The Sweetest (slightly salty, but in a good way) Holiday Gift You Can Give This Year.

Sometimes I wish I was an elf. I mean, think about it–all year-round, you work with no real sense of time, with all of your friends and family, to bring people that you may know–or may never even meet–happiness through something you build and create with your own two hands. And all the while, jammin’ out to the amazing Christmas albums of The Carpenters, Mariah Carey and Michael Buble. Sounds UH-MAZ, right?! Well…that’s how I imagine life as an elf any way.

image  image

So this year, I put on my elf (ears and) hat and tried to think of something that could accomplish all of the above–I wanted to make something that people could enjoy, together or on their own. It didn’t take long before I found myself in my kitchen. ;) I’ve been baking cookies out the wazoo lately, but this time I didn’t have multiple days off work to chain myself to the oven and whip up a variety of cookies worthy of gifting to my fabulous friends. I hit my books and magazines and blogs….but quickly found myself feeling a bit overwhelmed by the infinite possibilities. I needed a sign.

And then…it came to me “upon the midnight clear…” as I walked through Meatpacking and Chelsea with an angel of a friend :) and an inspirational trip to one of our havens–Anthropologie. There they were–beautiful, hand-painted pie dishes…and a perfect miniature size too. This way, you wouldn’t feel guilty if you opted-out of putting individual slices on plates and just decided to grab a couple forks and throw a heaping scoop of french vanilla ice cream on top of the whole pie. (Don’t lie. You know you’ve dreamt of that before too.)

So, pie it was. And to continue to feed my girl crush and send another shout out to the amazing Smitten Kitchen, I turned to my “has never failed me”, and Deb’s ever so simple “All Butter, Really Flaky Pie Dough” recipe. I’m telling you, with titles like that…well, she truly is a woman after my own heart.

ALL BUTTER, REALLY FLAKY PIE DOUGH
Source: Smitten Kitchen via Cooks Illustrated, November 2007

Makes enough for one 9-inch double-crust pie; but in my case here, it made two small 7-inch pie dishes with lattice tops for both.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 ½ cups flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon table salt
  • 2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, very cold
  • ¾ to 1 cup of ice cold water
DIRECTIONS
  1. Fill a one cup liquid measuring cup with water, and drop in a few ice cubes; set it aside. In a large bowl, whisk together 2 ½ cups flour, 1 tablespoon of sugar and a teaspoon of salt. Dice two sticks (8 ounces or 1 cup) of very cold unsalted butter into ½-inch pieces.
  2. Sprinkle the butter cubes over the flour and begin working them in with the pastry blender, using it to scoop and redistribute the mixture as needed so all parts are worked evenly. You can use a food processor if you don’t want to get your hands dirty, but I often start with the pastry blender and then use my hands to carefully work the butter into the flour, until the butter pieces are about the size of tiny peas. Deb warns against over working the flour. I don’t question her.
  3. Next, drizzle ½ cup of the ice-cold water (but not the ice cubes) over the butter and flour mixture. Using a rubber or silicon spatula, gather the dough together. You will probably need an additional ¼ cup of cold water to bring it together, but add it a tablespoon as a time. Once you’re pulling large clumps with the spatula, take it out and get your hands in there. Gather the disparate damp clumps together into one mound, kneading them gently together.
  4. Divide the dough in half, and place each half on a large piece of plastic wrap. In my case this time, I created three small balls–two for the pie crusts and 1 to roll out for the lattice top. Let the dough chill in the fridge for 1-2 hours before rolling it out. You can also do this ahead and leave it in the fridge overnight or in the freezer if you are making it farther in advance, just don’t forget to wrap it up so it doesn’t start to smell like ‘frigerator, as my roommate always refers to it. Dough will keep in the fridge for about a week, and in the freezer longer. To defrost your dough, move it to the fridge for one day before using it.
SALTED CARAMEL APPLE PIE FILLING
 
image  image  image
image
 
INGREDIENTS
Salted Caramel
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • ½ cup pls 1 tablespoon heavy cream
  • 2 teaspoons flaky sea salt

Filling

  • Juice of 3 lemons
  • 4-6 apples depending on the size (any variety will work, I used Honeycrisps this time)
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 ½ tablespoons flour
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • Tiny pinch of ground cloves

Finish

  • 1 egg, beaten
  • Raw sugar
  • Flaky sea salt

DIRECTIONS

  1. Roll out your pie crusts and prepare in the pie dishes to keep cold (and covered) in the refrigerator. You can roll out your other dough ball/disc and cut into even strips for the lattice top, or feel free to get creative and use cookie cutters to make decorative shapes for a layered top instead. Keep these cold as well.

