The minute I saw the recipe online, I knew it was the pie I wanted to make for Thanksgiving. It had cheddar cheese worked into the crust, a savory contrast against the apples. It had a crumbly, buttery streusel topping studded with walnuts. And, wowzer of wowzers, it had chilies tossed into the fruit for a brilliant, zingy, heat-seeking high note. This was apple pie to impress, to devastate.
My dad and I made the pie together on the Wednesday before the holiday. We were cooking dinner at the same time (spaghetti bolognese with a side of garlic-chili broccoli) so we lingered over the apples, chilled the crust between swipes of the rolling pin, allowed the chilies to fully release their power before adding another, and then another. We slid the pie into the oven and ate our supper as it baked. When the timer dinged, it emerged all bubbly, golden and fragrant.
There could have been a happy ending to this story. We could have cooled the pie and then cut slices of it, my father, mother, husband and I. We could have tucked in and relished it, analyzed it, savored it. Instead we wrapped it in tin foil and left it on the sideboard overnight.
Thanksgiving day dawned bright and balmy. And harried. Six o’clock in the morning found me running around with wet hair shoving clothes into a duffle bag and duffle bags onto a luggage cart, rushing to get on the road to New York before traffic hit. The (superior) apple pie went into a bag with a couple of store-bought (inferior) pies, which we trundled towards the front door.
I heard it hit before I saw it, a sickening clunk of butter, apples, cheese and sugar followed by the shatter of the pie dish. The pie lay crumpled on the ground, embedded with shards of ceramic. Its exposed underside revealed a flaky crust streaked with cheese, the apples smelled sweetly cinnamoned, a puddle of juice seeped from its crumbs. We couldn’t even take a second to mourn its demise. A wad of paper towels and a plastic bag later, I sent the pie down the trash chute to crash four floors below into the dumpster. We flipped the lights, locked the door behind us, hurried onto the highway for the seven-hour drive north.
That evening we ate (inferior) pumpkin and pecan pies, as well as my pumpkin cheesecake, which survived to reign over all the other desserts. But the memory of the lost apple pie haunted me. I needed redemption. Back in Washington on Sunday, I bought apples, chilies and cheese to bake another pie. But when I got home, I remembered I no longer had a pie plate. I ordered one immediately, but thanks to Cyber Monday madness, it hasn’t even shipped yet. It’ll probably arrive sometime in February. In the meantime, here’s the superior apple pie recipe so you can bake your own. Please, help me find redemption vicariously through you.
Apple and chile pie with a cheddar crust
Adapted from the New York Times
For the crust:
1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons chilled butter, cut into small cubes
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
For the filling:
5 apples, peeled and sliced (I used a combination of Granny Smith and Honeycrisp)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1-2 chiles (I used serrano)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup cornstarch
For the streusel topping:
1/2 cup white flour
1/2 cup pine nuts (or walnuts)
1/4 cup brown sugar
4 tablespoons butter, melted
In a mixing bowl, combine the flour and salt. Add the cubed butter and rub into the flour with clean fingertips, until the fat has been mostly combined into the flour and a few pea-sized lumps remain. Stir in the cheddar cheese. Add ice water 1 tablespoon at a time, until the mixture just comes together in a almost-crumbly dough. Gather into a ball, flatten into a disk, wrap loosely in plastic and chill for one hour, preferably overnight.
To make the filling, in a large bowl combine the apples, lemon juice, sugar, spices and salt. Finely chop one chili and stir it in. Taste a slice or two of apple and add another minced chili if desired. Stir the cornstarch into the fruit.
Roll out the dough between two sheets of plastic into a circle, about 11 inches in diameter. Transfer to a 9-inch pie plate and turn the edges under, pinching them to make a pretty zig-zagged rim. Freeze until ready to fill the pie.
Make the streusel topping by combining the flour, pine nuts (or walnuts) and sugar. Drizzle the melted butter on top and stir into the dry ingredients until crumbly.
With a slotted spoon or kitchen tongs, lift the apple slices from their released juices and pile them into the pie crust. Drizzle 2 tablespoons of the apple liquid on top of the fruit. Sprinkle the streusel on top. Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 375 degrees Fahrenheit and bake for 30 minutes, until the juices bubble and the crust is golden. Cool slightly and eat as soon as possible, before pie-tastrophe strikes.