This week I called a truce with Human Garbage Pile, Rebecca of The Art of Eating Books, to collaborate for a greater cause: literature! Rebecca had been wanting to do an On The Road setup for her blog and asked me to make a dessert to go along with it to compete in our library’s Edible Books contest. The International Edible Books Festival is held annually on or around April 1. Basically you create a food in the shape of or inspired by literature. It is all in the name of fun, so we were just competing for bragging rights or “glory,” as we called it.
My first thought was to make an apple pie, because according to the book, Kerouac freakin’ loved it: “I ate another apple pie and ice cream; that’s practically all I ate all the way across the country, I knew it was nutritious and it was delicious, of course.” Spot on, Jack. I wanted to make it a boozy apple pie because it’s Kerouac, but since this was a family event, the event coordinator asked that I please refrain from saucing up my pie. I had resigned myself to making a plain old apple pie, but the ideas started rolling on a long car ride this past weekend (very On The Road of me, no?) I asked Rebecca if I could do my “weird recipe thing” and she enthusiastically agreed, because that is what talentless sycophants do best.
I had been wanting to put cheese into an apple pie for a long time, especially Gruyère. I added minty, peppery thyme to complement the cheese and apples. I also omitted the cinnamon from the filling because I thought the cinnamon would drown out the subtle flavor of the thyme and the natural flavor of the apples. Instead, I opted for nutmeg, allspice, and black pepper, along with some lemon zest and a dash of Angostura bitters to boost the “herby” flavor. (Okay, I know they said no booze but… it’s basically as alcoholic as vanilla extract.)
I tried the pie with both regular and smoked Gruyère, and while I liked both, I preferred the smoked Gruyère crust. On its own, the crusts are savory. In fact, I cut scraps into squares and baked them into crackers. The plain Gruyère crust is a bit tangier, kind of like Cheez-Its. But the smoked cheese really rounds out the flavor profile of the whole pie, adding warmth where the absence of cinnamon left a hole.
Rebecca came over for a dry-run the day before the contest. She made my baby cry and didn’t even have all the props we needed (cigarettes, a coffee mug, a stack of old books…), but it still looked pretty amazing. I had Rebecca try the pie, and as she happily chomped away, she informed me that she doesn’t really like apple pie, but that she liked this pie. (What a fickle idiot.) I, on the other hand, do like apple pie because I’m a decent American, and I give my recipe two thumbs up. So, really, it’s a winner.
At the library, Rebecca did a kickass job with our styling. People oohed and ahhed over our display and our egos grew so large we almost forgot we despise each other. When it came to judging, I was really nervous, as I always am when people try what I bake. One patron told us she heard one of the judges say, “Giiiirrrrl!” when she bit into my pie, so I’ll take it. (We cheated a bit for that lovely library-goer and gave her a slice of pie about 30 seconds before the judges told the public they could eat. You know, in exchange for intel.)
The rest of the displays at the contest were really cool! There were a couple other pie entries (Bake Me Happy is a gluten-free bakery I love that’s right down the street from me, and they brought pies for Planet of the Pies: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 3; Honeykiss Bakery made four kinds of peach pies to represent James and the Giant Peach, including peach cream pie!) There were cakes shaped like Winnie the Pooh and Chameleons and cupcakes galore.
After everyone had a chance to stuff their faces, the judges awarded prizes. We won Best Design and also tied with Short North Piece of Cake‘s Winnie the Pooh cake for People’s Choice. Best Taste went to an incredibly nice woman I met at the contest named Pat, who brought some killer cornbread to represent The Maze Runner, and Best Overall went to Honeykiss Bakery for all the peach pies! Rebecca and I both left with prize spatulas and grabbed celebratory drinks with our sisters. Needless to say, I ended my night with tall glass of Dark Horse Fore Smoked Stout and a renewed hatred of Rebecca.
See the final setup with all the props Rebecca scrounged up at the eleventh hour on The Art of Eating Books.
- 1 cup (225 grams) unsalted butter (preferably European-style; I used Plugra)
- 4 ounces (115 grams) smoked Gruyère cheese
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 5 tablespoons cold water
- 3 cups (360 grams) all-purpose flour, divided
- 2 tablespoons (25 grams) granulated sugar
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
- 3-4 pounds of baking apples (I used a mixture of Golden Delicious and Fuji), peeled, cored, and thinly sliced crosswise
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 to 2 dashes Angostura bitters (optional)
- ¾ cup (150 grams) granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons (15 grams) cornstarch
- 2 teaspoons lemon zest
- heavy pinch kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon ground allspice
- Egg wash (1 large egg whisked with 1 teaspoon water and a pinch of salt)
- Turbinado sugar
- Cut butter into ¼-inch thick slices (if you're using European butter, cut the block in half lengthwise first so it resembles two American-style butter sticks). Place butter slices into a bowl and pop it in the freezer to keep them chilly. Coarsely grate cheese onto a plate and put it in the freezer, as well. Combine the apple cider vinegar and cold water in a measuring cup, stir together, add a few ice cubes, and put it in the freezer (it won't be there long, so it shouldn't freeze).
- In the bowl of a food processor, pulse together 2 cups (240 grams) of the flour, the sugar, and the salt. Sprinkle the butter slices over the top of the flour and run the food processor until the butter and flour clump together and the flour is moistened. It should almost be a paste. Break up the clumps a little bit and redistribute them around the food processor bowl. Sprinkle the remaining 1 cup (120 grams) of flour, cheese, and thyme leaves into the food processor bowl. Pulse the mixer 5-6 times, until butter-flour chunks are broken up a bit. Transfer the dough to a large bowl.
- Sprinkle 6 tablespoons of the cold cider-water mixture over the dough and use a rubber spatula to fold it in, until all the dough is moistened. Form into a ball and divide the ball into two equal portions. Form each portion into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least one hour.
- Roll one disc into a 12-inch round. Fit the dough into a 9-inch pie pan and trim the dough so there is a 1-inch overhang. Cover the pie pan with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator. Roll the other dough disc into a 12-inch round, then slice into 8 wide strips. Transfer strips to a baking sheet, cover in plastic wrap, and refrigerate. Let both the bottom and top doughs chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour.
- Set the oven racks to the center and bottom positions. Preheat the oven to 425°F.
- Place apple slices in a large bowl and toss with lemon juice and bitters. In a small bowl, whisk together sugar, cornstarch, lemon zest, salt, nutmeg, pepper, and allspice. Sprinkle over apples and toss to coat. Pour the apple filling into the bottom crust, packing the apple slices as tightly as you can and mounding the filling slightly in the center. Lay the strips over the pie and weave them into a thick lattice pattern. Trim the dough strips to match the bottom dough's overhang. Fold the overhang inward, pressing to seal the top and bottom crusts together, then crimp the edges. Place the pie in the refrigerator to chill for 30 minutes.
- Brush the edges and surface of the pie with egg wash. Place the pie on a baking sheet and bake on the bottom rack of the oven for 25 minutes. Move the pan to the center rack of the oven, reduce heat to 400°F, and continue to bake for 45-55 minutes, until the filling is bubbly and the crust is deep golden brown. Cool the pie on a wire rack for at least 2 hours before serving. Serve warm, and preferably with ice cream.