Salted Caramel Sauce

  1. Evenly spread out the sugar in a wide, heavy bottom skillet. I did not use a wide enough pan the first time, so my sugar did not melt evenly. Use the wider saucepan—it makes a difference.
  2. Over medium heat, melt the sugar until it turns a deep amber color (rather than stirring, give the pan an occasional shake to distribute the unmelted sugar if it starts to melt unevenly). This should take about 7 minutes depending on your stove and saucepan.
  3. Once all brown and melted, remove it from the head and count to 3, then slowly drizzle the heavy cream in, whisking as you pout. The caramel may seize and clump up a bit, but keep on whisking and it will slowly incorporate and smooth out. Quickly mix in the sea salt and set the caramel aside to cool.

Apple Pie Filling

  1. Peel and slice your apples (I used a mandolin for efficiency). Then take the slices and dice them into shapes about the size of quarters. If you prefer a different texture for your pie, go for it! While dicing, squeeze the juice of your lemons over the apples to prevent them from browning.
  2. Add sugar, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves to the apples. Toss until the slices are all evenly coated.

Pie Assembly

  1. Remove your piecrusts from the refrigerator and carefully scoop in the filling. I estimated and alternated 3 layers of each: apples, then caramel, then apples, then caramel, then apples one last time, and finally topped with caramel. Do not include all of the lemon juices that sit at the bottom of the bowl.
  2. Add your lattice top or decorative shapes.
  3. Brush with the egg wash and sprinkle raw sugar and a little sea salt on the top.
  4. Tear a couple strips of foil and wrap the strips carefully around the outer ring of the pie. This will help the edges from burning.

Bake 

  1. Bake at 400 degrees for 25 minutes, reduce the temperature to 350 degrees, remove the foil around the outside and bake for 30 more minutes.
  2. For my smaller pies, I did 375 degrees for 15 minutes, and then 350 degrees with no foil for another 20 minutes or until the top becomes golden brown.
  3. Allow the pie to cool for about 20-30 minutes so the filling can set before serving.
  4. Place pie in center of the table, add the heaping scoop of vanilla ice cream, hand out forks, and have #noshame.

image

Pie Storage Tips according to Betty:

  • Be sure to refrigerate pies containing eggs (pumpkin, custard and cream pies). Be aware that custard and cream pies do not freeze successfully.
  • Fruit pies keep at room temperature for two days; you can store them, loosely covered, in the refrigerator for up to two days longer. (In warm climates, always store fruit pies in the refrigerator.)
  • You can freeze both baked and unbaked pie crusts. An unbaked crust will keep for 2 months in the freezer; a baked crust will keep for 4 months.
  • To thaw a baked pie crust, unwrap and let stand at room temperature, or heat in the oven at 350°F for about 6 minutes.
  • Don’t thaw unbaked crusts; bake them right out of the freezer.
  • Freeze a baked fruit pie for later! For best results, first bake the pie and then place it uncovered in the freezer. When completely frozen, wrap the pie tightly or place in a plastic freezer bag and place back in the freezer. Frozen, baked fruit pies will keep up to 4 months.
  • To freeze an unbaked pie, wrap pie tightly or place in a plastic freezer bag (as you would a baked pie). Don’t cut slits in the top crust. Unbaked fruit pies will keep in the freezer up to 3 months. When you’re ready to bake, unwrap and carefully cut slits in the still-frozen top crust. Do not thaw. Bake at 425°F for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 375°F and bake 30 to 45 minutes longer or until crust is golden brown and juice begins to bubble through the slits.
  • To serve a frozen double-crust pie, unwrap and thaw at room temperature for 1 hour. Heat pie at 375°F on the lowest oven rack for 35 to 40 minutes or until warm.
There is something extremely gratifying about feeling the butter and flour mix between your fingertips. It’s close and comparable to the smell you experience when the caramel sauce starts to thicken on the stovetop. It’s the “I am making all of this from scratch and can feel and smell (and eventually taste!) all of the hard work that I am pouring into one beautiful piece of art” amazingness. My words can’t do it justice. You have to experience it for yourself….and I hope you make the time for yourself to do so.
  
image
I also hope that you get to enjoy the moment your recipient begins to carefully unwrap their delicate gift, only to find that the incredible smell of butter and flour and salted caramel and sweet apples has made its way to their noses before their other senses are able to decipher what it is. This is the magic of Christmas…or Hanukkah :) (one of my pies was, in fact a Hanukkah gift) or whatever it is you are celebrating at this time. Because let’s be honest–everything should be celebrated with homemade pie and good friends.
 
Be an elf year-round. The world needs more givers.
 
image