Things I actually said while perusing The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book to select a recipe:
“Everything in here is so weird and wonderful!”
“I think I’m sexually attracted to this cookbook. I’m a piesexual.”
“Okay, I really need to calm down. I’m way too excited. I don’t know why I get like this! My heart is beating so fast!”
If I ever need proof that I am, indeed, a cookbook addict, I need look no further than the above sentences.
As I plopped down on the sofa with three potential candidates for the next By The Book feature, I ran my hands over the cover of this one, pressing my fingertips in, like I was giving the book a massage, feeling the texture change between the matte photograph on the book jacket, and the plasticky rectangle in the center that bears the name of the tome. I often find myself getting a little too intimate with my cookbooks, gently caressing each page as I ponder a recipe, then pressing the depths of my palm against the cool, glossy paper.
I read the titles of a few pre-selected favorites from the book’s “Winter” section to Phillip. He nixed the Green Chili Chocolate Pie because I “did that already.” (Really, my tart is totally different, but I get his point.) And he vetoed the Junipear Pie because, “Where are you going to find dried juniper berries?” (I still suspect I could find them at Whole Foods or another fancy grocery store, but I had to concede that I didn’t really have time to run around the city on a juniper berry hunt this week).
When I told him that the Blushing Apple Pie had beets in it, he fell silent, unable to think of any earthly reason why I shouldn’t make this pie. As fate would have it, this pie was also the one with the top crust that I had been admiring since I first flipped through the book. Chunky braids laid across the top of the filling like a cable knit sweater! I’ll admit I swooned.
To up the ante a bit, I rendered my own leaf lard to make their Butter & Lard crust, and I also made my pie crust by hand… for the first time ever. It was very unscientific of me, because one should never change more than one variable at a time. But I stubbornly forged ahead with a new pastry blender in hand. I will say it isn’t my best crust ever, but I blame my poor pastry-blending skills and not the lard. I also should have left the pie in longer, because the thick edge crust didn’t get cooked all the way through, so I couldn’t judge the flakiness very well.
But the filling! Oh man. It is amazing. Not only is it absolutely gorgeous to see apple rings coated in a deep magenta sauce, but the flavor just tickled me pink. (Pun completely intended.) There was a very slight earthiness from the beets, but it didn’t knock me over the head, so I think even beet haters could appreciate it. And the prevalence of cardamom (and boycott of cinnamon) gave the pie a somewhat floral vibe.
Coincidentally, this post will fall right before Valentine’s Day, so maybe you can make your pisexual partner blush by giving him or her a slice for dessert. I’m certainly blushing just thinking about getting my hands on another recipe from this cookbook!
- 2½ cups (300 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- ½ cup (115 grams) cold, unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch pieces
- ½ cup (115 grams) rendered leaf lard, cut into ½-inch pieces and frozen
- 1 cup cold water
- 4 tablespoons cider vinegar
- 1 cup ice
- ½ medium beet
- Juice and zest from ½ orange
- 6-7 baking apples, such as Golden Delicious (about 2½ pounds)
- ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons (75 grams) granulated sugar, divided
- ½ cup (105 grams) packed light brown sugar
- ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
- ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1½ teaspoons vanilla paste
- 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
- 1 to 2 dashes Angostura bitters
- Egg wash (1 large egg whisked with 1 teaspoon water and a pinch of salt)
- 2½ tablespoons Demerara sugar
- In a large bowl, whisk together flour, salt, and sugar. Add butter and lard chunks and use a pastry blender to cut them into the flour until the butter chunks are about the size of peas. Combine water, vinegar, and ice in a large measuring cup. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of the cold liquid over the flour mixture and use a spatula to incorporate completely. Continue adding liquid, 1-2 tablespoons at a time, until the dough starts to hold together (you will probably have quite a bit of liquid left). Quickly form the dough into a ball, divide it in half, and form two discs. Wrap each disc in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour and preferably overnight.
- Once chilled, roll one dough disc into a 14-inch round and place it into a 9-inch pie pan, pressing it against the sides and bottom of the dish so there are no air gaps. Trim the dough so there is a 1-inch overhang. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator to chill for at least 1 hour.
- Roll the remaining dough into a long 12-inch by 18-inch oblong. Cut ½-inch strips. Starting with the longest strips from the center, braid three dough strips together. Lay the braid on a baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough to get 7-8 braids. Cover the baking sheet with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator to chill for at least 1 hour.
- While the pie crust and braids are chilling, set oven racks to the center and bottom positions. Preheat oven to 400°F.
- Loosely wrap beet in foil, place on a baking sheet, and roast in the oven for 45-60 minutes, until the beet is easy to pierce with a fork. (Keep the oven on at 400°F). Let beets cool slightly, rub to remove the skin, then cut the beet into ½-inch cubes and set aside.
- Place the juice from the orange in a large bowl. Peel, core, and thinly slice apples using a mandoline or knife (or use an apple peeler/corer/slicer). Add the apple slices to the orange juice and toss gently to coat. Sprinkle apples with 2 tablespoons (25 grams) of sugar.
- In the bowl of a food processor, combine beet cubes, remaining ¼ cup (50 grams) granulated sugar, brown sugar, ginger, cardamom, salt, flour, vanilla paste, vinegar, and bitters. Process until a liquidy puree comes together. Pour the puree over the apple slices and toss with a spatula or your hands to coat the apples.
- Layer the apple filling into the prepared pie pan, packing them as tightly as possible to avoid air pockets and mounding them slightly higher in the center. Place dough braids over the top of the pie, trimming them so the ends match the overhang of the bottom crust. Fold the overhang in, pressing to seal the braids into the crust, then crimp the edge of the dough. Place the pie in the refrigerator to chill for at least 30 minutes.
- Whisk together the egg wash and brush it onto the top of the braids and the edge of the pie, being careful not to drag the pie filling out onto the crust. Sprinkle the top of the pie with Demerara sugar.
- Place the pie plate on a baking sheet and bake on the lower rack of the oven for 20-25 minutes. Move the pan to the center rack and continue baking for another 40-50 minutes, until the filling is bubbling (you'll be able to hear it!) and the crust is deep golden brown. Cool pie on a wire rack for 2-3 hours before cutting and serving.