In high school, my go to recipe for stress baking was an apple-Gruyere pie inspired by the short-lived TV show Pushing Daisies. It was delicious and just technical enough to make me feel clever, so it was with great confidence that I turned to this pie for my first Eid in London. In the end, it tasted delicious, but my total inexperience with using British cooking apples meant that it was more apple-soup-with-a-top-crust than well-baked pastry with an apple filling. Determined to redeem myself, I revisited the recipe more than any other during my time in London, eventually getting a handle on the fruits and then turning to other tweaks, namely switching out the Gruyere for sharp English cheddar and never looking back.
Given last week’s pie disaster, it was probably ill-advised for me to immediately return to this category of desserts, but my deep and abiding love of fruit pies — and of this pie in particular — kind of made the decision for me.
My pursuit of pie perfection means that I’ve baked a lot of pies over the years, which means that I’ve forced my family and friends to eat a lot of pies over the years. They mostly do this without complaint, but over time I’ve been able to figure out everyone’s pie preferences: who detests cooked fruit in all but crumble form, who is willing to engage in a serving spoon swordfight for a piece of pecan pie.
My mother, for her part, is only in the pie-eating game for the crust. It’s gotten to a point where I go out of my way to make a little extra pastry to bake alongside any pie I make or, in the case of last week’s pie, make an extra half-recipe of the crushed cracker dough to create the thickest crust possible. My original recipe for this pie made almost a full crust’s worth of extra dough, which I would roll out and fold over a few times before re-rolling and baking them into cheesy crackers, all of which my mother would happily eat with her tea.
The day that I discovered slab pie, with its 70-30 crust to filling ratio, I knew I’d found the only pie my mother would ever want to eat, and I knew that if I ever developed a recipe for it, it would have to be the apple-cheddar variety.
The minute this one came out of the oven, bronzed and smelling of caramelized cheddar, it had her seal of approval. She’d probably even swordfight someone with a spoon for it.
Note: this pie dough is made using the slightly controversial food processor method. Admittedly, it runs the risk of overworking the dough, but it’s the best way I’ve found to fully incorporate the cheddar into the flour. You’re welcome to use your fingers or a pastry blender if you prefer either of these methods; just expect larger shreds of cheddar throughout your crust.
3 pounds Granny Smith apples
6 tablespoons granulated sugar
1⁄4 teaspoon table salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour (or cornstarch, if you prefer)
31⁄2 cups all-purpose flour
1⁄2 cup whole wheat flour
3⁄4 teaspoon table salt
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
6 ounces extra sharp cheddar, grated
8 ounces unsalted butter, cold
3 ounces vegetable shortening
1 cup ice water
1 egg, beaten with a splash of water
- Peel and core the apples, then chop them into a one-inch dice.
- Toss the apple pieces with the sugar, salt, and cinnamon and place in a colander over a bowl. Let the apples sit and release their juices while you prepare the pie crust.
- Dice the butter into half-inch cubes and place in the fridge until you need them.
- In a large bowl, whisk together both flours, the sugar, and the salt.
- Measure out two cups of the flour mixture into the bowl of a food processor, then add 3 ounces of the grated cheddar. Pulse 3-4 times in the food processor, or until uniform.
- Add 1.5 ounces of the shortening and 4 ounces of the diced butter to the flour mixture and pulse 3-4 times, or until the butter is in pea-sized pieces.
- Dump the flour-butter mixture into a medium bowl and spread it out. Drizzle up to 1⁄2 cup of ice water onto the flour, adding a tablespoon at a time and waiting for the water to absorb slightly before stirring the dough with a fork. Once the dough has come together in two or three large clumps, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and press it together into one ball. There shouldn’t be any big dry patches, but if there are, rub them into the dough with your fingertips.
- Slightly flatten the dough to shape it into a disk, then wrap it tightly with plastic wrap and let it rest in the fridge for at least one hour. (The dough will hold up in the fridge at this stage for two days, any more and I recommend freezing.)
- Repeat steps 5-8 with the remaining 2 cups of flour to make a second disk of dough.
- Once both doughs have rested for at least one hour, preheat the oven to 375° F (185° C). Line a 10″x15″ (25 cm x 38 cm) baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Discard the liquid that the apples have released, then sprinkle over the tablespoon of flour and toss to coat evenly.
- Lightly flour your work surface and rolling pin, then roll out the first disk of pie dough into a rectangular shape at least an inch larger than the baking sheet on all sides. Be sure to keep the dough moving and flip it over periodically so you can re-flour your surface and ensure the dough isn’t sticking. Once you’re done rolling, your dough should be about 1⁄4 inch thick.
- Keeping the lined baking sheet nearby, gently roll the dough up onto the rolling pin from its long side. Then, starting from about an inch away from the rim of the baking sheet, unroll the dough from the pin onto the sheet. Adjust the dough so there is at least one inch of overhang on each side, then gently lift the dough and settle it into the corners and edges of the pan, pressing lightly with your knuckle to make sure that it’s flush with the sides.
- Spread the apples out on top of the crust, making sure that they’re evenly distributed.
- Roll out the second crust to the same size as the first and transfer it to the baking sheet using the rolling pin.
- Use a sharp knife to trim the overhang on the top crust so that it is even with the bottom crust, then tightly press the two crusts together and seal, crimping either with your fingers or a fork.
- Brush the top pie crust all over with the beaten egg and water.
- With the knife, score the top crust in big slashes, exposing the fruit underneath so that steam can escape. Make at least six scores and try to evenly space them.
- Bake the pie on a center rack in the oven for 45 minutes or until golden brown. The juices from the apple should still be whistling when you take the pie out of the oven.
- Cool for at least 40 minutes before serving on the baking sheet, cut into square slices. (Or, if you’re paranoid about your bakeware like I am, cool for at least an hour, then turn out onto a cooling rack and then flip the pie from the cooling rack onto a large cutting board. Cut into square slices and serve from the safety of the cutting board.)