Way back when I was in high school, a thousand years ago, my Great Grammy sent me a copy of Good Housekeeping Best Recipes for 1998 (Good Housekeeping Annual Recipes) as a Christmas gift. She must have known something I didn’t because my cooking/baking skills at that point consisted of microwaved bagel bites, blue box mac n cheese, and roll-your-own, prepackaged Pillsbury (although I did make a mean peanut butter cookie from scratch).
I packed it away into my hope chest with the rest of my adulthood preparedness kit. I didn’t crack the spine until Thanksgiving a few years later when I was living in sin with my boyfriend (now hubs) in our first shitty apartment.
When I came upon a recipe for Vermont Cheddar Pie in my Grammy gifted cookbook, my guileless mind and palette were blown. So, I took on the challenge and made probably the ugliest, most humble pie ever baked. The crust was a wreck; uneven, overworked, and as far from flaky as possible. But, even back then I recognized that there was something special about this recipe and after years of practice, it is now a figurehead at our Thanksgiving and Christmas tables.
Over the years, I’ve adapted the original recipe into my own signature Apple Cheddar Pie, using my flaky and tender all butter vodka crust recipe and incorporating Tillamook extra sharp white cheddar. This pie is my most prized recipe of all time. I have my Great Grammy to thank for having the foresight to give me the gift baking inspiration.
I decided to step up my game and get creative with the crust for this version. As an ode to my Grammy for her insightful inspiration, I wanted to bake a pretty little pie that I know she’d be proud of. The lovely leafy pattern was ambitious, but it baked up beautifully. With a little patience and a fancy leaf cookie stamp, I know you all can recreate this beauty for your loved ones this holiday season.
Ok, let’s bake!
- all purpose flour - 2 1/2 cups
- unsalted butter, cold and cut into small 1/4" cubes - 1 cup (2 sticks)
- granulated sugar - 1 tablespoon
- salt - 1 teaspoon
- ice cold vodka - 1/4 cup
- ice cold water - 2-4 tablespoons
- grated sharp cheddar cheese (preferably white cheddar) - 1 cup
- tart crisp apples (I like Granny Smith and Honeycrisp) - 6-8 medium-large sized apples
- brown sugar - 1/2 cup
- granulated sugar - 1/2 cup
- lemon juice - 1 tablespoon
- cinnamon - 1 tablespoon (1 teaspoon if you are't a super fan of cinnamon)
- unsalted butter, cut into small pieces - 1-2 tablespoons
- egg at room temperature - 1
- sparkling or turbinado sugar - 1-2 tablespoons
- Mix the flour, sugar and salt in a mixing bowl with high sides.
- Blend the cold butter cubes into the dry ingredients using a food processor, pastry blender or the butter knife method. Stop mixing when the texture of the flour changes from silky to mealy; this shouldn't take long. Don’t worry if a few larger chunks of butter remain.
- Make a well in the flour mixture and drizzle the vodka in while gently pulsing in food processor or mixing with a fork or dough blender until fully incorporated. Check the hydration of the dough between each addition of water by gathering a small fistful; if it holds together, it’s ready. If the dough is still too dry, slowly add the water; 1 tablespoon at a time, testing the dough by pinching it occasionally.
- Be careful to add only as much water as it takes to combine the dough into a ball or disk. The exact amount of water can vary depending upon the moisture content of the flour, the quality of the butter, and the weather. When it has the proper amount of water, the dough will come together without much effort or deliberate packing. If you need to add more water, make sure the ingredients are still cold.
- Add the grated extra sharp cheddar and use dough blender or fork to roughly blend in the cheddar until just incorporated. Form the dough into two disks and wrap them in plastic. Chill for at least 1-2 hours before rolling and forming.
- Remove the dough disks from refrigerator and roll out the first disk onto a lightly floured surface into a 12" round about 1/4" - 1/8" thick.
- Gently transfer the dough disk into a 9" pan, leaving a 2" overhang all the way around. Tuck the edge underneath itself to form a ring around the edge of the pie plate and use a fork to create a crimped design around the edge. Place in the fridge.
- Roll the second dough disk into a round shape 1/4" - 1/8" thick. Use a cookie stamp or cookie cutter to cut out the leaf shapes, transfer them to a baking sheet and place in the freezer.
- Peel and core the apples and cut into 1/4" slices. Place in a large mixing bowl and toss with the lemon juice, sugars, and cinnamon. Set aside for at least 15 minutes so the juices begin to release from the apples.
- Preheat oven to 400°, if baking right away.
- Pour the apple filling into the bottom shell, forming a mound that is taller in the center of the pie. Dot the filling with 1- 2 tablespoons of small butter chunks.
- Top with the frozen dough leaves in desired pattern or to create this lovely leafy design. Begin by layering the leaves around the outer edge of the pie along the rim. Then keep adding concentric leaf circles (alternating directions) until you get to the middle. Be sure to layer the leaves so that natural vents are formed for the steam and heat to release while baking.
- At this point, you can either prepare the egg wash for baking or wrap in a layer of plastic wrap followed by a layer of aluminum foil to freeze. I actually prefer to make the pie ahead of time and freeze it, I think it bakes up even better if it's been frozen first.
- Prepare an egg wash by gently whisking the egg. Gently brush a thin layer of egg wash over the top crust. Sprinkle with sparkling or turbinado sugar. Place pie plate directly on a lined baking sheet for easier clean up.
- If baking immediately, bake at 400° for 20 minutes, then lower the temperature to 350° and bake for another 30-45 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through. Bake until the filling is bubbly and the crust turns a deep golden color, you may need to cover the edges and or/tent the pie to keep from over-browning.
- If baking a frozen pie, go directly from freezer to oven without thawing. Bake at 400° for 20 minutes, then lower the temperature to 350° and bake for another 45-55 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through. The frozen pie will take 10-30 minutes more to bake than an unfrozen pie. Bake until the filling is bubbly and the crust turns a deep golden color you may need to cover the edges and or/tent the pie to keep from over-browning.
- Allow to cool on a rack for at least 1 hour before cutting, I know it's hard. In the meantime, if you had leftover crust leaves, bake them at 350° for 10-15 minutes until golden brown. They will hold you over until the pie has cooled.
- *Cold ingredients are essential for creating a tender and flaky pie crust. Be sure that your butter, vodka and water are very cold. Also, give your dough plenty of time to chill before rolling it out (at least 1-2 hours).
- *When baking a frozen pie, go directly from the freezer to the oven without thawing. It will keep the crust from getting soggy.
- *If freezing, it's best to use a metal pie tin instead of glass or ceramic. I've hear horror stories of glass dishes exploding in ovens due to the drastic temperature change.
- *If you don't want to use vodka, you can replace it with either apple cider vinegar or ice cold water.