good texture using just shortening. However, it's not too tough to imagine that the all-butter crust won the day as far as flavor is concerned. Really, it's head and shoulders above the all-shortening version, and if you're willing to put in the little bit of extra effort required to work with an all-butter pastry, I think it's worth choosing over the butter plus shortening version.
Butter has a lower melting temperature than shortening does, so if you're new to pie crust or your kitchen is really, really warm, you may want to work with a blend of shortening and butter. If you decide to make an all-butter crust, please don't ignore the recipe instructions that suggest freezing the butter and using very cold water to make the dough. Also, be sure to allow for plenty of chilling time between mixing the dough and rolling it out.
Why chill the dough for 30 minutes? This has two effects. First, it firms up the butter in the dough, making the pastry easier to work with and less likely to fall apart in the oven. Second, it gives the butter a chance to permeate and lubricate the flour particles. Ever drop a potato chip or a cookie crumb on a piece of paper and come back to find it's made a grease spot the size of a quarter? A similar effect is taking place here. The butter is essentially moisturizing the flour and making the dough more supple. Don't skip this - it'll be worth it later in frustration saved when you reach the rolling-out stage.
Apple-Cranberry Pie with Oatmeal-Pecan Crumble
For the crust (adapted from The Art and Soul of Baking, pages 177~178)*:
- 1 stick (4 ounces) cold unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch pieces
- 3 to 4 tablespoons cold water
- 1¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1½ teaspoons sugar (omit for a savory crust)
- ¼ teaspoon salt
For the Filling:
- 6 large baking apples (about 7 cups sliced)
- 1/4 cup brown sugar (more to taste if your apples are really tart)
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 3 tablespoons flour
- 1/3 cup dried sweetened cranberries
For the Crumble:
- 1/4 cup (1/2 stick, or 4 tablespoons) butter at room temperature
- 1/2 cup oats (rolled or quick cooking; not instant)
- 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
- 1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 cup broken pecan halves
- Freeze the butter pieces for at least 20 minutes. Refrigerate the water until ready to use.
- Mix the dough: Place the dry ingredients in the bowl of the food processor. Process briefly to blend. Add butter pieces and pulse in 1-second bursts until the butter and flour mixture looks like crushed crackers and peas.
- Place butter-flour mixture in large bowl. Sprinkle a tablespoon of cold water over the mixture and “fluff” it with a fork, then add additional 2 or 3 tablespoons, one at a time. Continue to fluff and stir 10 or 12 times. It will not be a cohesive dough at this point but a bowl of shaggy crumbs and clumps of dough. Test it for the correct moisture content. Take a handful of the mixture and squeeze firmly. If the clump falls apart and looks dry, push large, moist clumps to the side of the bowl and add more water, one teaspoon at a time, sprinkling it over the dryest part of the mixture; immediately stir or mix it in. Test again before adding any more water. Repeat, if needed. The dough is done when most of it holds together. If it feels very soft at this stage, refrigerate before continuing. If it feels cold and firm, continue to the next step.
- Turn the dough onto a work surface and knead gently 3 to 6 times. If it won’t come together and looks very dry, return it to the bowl and add another teaspoon or two of water (one at a time), mixing in as above, and try again. Flatten the dough into a 6- or 7-inch disk, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for 30 minutes. This allows time for the dough to hydrate fully and for the butter to firm up again. At this point, the dough can be refrigerated for up to 2 days, or double-wrapped in plastic and frozen for up to 1 month in a freezer bag.
- If the dough has been refrigerated for more than 30 minutes, it may be very firm and will crack if you try to roll it. Let it sit on the counter for 10 to 15 minutes. Dust your work surface and the top of the dough generously with flour. Roll, turning the dough, until you’ve got a 14- to 15-inch circle about 1/8 inch thick.
- Place the dough carefully into the pan, lifting it slightly to ease it into the crevices of the pan. Do not stretch or pull the dough, which can cause breakage or shrinkage during baking.
- Trim the dough using a pair of kitchen scissors so it overhangs the edge of the pan by 1 inch. Fold the overhanging dough under itself around the pan edge, then crimp or form a decorative border. Chill for 30 minutes before baking.
- While crust is chilling, preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Place apple slices in a mixing bowl and sprinkle with sugar, cinnamon, and flour. Toss to coat apple slices evenly. Scatter cranberries over apples and toss again.
- In a separate mixing bowl, cut butter into oats, brown sugar, flour, and cinnamon until the mixture is well mixed and no dry flour remains. Mix in pecans.
- Arrange apple-cranberry mixture in prepared pie crust. Scatter crumb topping over the filling, making an effort to cover all the apples. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes, then lower heat to 350 degrees and continue to bake.
- If the crumb/nut topping is browning too quickly, lay a piece of aluminum foil loosely over the surface of the pie. Bake at 350 for 30 to 40 minutes, until crust is golden brown and you can see fruit juices bubbling up around the edges. To test for doneness, insert a paring knife into the center of the pie. It should meet with only slight resistance as it passes through the fruit. Length of baking time will depend on how thick you cut your apples.
- Remove from oven and let stand for at least 20 minutes before cutting. Service with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream as desired.
- Don't be intimidated by the idea of making a pie crust. Even if every crust you've made in the past has had the approximate character of linoleum, with a little attention to your technique, you can produce a flaky, delicious crust.
- Regarding pie pans: My favorite pie pans are my 9" Pyrex dishes. I have all kinds of pans for pie, from the standard Baker's Secret variety to 50-year-old bakery tins with perforations punched through the bottom, and my favorites are still the Pyrex. First off, I can see how the crust is coming along. Sometimes the top crust browns quickly but the bottom crust is still pale and flabby. There's no hiding a pale, flabby bottom in a Pyrex pan! Just be sure to get the clear, colorless ones.
- If you don't have a food processor, you can use a pastry blender. It takes a bit of elbow grease to work the frozen butter in, but it will come out just fine. If you don't have a pastry blender, I suggest you get one! But in the meantime, you can use two knives (in a crosswise scissoring motion) or a fork or even your fingertips. If you use the latter, you'll have to refrigerate the crumbs after this stage.
- Don't work the butter all the way into the flour to form uniformly small crumbs. You want some larger pieces to remain, "crackers and peas" as Mushet says. This allows the larger pieces of butter to melt down while baking, creating pockets in the pastry that achieve the flaky outcome that is so desirable.
- The recipe calls for very cold water. I use ice water. I put a few ice cubes in a measuring cup and top it off with water. Then I use a tablespoon to measure the water out of there.
- You don't need to glaze your crust, especially with an all-butter crust. However, if you wish, you can brush your crust with a bit of milk, cream, or beaten egg and sprinkle with turbinado or other coarse sugar.
*You can find Cindy Mushet's complete commentary on ~ as well as the full recipe for her Flaky Pie Dough ~ here. Above is my shortened version, adapted from her wonderful book, The Art and Soul of Baking.
**If the oatmeal-pecan crumble and apple-cranberry filling sound familiar, it's because they are!Both made an earlier appearance as Brown Sugar Apple-Cranberry Crisp. The ingredients are modified a little to accommodate the pie pan vs. casserole dish swap, but overall, the recipes are quite similar. Craving apple pie and don't have time for a crust? Make the crisp!