Of the many debates that rage among bakers in this season of apple pies – variety, thick slices or thin, white sugar or brown (and how much), to peel or not to peel – there is one that gets far less attention than it deserves: how best to marry our delicious, American made Cheddar cheese and our beloved apple pie.
I spent a couple of decades in New England, where old timers took the literal approach: they simply cut a slab of Cheddar the size of a granite countertop, placed it atop a slice of hot apple pie, and dug in. Coming from the Old School myself, there’s much to be said for this no-nonsense marriage of flavors.
Then there’s the Cheddar-IN-the-pie contingent. Practitioners cover the apples with grated Cheddar, attach the top pastry, and bake. I’ve tried this, and it’s utterly charming when the pie is warm and the cheese melty, but it’s decidedly less so when the pie has cooled and the cheese is semi-vulcanized. Think cold grilled cheese sandwich.
Further out on the fringe is the Cheddar cheese sauce crowd, but even I – who’ve spun hundreds of creative pie variations in my books – am reluctant to try and sell the idea of Welsh rarebit apple pie to the public.
No, to my mind there is only one best way to combine Cheddar and apple pie, and that’s with a Cheddar cheese crust.
A Cheddar cheese crust is all about subtlety. What it lacks in Old School slab-o-cheese appeal, it makes up for with a delicate but distinct Cheddar taste that literally wraps your apples in cheesy flavor: you can’t take a bite without experiencing Cheddar serenity.
There’s also the beautiful Cheddar cheese crusted hue. As pie makers we grow accustomed to crusts in varying shades of earthen brown. But seldom does a top crust seduce us with a vibrant palette of oranges and ochers like a Cheddar crust does. It’s a real feast for the eyes.
As a practical matter, you can get an awful lot of mileage out of a Cheddar crust. It’s another arrow in your quiver of versatile pastry recipes, one that works beautifully with quiches, meat pies, pot pies, and turnovers.
There isn’t much that you can – or should attempt to – do to an apple Cheddar pie to improve its taste appeal. Fiddle too much and you run the risk of hitting a sour note that throws the whole shebang out of flavor alignment. If you are game, however, one addition that DOES work beautifully is walnuts, especially when you pan toast them in butter. Not only do you get the walnut flavor, but there’s the lingering, roasty-toasty brown butter essence, too. (Note: the browned butter will also darken the filling a bit, but you’ll hardly notice with the brown sugar for sweetener.)
Generally speaking, I prefer to let my fruit pies cool off for several hours before serving so the juices can set up and reabsorb into the fruit. Not here. The cheese flavor is more pronounced when the pie is still good and warm, so I try to serve this within an hour or so after it comes out of the oven. The filling might be a little on the juicy side, but that’s fine.
Incidentally, you’ll want to use a good sharp or extra-sharp Cheddar, one with lots of flavor and a lower moisture content. It makes the best crust.
So please, don’t miss out on this classic pairing of apples and Cheddar. You’re going to love this pie, and discover a real soft spot for taking cheese in your crust.
(SCROLL ALL THE WAY DOWN FOR THE RECIPE)
Countdown to the Lowcountry Pie Getaway
The Pie Academy’s first Lowcountry Pie Getaway is just about a week away now, and – sheesh! – are we ever busy tuning up our curriculum, planning the menus, and attending to all the details we’re certain will make this an unforgettable experience for our attendees. (By the way, there’s still time to secure a spot if you want to get in on the fun. Just send as an email using the contact tab at the top.)
My wife Bev and I are looking forward to all of it, and the fact that we finally get to meet some of you, bake with you, and otherwise share a fabulous weekend with members of The Pie Academy community.
That said, I thought it would be fun to ask a few of the attendees what inspired them to sign up and join us. Here is a sampling of their comments.
Nick from Reading, MA writes that he is a “pie-making neophyte” and very much looking forward to the Getaway. “I enjoy the helpful tips from your website, and hope the hands-on instruction and coaching will help me ‘master’ the art of making delicious pies (especially apple!) I fully expect to enjoy the company of fellow pie enthusiasts, the sights and sounds of Savannah, and of course some delicious pies! It should be a fun and tasty weekend!”
Nick, we fully expect to enjoy your company, too. As we do Carolyn from nearby in South Carolina.
Says Carolyn: “I’m excited about the Pie Getaway because I’m hoping to finally get the hang of pie crust! It looks like it should be so easy, but mine never looks right. They taste great, but they’re ugly.”
Carolyn, rest assured that ugly pies are just part of the journey, but we’re going to do our best to make sure you learn exactly what you need to know so your pies look gorgeous from now on.
Finally, pie friends and collaborators Megan and Shelby, who are flying in from New Hampshire, sent us this: “Whenever we’re confused about something, curious, or otherwise wondering, the phrase most often uttered in the the kitchen is ‘Well, what does Ken say?’ This is further evidenced by my copy of PIE, which is quite literally falling apart at the seams. For us, the prospect of personal attention from Ken himself was a HUGE factor in exploring the Lowcountry Pie Getaway. This is an opportunity we could not pass up and we simply can’t wait to go!”
I feel like this (one) video alone was worth the price of the whole course. My pie crusts have always crumbled when I tried to shape them into a disk and now I know what I was missing. Thanks Ken!
That’s what one Pie Academy member emailed last week after viewing video #4 – all about shaping your dough disk and getting it ready to roll – in our brand new video course, The No-More-Tears Pie Pastry Course. Naturally, I love and appreciate comments like that, and it’s great to have the interactive comment forum where you can ask me questions as you progress through the material. Pie season is about to go into overdrive, so if you’d like to fast track your way to legendary pie maker status, you can read all about it here.