Wednesday, May 13, 2009

I’d been planning this year’s holiday feast when it occurred to me that my biggest culinary decision every year is dessert. Pumpkin pie? Apple pie? Both? I found it somewhat surprising, as I rarely have room for dessert after gorging on stuffing, potatoes and gravy. Oh, and a bit of turkey and ham. Yes, on Thanksgiving I can spread the table with carbohydrate packed foods and excuse it as tradition. Then of course I finish off that tradition by serving up deliciously sweet pies. Now I wonder how pie became the most common dessert presented at holiday tables.
While researching, an excerpt from an old Schoolhouse Rock video comes to mind, “Mother Necessity, with her good intentions, where would this country be without her inventions?” All great ideas were created out of a need to solve problems or make daily chores easier. As it turns out, this extends to pie crust as well. Pies were developed as a way to keep seasonal fruits and meats from spoiling. The double crust sealed in freshness, extending shelf-life of perishable foods and served as a vessel in which to cook the sweet or savory fillings. At serving time though, the crust would be discarded because it was too tough to eat. The most surprising information about pie at the table recalls the nursery rhyme, "Sing a Song of Sixpence". Apparently, even the fillings weren’t always meant to be eaten. Royal banquets featured the “animated pie" as a form of entertainment. A large pie crust containing anything from blackbirds to frogs and other small animals was presented at the table. When the crust was broke open the contents would be released to fly or hop out and entertain the diners.
Now that pies are eaten in whole, I’ve heard many friends and family say that making a pie crust is a daunting task for them. Producing a light and flaky crust can be a challenge, but sometimes making them pretty is an even bigger one. Using ice water and as little handling as possible, I’ve managed to make pretty good crusts but I struggle trying to scallop the edges. I use a knuckle pinching technique to avoid tearing a hole in the crust with my fingernails. It works, but it’s not very uniform. I’ll be honest; I’d give up pie before I gave up my nails. In order to save myself the pain of choosing, the following recipe has been a welcome addition to my pie collection. The flaky, freeform crust lets you present a beautiful apple pie without the worry of perfection.

Rustic Apple and Cranberry Pie
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons shortening
5-6 tablespoons ice water

2 1/2 lbs apples, peeled, cored, and sliced 1/4 inch thick (I use only Granny Smith but a mix is also nice.)
1/2 cup dried cranberries (I like the orange flavored cranberries too)
1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 pinch ground nutmeg

1 egg white, beaten
1 tablespoon sugar

PASTRY: Combine flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor fitted with a metal chopping blade; pulse to mix.
Add butter and shortening and pulse 5-8 more times until the mixture looks like coarse oatmeal. Sprinkle with 1/2 the water and pulse. Gradually add in more of the water, a Tablespoon at a time, until the dough holds together when pinched with your fingertips (you may not need all of it). Note: This can all be done by hand with a pastry blender as well.
On a floured surface, form the dough into a ball and then flatten into a disk. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and for up to 3 days.

FILLING: Toss apples, cranberries, 1/3 cup sugar, 2 tablespoons flour, and spices together in a large bowl; set aside.

BAKING AND ASSEMBLY: Preheat oven to 400°F Roll dough on a floured surface to make a 15 inch circle. Fold dough into quarters; place on a large baking sheet and unfold. Place filling in the center of the pastry, leaving a 2 1/2 border all around. Fold the pastry border over the filling (I fold this in several small sections- some pieces of the crust will overlap each other, and this is just how it should be; remember that it's a rustic pie). Brush pastry with egg white and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 25 minutes. Cover the pie with foil and bake for 15 minutes more. Cool on baking sheet on a wire rack. Cover and store pie at room temperature. Serves 12 Prep time: 30 minutes Cook time: 40 minutes

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TinksTreats by Lorilyn Tenney is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License