Thanksgiving calls for a serious pie.
Apple pie is always a favorite, but this seems to have been my most ambitious Thanksgiving ever. The usual favorites simply would not do this year. So I consulted my seasonal produce cards to find some suitable companions for my Granny Smiths.
Pears were a natural choice, with their similar cooking times and complementary flavors. So what goes with apples and pears? Cheese? Oh totally. So let’s throw some Applewood-smoked gruyere (regular will work just fine too, the older the better) in the crust dough. Ginger? Now we’re talking. A sprinkling of diced crystallized ginger inside the crust should spice things up a bit.
But I have also been crushing out on some quince pie recipes from the November 2011 issue of Martha Stewart Living for some time, and I had been dying to give quince a chance.
So what is a quince? It is a hard, dry, woody, astringent-tasting fruit related to the apple. I know, appetizing, right? But what happens when you poach them low and slow in sugar, lemon, and liquids with other assorted flavors? They turn soft, sweet, and a beautiful rosy pink color. They may be my new favorite fruit to cook.
Now, on to the crust. I have been searching for the perfect pie crust for years, with varying degrees of luck. Over many failed attempts, I think I have finally come up with the perfect formula. It all comes down to three things:
- Fat – Although all-butter pie crusts are tasty, those made with some shortening are more tender and flaky. The trick is in the ratio.
- Temperature – By freezing part of the fat, it keeps the the pieces larger even when incorporated into the flour, which makes for a more flaky crust. Too-small pieces of fat make for a homogeneous mixture – not what we’re looking for here.
- Liquid – Almost every pie crust calls for ice water. Thanks to an Alton Brown tip, I have been using ice cold applejack (although any other high-proof alcohol would work) instead. The ethyl alcohol when combined with flour does not create gluten in the same way that water does, giving you a little insurance against slightly overworked dough. Oh, and flavor. Flavor is always good.
And now for the form. A regular pie in a regular pit plate is great, but I wanted something a little more rustic. With this crostata (a rustic free-form pie), we had our solution. And this thing feeds 10 as opposed to the usual 8, which happened to be the number of people we were having for Thanksgiving this year.
Now this is a serious pie.
Rustic Apple, Pear & Quince Crostata with Ginger & Gruyere Crust
Yield: 1 Crostada, Serves 10
For the filling:
- 3 quinces, peeled, cored and quartered
- 3 large Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and cut into eighths
- 3 large Bosc pears, peeled, cored and cut into eighths
- 2 1/2 cups water
- 2 1/2 cups apple cider
- 1/3 cup plus 1/2 cup sugar
- 4 1/2-inch thick slices ginger
- 1 vanilla pod, seeds scraped and reserved
- 7 Tbsp unsalted butter
- 1 lemon, quartered plus 1 Tbsp lemon juice
- 3 cardamom pods, toasted and crushed
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1/4 tsp salt
For the crust:
- 1 1/4 cups (6 1/4 oz) unbleached, all-purpose flour
- 1 Tbsp sugar
- 6 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces, frozen
- 4 Tbsp vegetable shortening, chilled, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
- 3-4 Tbsp applejack or apple brandy, ice cold
- 1/2 cup gruyere cheese, shredded and frozen
- 5 slices crystallized ginger, minced
- 1 egg, beaten for egg wash
Poach the quinces:
- Combine quinces, water, apple cider, 1/3 cup sugar, ginger, vanilla pod, 3 Tbsp butter, 1 quartered lemon, cardamom and cinnamon stick in a medium-large pot, and bring to a simmer. Cover with parchment paper and simmer until quinces turn rosy pink, about 2 hours.
- Transfer quinces to a bowl. Strain poaching liquid through a wire mesh strainer, discard the pieces and set liquid aside.
Make the crust:
- In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade, pulse flour and 1 Tbsp sugar until combined.
- Add shortening and pulse until incorporated, about 10 times. Add frozen butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal, with some blueberry-sized clumps. Add cheese and pulse 3 times.
- Sprinkle 4 Tbsp applejack over mixture and pulse a few times to mix. Turn dough out into a bowl. Press down with the back of a spatula just until dough comes together. Add remaining applejack if needed.
- Flatten dough into a 4-inch disk. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least an hour, or up to two days before rolling. If chilled longer than an hour, let dough sit on the counter for 20 minutes before rolling.
- Roll out dough to a 13-inch round, about 1/8-inch thick, on a lightly floured surface. Transfer to a pizza stone (if you have one, and you should, for they are awesome), or a parchment-lined baking sheet. Sprinkle ginger on crust, leaving last 1-1/2 inches uncovered, and press lightly into dough. Refrigerate crust for 20 minutes before filling.
Make the filling:
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- Toss apples and pears with 1/2 cup sugar, 1 Tbsp lemon juice and salt.
- Melt 4 Tbsp butter in a large saucepan over high heat, add apple mixture and cook, stirring often for 5 minutes, or until tender and nearly fully cooked.
- Remove fruit from the pan and add the poaching liquid. Simmer over medium-low heat until reduced to about 1/2 cup. Whisk in vanilla bean scrapings and remove from heat immediately.
- Gently toss apples, pears, quinces and sauce in a bowl and spread over the dough, leaving the outer 1-1/2 inches uncovered. Fold the edges in to form a crust. Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with sanding sugar. Refrigerate until edges are firm, about 30 minutes.
- Bake crostata until edges are golden brown, 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes.