Thursday, August 18, 2011

Happy 100th, Gladys!
What’s cooking? Apple Pie with Cheddar Crust

Yesterday was my mother-in-law’s 100th birthday. At a two-day celebration last weekend, she allowed as how she thought she was finally ready to offer advice if anyone wanted some. Sure, when she was born, there were no televisions or cell phones or computers. There also were no radio broadcasts (1920), no Band-Aids (1920) or hair dryers (1920), no automobiles with combustion engines (1920), no bras (1913) or Q-Tips (1920) or Kool-Aid (1927), and no penicillin (1928). It’s hard for me to even imagine that world.

Gladys didn’t have anything to do with bringing combustion engines or Band-Aids or Kool-Aid into our lives; but with her husband, she did raise three children to be good and responsible citizens. And I was lucky enough to meet one of them and marry him.

When she was in the 5th or 6th grade, Gladys and five friends established themselves as the Pollyanna Club. They wanted to keep the club small and special, so even when one of the girls moved away, they didn’t replace her. The motto of the Pollyanna Club was “Have a good time”; so, according to Gladys, “We had saved some money and were going to give it to the Red Cross, but we decided to go out to dinner instead.” Now, that’s my kind of group.

Gladys shares her birthday with Davy Crockett, Mae West, writers Ted Hughes and V.S. Naipaul, actors Robert DeNiro and Sean Penn, and the millionaire art collector and philanthropist John Hay Whitney. Lots of accomplishments there, but none of them could make an apple pie like hers.

She never wrote down the recipe, and now it’s been too many years since she rolled one out; but she assures me there was nothing in the filling but apples and cinnamon and a little sugar. The following recipe, which is adapted from the September 2009 issue of Gourmet, is a real keeper, with much the same flavor of Gladys’s pie. I’m particularly fond of the bit of cheese in the crust – it adds to the flakiness, and the combo of cheese with apples is a perennial favorite.

Kitchen Goddess tips on pie-making:

 #1: Be sure to leave small bits of butter unincorporated – unlike the creaming process for cakes, where the mixture should be smooth – to produce little pockets of air in your crust, for flakiness.

#2: To keep the dough from sticking (my major problem in disasters past), follow the directions to chill it well before rolling it out, and throw down plenty of flour on the counter. Rotate the dough a quarter turn after each couple of swipes with the rolling pin. Roll with even, steady strokes all across the dough circle until you get it down to a ⅛-inch thickness.

#3: The milk wash, brushed over the exposed part of the crust, will help it brown and will add to the flavor of the crust because of the natural sugar in the milk.

Apple Pie with Cheddar Crust, adapted from Gourmet magazine, September 2009

For pastry:
2½ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ pound extra-sharp Cheddar (preferably white), coarsely grated (2½ cups)
1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch pieces
¼ cup cold vegetable shortening, cut into ½-inch pieces
6-8 tablespoons ice water
1 tablespoon milk (for brushing on crust)

For filling:
1½ pound Gala apples (3 medium)
1½ pound Granny Smith apples (3 medium)
⅔ cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
¼ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon cold unsalted butter

Make pastry dough: 
Stir together flour, salt, and cheese in a large bowl (or pulse in a food processor). Add butter and shortening and blend with your fingertips or a pastry blender (or pulse) just until mixture resembles coarse meal with some roughly pea-size butter lumps. Drizzle 6 tablespoons ice water evenly over mixture and gently stir with a fork (or pulse) until incorporated.

Squeeze a small handful: If dough doesn't hold together, add more ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time, stirring (or pulsing) until incorporated. Do not overwork dough or pastry will be tough.

Turn out dough onto a work surface and divide in half, then form each half into a 5" disk. Chill, wrapped in plastic wrap, until firm, at least 1 hour.

Make filling and bake pie: 
Put a large baking sheet in the middle of the oven and preheat oven to 450°F.

Peel and core apples, then slice ¼-inch thick. Toss apples with sugar, cinnamon, flour, lemon juice, and salt until evenly coated.

Roll out 1 piece of dough (keep remaining disk chilled) on a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin into a 13" round. Fit into a 9" pie plate. Roll out remaining piece of dough into an 11" round.

Transfer filling to shell. Dot with butter, then cover with the 11" pastry round. Trim edges, leaving a ½-inch overhang. Press edges together to seal, then fold under. Lightly brush top crust with milk, then cut 5 (1-inch-long) vents.

Bake on hot baking sheet 20 minutes. Reduce oven to 375°F and bake until crust is golden-brown and filling is bubbling, about 40 minutes more. Cool to warm or room temperature, 2-3 hours.

Note: Dough can be chilled up to 2 days or frozen up to 3 months.


  1. Lee, since I missed having lunch with you today, I'm looking at your blog for the first time. Love the photo of Jim's mom, and I HAVE to make the divinity fudge. It sure brings back memories for me! Cathy

  2. Thanks, Cathy -- so glad you like it! We missed you yesterday.