Matt Sunderland, the talented chef with whom I teach cooking classes, describes dishes that he especially likes as “awesome.” So when he recently started talking about his mother’s traditional Thanksgiving cider pie, using the “A”-word more than once, I took notice.
Just the mention of this special dessert seemed enough to send my friend into a Proustian rapture.
I had never heard of cider pie and was intrigued. “How is it made?” I asked. “Not complicated,” he said, and pulled out a recipe written in typical chef fashion: an abbreviated list of ingredients and a single short paragraph of instruction.
I was anxious to try this pie, so he called his mother for more details.
The unusual filling is made by reducing cider, then cooking this reduced liquid with butter, sugar and water until thickened. When the cider base has cooled, egg yolks are added to it and beaten egg whites folded in.
This simple filling is spooned into an uncooked pie shell, then popped into a very hot oven for 10 minutes so that the crust will start to crisp up quickly. Then the temperature is lowered, and the pie is baked until its filling is set and puffy and a rich dark brown on top.
Although the pie can be served warm, I find that the delectably sweet filling, shiny and almost jellylike in consistency, becomes firmer as it cools, thus making the pie easier to slice.
For my version, I chose a buttery, unsweetened dough for the pie shell and decided to garnish each slice with a generous dollop of lightly whipped creme fraiche. I was in heaven from my first bite.
The golden flaky crust paired beautifully with the smooth texture of the filling, and the creme fraiche topping countered the sweetness of the cider perfectly.
There’s no doubt that this pie is going to be part of the Thanksgiving spread at our house this year, and the two assistants who tested this recipe have decided to include it on their menus Nov. 23rd, as well. It’s a winner. Awesome, definitely.
Beverly Sunderland’s Thanksgiving cider pie served with creme fraiche
1½ cups all-purpose flour
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, chilled and diced
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons ice water, plus more if needed
1 large egg yolk, lightly beaten
FILLING AND TOPPING:
2 cups apple cider
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 large eggs at room temperature, separated
1 cup creme fraiche
1 to 2 tablespoons whipping cream, half-and-half or whole milk
For crust, combine flour, butter and salt in a food processor. Pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add ice water and egg yolk. Process until moist clumps form, adding more water by teaspoonfuls, if dough is dry.
Gather into a ball and flatten into a disk. Wrap in plastic and chill at least 30 minutes or longer. (Dough can be made 1 day ahead; keep chilled.) Roll dough out on a lightly floured surface into a 12-inch round, then transfer to a 9-inch pie plate.
Fold in overhanging dough to form a high-rising border and flute the edges. Refrigerate dough at least 30 minutes while you prepare the filling. (Pie shell can be prepared 1 day ahead; cover with plastic wrap and keep refrigerated.) Arrange a rack at center position and preheat oven to 450 degrees.
For filling, have ready a 1-cup glass measuring cup. Put cider in a large saucepan and place over medium high heat. Cook until cider reduces to ½ cup. Time should be about 15 to 20 minutes but can vary depending on type of pan used, so watch carefully.
Add sugar, water and butter to reduced cider and return pan to high heat. Bring to a simmer, then reduce heat and cook at a gentle simmer until mixture reduces to 1 cup, about 10 minutes. Transfer mixture to a medium, heat-proof mixing bowl and cool to room temperature. It will thicken as it cools.
Separate eggs, and whisk the yolks into the cooled cider mixture. With an electric mixer on high speed, beat egg whites until just firm and fold them into the cider mixture, a third at a time. Make certain all the cider mixture is folded into the whites.
Spoon filling into the prepared pie shell. (Shell will be about 2/3 full when all the filling has been added.) Bake 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degrees. Continue to bake until crust is golden brown and filling has puffed and set and has become dark brown on top, about 25 minutes more.
After 10 or 15 minutes at 350 degrees, check, and if filling and crust are browning too quickly, cover pie with a buttered sheet of foil (buttered side down).
Remove and cool to room temperature. (Pie can be made 5 hours ahead; leave uncovered at room temperature.) To serve, place creme fraiche in a serving bowl, and whisk in 1 to 2 tablespoons cream, half-and-half, or milk to lighten slightly.
Dust pie with confectioners’ sugar. Garnish each slice with a generous dollop of creme fraiche. Makes 8 servings.
Betty Rosbottom is a cooking school director and author of “Big Book of Backyard Cooking” (Chronicle Books).
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