If you are looking to eat healthily in preparation for Halloween and the slough of feast-centric holidays that follow it, read no further. If you have no such concerns and want a delicious sweet and savory dessert that’s as American as apple pie (get it?) to drool over while you watch the last presidential debate, continue on, kindred spirit.
This weekend was another great for Fall foods. After consuming over 48 ounces (yes, I counted) of soup at the Smith Street Soup Festival on Saturday and half a dozen oysters at Bierkraft’s Shucktoberfest, Sunday was devoted to Enid’s Tenth Annual Apple Pie Competition in Greenpoint. I did not hear about this competition until this past Wednesday, and that meant little time for developing the perfect pie. Indeed, I ended up making two pies on Sunday just so I could have at least one trial one before submitting myself to the judges’ criticism. Maybe it was also so that Harry and I could devour a generous third (okay, near half) of the practice pie before we even got to the competition. It was time and effort well spent.
And while this pie did not end up winning any awards, it seemed to be an audience favorite, being the first to get pulverized when the judges were done cutting samples for themselves and the throngs of apple-pie-starved hipsters were released from their bar stools. The judge I got to speak with said the pie’s only shortcoming was structure—it fell apart somewhat once it was cut into. If only this were something I could have foreseen, and either cooled my pie more or used a touch more cornstarch. Alas, the bacon was cooked beyond perfection, the spices were ideally balanced, but the goopy-ness got me.
But judges be damned, this is the best apple pie I’ve ever made and I won’t alter the recipe one bit, save for allowing more cooling time and maybe putting a cut-out of an animal on the top (this seemed to be a common theme with this year’s winners). Fellow gluttons, I give you: Cheddar-Crusted Apple Pie with Bacon Lattice. It’s sweet, it’s savory. It’s not your mother’s apple pie, but that’s okay, because it’s better. It’s a giant Cheez It filled with apples and a sauce that tastes somewhat like spiced caramel, all secured by a generous helping of maple-syrup-candied bacon. These are all truths, and I am not sorry if they have distracted you from the half-lies of the presidential debate.
Cheddar-Crusted Apple Pie with Bacon Lattice (A Real American Pie)
Crust (makes two crusts):
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
14 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks
4 ounces fresh, coarsely grated sharp cheddar cheese (I used a mix of white and yellow cheddar cheese.)
2/3 cup ice water
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
7-10 medium size apples, cored, peeled, and cut into 1/8 inch wedges (I recommend a mix of Granny Smith and Cortland, but use whatever you like best. Be mindful of the sweetness of the apples and cut back on the sugar if you are using very sweet apples.)
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
½ – 1 teaspoon cornstarch (use closer to 1 teaspoon for a thicker filling)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon Krupnik, a Polish honey liqueur (Whiskey will also do, but the Krupnik was my homage to Greenpoint’s and my own Polish roots. Krupnik also makes for excellent drinking while baking. Na zdrowie!)
3/4 pound thick-cut applewood smoked bacon (Any thick-cut bacon will do, but I recommend going to a butcher shop and requesting especially thick cuts.)
1/3 cup maple sryup
The crust should be prepared several hours prior to the rest of the recipe or, even better, the previous day. In a food processor fitted with a metal blade, process the flour, salt, and sugar. Add the butter and process until the butter appears as small pea-sized lumps. Add the cheddar cheese, and pulse only enough to incorporate. Add the water while processing, and stop as soon as the dough has formed. Be careful not to use too much or too little water. The dough should be somewhat sticky, but it should also be easy to roll into a ball. Roll the dough into two balls, wrap each in plastic wrap, and store in the fridge for up to 2 days or the freezer for up to 3 months. Let the dough cool in the fridge for at least an hour before rolling it out.
On a lightly floured surface (or one covered in plastic wrap—this approach is flawless), use a lightly floured rolling pin to roll out the dough. Make sure you roll it out so that the area of the crust is somewhat larger than the area of the pie dish. Once you are done rolling, carefully fit the crust into the pie dish, and smoosh (yes, this is an official baking term) any overhang back onto the top edge of the pie dish, creating a nice thick rim to the crust. Cover the pie dish and crust in aluminum foil and place in the freezer until you are ready to pour in the filling.
Next prepare the lattice. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Weave strips of bacon together to form a basket weave that will cover the area of the pie. Place this on the aluminum foil. Cover with another sheet of aluminum foil, and finally with another baking sheet. This weighs down the bacon and prevents it from wilting in the oven. Place in the oven and cook for 15-25 minutes, depending on thickness. Remove the bacon when it is not fully cooked, but has slightly browned. Place on a paper-towel-lined plate to absorb excess grease (or don’t). Don’t worry if you end up cooking the bacon more than you would have liked to in this initial step. Simply cut down on the final cooking time noted later.
Finally, you are ready to make the filling. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place the butter in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan, and melt it over low heat, letting it brown. Once the butter has browned, add half of the apples and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the apples soften. This should take about 10 minutes. Once they have softened, add the remainder of the apples, and the sugar and cornstarch. Mix well. Once the sugar has completely melted, stir in the vanilla extract, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and Krupnik. Cook these on low to medium heat, stirring occasionally, until you have a nice, thick, bubbly mixture. This will take around 5 minutes. Be wary of overcooking, but also make sure your mixture is somewhat thick. Remove the crust from the freezer, and line the edge of the pan with aluminum foil to protect the outer rim from excessive browning.
Pour the apple pie filling into the crust, and place in the oven. It will take a total of about 40-60 minutes for the apple pie to cook. Sometime during the first 30 minutes or so of baking, use a pastry brush to coat both sides of the bacon lattice with maple syrup. When there are about 10 minutes left in the cooking time, remove the aluminum foil rim from the pie, and place the bacon lattice on the pie, carefully tucking the edges into the filling. Your pie is done when the bacon lattice and the rim of the pie have slightly browned, and the filling is slightly bubbling.
This pie does best when it cools for at least an hour or two, though I have no expectation that you will wait that long to reach in for a bite.
Finally and most importantly, a big thank you to all of the friends and family that came out to the competition! If you didn’t get to try a piece of my pie, come on over. You bring the bacon, and I’ll make the pie.