Candied Almond-Top Apple Pie
Everyone I know has strong opinions about pie, and I’m no different. I prefer a streusel-top pie, or a custard pie, anything but the dreaded double-crust pie. Double-crust! That’s too much crust. It’s rare to encounter a crust that is worthy of that sort of emphasis. I make a nice, flaky butter-based pie crust (recipe below), but still, even when crust is really good, it’s just a kind of lifeless food on its own, too inert.
Like summer tomatoes, tart baking apples are a kind of fleeting, seasonal produce. You can find Granny Smith and Gala apples in the grocery store year-round, but if you want to make a good pie with them, you’re going to have to put a lot of other stuff in the filling to make it taste good.
It’s been a lean year for apples here in the Midwest. Not just because of the drought, which has made national headlines this summer. No, we had a weird spring, too, with many 80-degree days in a row in early April. The fruit trees all bloomed, and then a few weeks later, a late, sustained frost came and froze most of the budding fruit. Really, there’s no denying that the weather rules are changing. People who don’t believe in science may try to tell you otherwise. This is frustrating but try to keep in mind that they’re just as hurt and wounded as the rest of us. They’re just dealing with it differently. You can still share your pie with them, if you want.
Since I haven’t been able to get my usual hoard of baking apples this year, I felt like I had to do something really special, really extraordinary to make use of these few, beautiful baking apples and all of their piquant complexity. I made a variation of my usual streusel-top, but took out most of the flour, got rid of the oats, and added a bunch of sliced, blanched almonds. The result was a thin, crisp candied shell, caramelized and rich, studded with toasted almonds. I don’t even know how to describe how delicious this tasted in combination with the tart and creamy apples, and the flaky butter crust, but I can tell you: we all got quiet as we ate. It was so good that it relieved us of our thoughts. All my clever talk and my burdensome opinions all crowded out to make way for the wonderful news coming in through the senses: OMG. OMG. Yum.
Candied Almond-Top Apple Pie
There are many varieties of baking apples, but my standbys are Jonathan, Jonagold, and Burgundy. You might find suitable apples at your local farmer’s market – ask what’s good for baking. If you can’t find baking apples, you can use Granny Smith apples – just add some lemon zest, cinnamon, and a dash of vanilla extract to the filling to add to the flavor.
My stand-by butter crust is the “Mormon Pie Crust” recipe from David Tanis’s book, A Platter of Figs. I highly recommend that book as well as anything written or suggested by David Tanis, including his “City Kitchen” column in the NY Times.
The recipe below fills a 9″ deep dish pie plate.
For the crust:
- 1 cup all-purpose flour, plus extra for sprinkling
- 1 stick (8 Tablespoons) cold butter, in thin slices
- 1/4 teaspon of salt
- 1 egg, beaten, plus enough ice water to make 1/2 cup
- 3 lbs. tart baking apples, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
- 3 Tablespoons brown sugar
- 6 Tablespoons butter, sliced thinly
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 3/4 cup blanched, sliced or slivered almonds
Put the flour, butter, and salt in a bowl. With your fingers, work the butter into the flour until it looks meal, with some large flecks of butter remaining.
Pour HALF of the egg-ice water mixture into the bowl. Discard the rest of the egg-ice water.
Mix the dough together with a fork for a minute or two until it just starts to come together. It will be soft, a little sticky, and a bit rough and shaggy-looking.
Pull out a large sheet of plastic wrap, and place the dough in the center of it. Fold over the plastic wrap, and shape the dough into a circle about 1-inch thick. Continue to wrap up the dough until it’s well-covered, then refrigerate for at least an hour or overnight.
Make the filling and the topping:
Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the apple slices and brown sugar. Put aside.
In a medium mixing bowl, combine the butter, brown sugar, and vanilla extract. Blend them together to make a crumbly mix – I like to use two butter knives to cut them together. Add the flour, and mix it in until blended, then add the almonds, and stir to evenly distribute them.
Assemble the pie:
On a heavily floured surface, begin to roll out your pie crust. Make sure the top side of the dough is heavily dusted with flour to keep it from sticking to the rolling pin. As you roll it out, rotate, flip, and re-flour the crust to keep it evenly rolled and to keep it from sticking. There will be spots of un-incorporated butter – that’s good! That’s what will help make the dough flaky.
Roll out the dough to about 13″ diameter and put it in your pie plate, crimping and trimming the edges to make a tidy edge, if that’s what you prefer.
Pour in the apple filling, then evenly distribute the almond-sugar mix on top of the apples.
Bake for 50 minutes, until the filling is bubbling and the almonds look toasty and golden.
Cool before serving.