On car trips when I was younger, one of my favorite things to do was to torment my little brother. He would be tucked safely into his car seat minding his own business when I would attack. There was no tickling or hitting or poking involved -- that's just not my style. Instead, I launched a calculated verbal and psychological assault.
Despite the fact that we were usually in Tennessee or Kentucky at the time, I'd point out the window and scream, "HEY, look, it's Disney World!" His hopeful little face would whip around to see the happiest place on earth, only to be confronted with cornfields and the occasional disinterested cow. "Oh, you just missed it," I'd say, consoling him with a pat on the arm.
After he'd missed a few more Disney Worlds and a Sea World or two, he was about as frustrated as a hornet in a mason jar. His spluttering protests were met with one of those smug-big-sister shrugs on my part. "What?" I'd say, "I can't help it if you're turning around too slow."
Okay, so I was kind of a punk. In my defense, I was little. And he was usually a pill, I promise.
Anyway, huge counterexample aside, I'm actually a pretty trustworthy person. I don't know if Alex will ever trust me again, but you can.
One thing you should certainly trust me about is the fact that apple pies and cheddar cheese were made for each other. Some folks -- especially in my part of the world, it seems -- have never heard of this combo. People can be downright skeptical when you mention it.
I first heard about pairing apple pie and cheddar cheese only a few years ago. I was shocked to find out that this odd couple was an established and beloved tradition in some places. How had I missed out on this my entire life? I promptly ran to the grocery store, bought a mini apple pie and a block of sharp cheddar, and gave it a try. Turns out all those crazy New Englanders (love you guys!) weren't wrong: the sweet filling with the sharp cheese was a perfect match.
So what would be better than a slice of apple pie with a slice of cheddar cheese on top? How about a pie that fully integrates the apply and cheddary goodness? I created these mini apple pies with cheddar crusts to do just that. The cheddar crust is phenomenal -- I think I ate more of it raw than I used in the pies -- and I chose a sweet apple filling to balance it out. The result is a buttery, sweet-and-salty piece of heaven.
If this is the first time you've heard of the apple pie and cheddar combo, trust me -- all Disney Worlds and Sea Worlds aside -- when I say you have to try it. And if you've enjoyed a slice of apple pie with a hunk of cheddar on top, back me up: tell us how much you love it.
P.S.: Some folks have apparently been known to say, "An apple pie without the cheese is like a hug without the squeeze."
P.S. 2: Happy Pi Day -- only one day late. These little guys are worth the wait.
Mini Apple Pies with Cheddar Crusts
Recipe by: Adapted from my own pie crust and Betty Crocker's filling
Yield: 4 cupcake-sized apple pies and 10-12 mini apple-pies
4 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
10 ounces extra-sharp cheddar, grated
3/4 cup cold lard (non-hydrogenated if available)*
3/4 cup cold butter, chopped
6-8 tablespoons cold water
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water for egg wash
1/4 cup white sugar mixed with 1 teaspoon cinnamon for sprinkling
*you can substitute vegetable shortening here if you wish, but I highly recommend the lard!
1/4 cup sugar
1/8 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
4 cups mixed apples, peeled and chopped (4 medium -- I used Gala, Fuji, Granny Smith, and Golden Delicious)
1 tablespoon butter
Directions: Pulse flour and salt together to combine. Add scoops of lard and pulse into the mixture has the texture of coarse sand, about 10 seconds. Add in chunks of butter and cheese and pulse until butter pieces are no larger than small peas, about 10 pulses. Add minimum amount of water and pulse on low. If dough remains crumbly and doesn’t come together, add another 2 tablespoons of water. Add as little as is required to enable the dough to be rolled into a ball. Form the dough into 2 disks, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes while preparing your filling.
Prepare filling: Mix all ingredients together except for butter.
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Use cupcake pans, mini-cupcake pans or both for your pies, as desired. After crust has chilled, roll it out between two sheets of parchment paper until it's relatively thin -- a little thinner than 1/4 inch. Pull the parchment paper off the dough every now and then (flipping to do this on both sides) to ensure your dough isn't sticking. Use a big round cookie cutter or a knife to cut out a piece of dough about 2 inches larger around than your cupcake wells (or about 1 inch larger around than your mini-cupcake wells). Fit this dough down into a well as a bottom crust. Fill it with filling, top it with a few bits of butter, and use another circle of dough to form the top crust. Crimp the edges (careful not to make your crimping too elaborate -- if your edge is too big, your pies can be top-heavy and pull apart. You may just want to use a fork to create decorative edges instead of traditional "crimping.") Repeat this process until all of your mini pies are ready for the oven. Brush them all with egg wash and sprinkle cinnamon and sugar mixture over the top.
Bake mini pies at 400 degrees for 15 minutes (for cupcake-sized) or 10 minutes (for mini-cupcake sized). Turn temperature down to 375 degrees F, open the oven to rotate your pans and cool it off for a few seconds, and turn temperature down to 375 degrees F. Bake cupcake-size pies for 7-9 minutes longer, and mini-cupcake sized pies for 6-7 minutes longer. Remove from the oven and let pies cool completely in the pan -- then gently "twist" the pies in their wells to be sure they aren't sticking and pull them out. Serve immediately or store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator.
P.S. Don't forget about the Cheesecake Challenge! Choose any one of 9 cheesecake recipes to prepare within the next month. Email a photo to me by 4/5/2011 to be featured on Willow Bird Baking! Get more details about the challenge here.