09 September 2013

Almond Crunch Apple Pie

For the last three years, my college cohorts and I have gotten together once annually for a weekend of reminiscent debauchery.  In the past, weddings in the Pacific Northwest we our justification for the cost of bi-costal plane tickets.  This year, we changed things up by going East for a fabulous Labor Day weekend in NYC.  Think of the video from "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" over the Napoleon Dynamite soundtrack.  Heck yeah!  Since there were no weddings this year, we decided to gather for the first of our group's big three-oh's.  The unexpected fun of a pregnancy announcement and surprise engagement was cause for even more celebration.  It was all fabulous - the ladies, the weekend, the city.  The only part of the Big Apple that I missed was a slice of pie.  Which for some reason, I took a little too close to heart.  After all, it's just pie, right?  Wrong.  So when my bossy pregnant friend demanded a post inspired by our weekend together, it was pretty obvious what I'd have to make.  Bust our your pairing knife, because it's time for some apple pie.

For clarity, I really should elaborate this "missed" pie.  Tragically brokenhearted is really a more better description for my feelings on the matter.  On Saturday we went to Smorgasburg to sample the best street food that the city has to offer.  Upon finding a pie booth, I practically squealed with delight.  I mean, I am probably the biggest pie fan since Little Jack Horner.  I love a fresh fruit pie.   When I overheard someone say they had apple, my Pacific Northwest heart swelled up like a bushel basket in September.  I downed my spring rolls and headed off for a slice of apple goodness.  But upon reaching the booth, I was informed that their fresh fruit was....peach.  *Sigh*  We all know how I feel about peach pie.  Once my heart finished deflating and a cone of consolation ice cream had been eaten, we were able to go about our weekend.  I decided that if they didn't have my pie, I would make it myself.  Gosh!

On a side note, I have an amazing friend who once bought a mango, took it to a Thai restaurant and asked them to make him mango sticky rice.  He had a craving.  And they made the rice.  The end.

They say an apple a day keeps the doctor away....but then I married a medical student.  Hmm....oh well.  Apples are one of my very favorite fruits.  Much 'em raw, bake them in muffins, stir them into oatmeal...regardless of how they're served up, I love apples.  So naturally, I love apple pie.  I mean, it's the American way, right?  Just think about it...every year we gather at the holiday with our family, friends and neighbors, and without fail there is an apple pie there to help us celebrate.  Someone is sure to bring Grandma's Secret Recipe or Ms. Freezer Isle to the table.  But out of all the years of pies I've eaten, the ones that stand out are those that have a little something special.  Apple is apple, but add in a graham cracker crust, marzipan, fresh cranberries or brandy....now you've got something memorable.

After years of trial and error, I have come up with my staple pie - almond apple.  Just enough flavor and texture to really make it exciting, but not so much that it looses the goodness of your Grandma's classic deep dish.  Now I do a few things that some people may not agree with, starting with the crust.  First, I go with a lattice top for the slightly higher apple-to-crust ratio.  Second, my crust is typically half whole grain of some sort.  This is the thing that some some find shocking.  I happen to love the hearty robust flavor that wheat, rye and buckwheat bring to the baking dish.  Unfortunately, it also means that my pies are often a bit craggily-looking as the dough is trickier to work with.  Bottom line - make the crust that makes you happy.  You can enjoy a white flour two-crust pie just as much as a lattice-top rye, as pictured here.

This pie gives you twice the almond with your apple.  First, nice, thin layer of almond paste spread evenly over the bottom crust provides deliciously sweet nuttiness in every bite.  Second, a sprinkling of chopped almonds over the top of the apples adds a fabulous crunch not typically found in a two-crust pie.  It also happens to look really lovely when the little bits of almond peek out through the lattice top.  Slivered almonds are great if you want a subtler crunch, but I really like chopped almonds for their rustic look and feel.

When it comes to apples for pies, you must have Granny Smith.  Going halfsies with a slightly milder apple such as a Gala, Braeburn or McIntosh makes for a great balance of sweet and tart that is sure to please a crowd.  But for this pie, I like to go 100% Grandma-style and keep exclusively to those sour green beauties.  The almond paste and sugar work really well to balance our their tartness and keep the pie from being overly sour.  After all, I like a little bite to my pie.  But if you know your household prefers a sweeter pie, go for your favorite combo and just add the almond elements.  Kind of like the crust....just listen to your heart.  That's what Napoleon always does.

In closing, I thank my ladies for being so lovely, my pies for being so appley and the fall for its approaching bounty.  And the hubs for stopping me before I ate this pie on my own.

Almond Crunch Apple Pie (one nine-inch pie)

  • one recipe Mom's Double Pie Crust (below)
  • 3+ lbs Granny Smith apples, or any combo you prefer (about 7-8 medium)
  • 1 tbs fresh lemon juice
  • 3/4 c sugar
  • 2 tbs flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 5-6 oz almond paste
  • 1/3 c almonds, chopped (slivered is nice for a subtler crunch)
  • 1 egg white
  • 1 tbs additional sugar, to garnish (I like turbinado here)

Make your crust according to directions.  Position an oven rack in the center of the oven, then place a rimmed baking sheet on top of the rack.  Pre-heat the oven to 500 degrees.

While the oven heats, make your filling.  Peel the apples with a pairing knife or vegetable peeler, then cut all the peeled apples into quarters.  Remove the cores, then slice each section into thin slices (anywhere from 1/8 to 1/4 inch).  Transfer the apples to a large bowl as you slice, then sprinkle with the lemon juice and toss to coat.  Add the sugar, flour, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg to the bowl and toss again until all the apples are evenly coated.  Set aside.  

On a well floured baking mat or other surface, roll out the first piece of dough, flouring as needed to prevent sticking, until you have a 12-inch round.  Transfer the first round to the pie dish by gently rolling around your rolling pin, lifting over the dish and unrolling over the plate.  Gently press the bottom crust into the pan, then spread with the almond paste.  Lay the sliced apples in single layer across the bottom of the crust, layering upwards and keeping a level plane as you go (this step is optional, but helps reduce the dreaded top-crust dome by minimizing apple shrinkage).  Pour the juices over the top of the apples.

On the cutting board you used for the apples, chop your almonds.  Sprinkle over the apples in the crust before returning to your second piece of dough.  Roll out the second piece into a 13-inch round, then slice into equally sized strips.  Lay half of your strips of dough across the pie in one direction, then weave the remaining strips through the first half in the opposite direction.  Amazing visuals and detailed instructions are given here by Deb at Smitten Kitchen

Mom's Double Pie Crust (passed down from Grandma, of course)
  • 2 c flour (up to half whole grain flour, if you so choose)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2/3 c + 2 tbs shortening (or butter-shortening combo)
  • 4-5 tbs ice water
Combine the flour and salt in a large, wide-rimmed bowl.  Cut the shortening or butter to the dry ingredients with two forks or a pastry blender until the shortening is pea-sized.  Add the ice water a tablespoon at a time, tossing lightly until the dough is moist enough to form a ball.  Handle the dough lightly and gently once the water is added and when rolling out the crust - mixing too makes it tough.  Form the dough into two disks and wrap in plastic wrap.  Refrigerate for 30 minutes before rolling.  

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