Pies for the Holidays

I made these pies just for fun but they scream “holiday pie!” Or, you know, you could make one (or both) just for fun and to eat during the week. A little sliver of pie can go a long way in cheering someone up, that’s for sure.

I decided to make two pies so my husband and I could each take one into work, and I really wanted to try out my pie stencil cut outs. I can’t remember when I bought them, but they’ve floated around my kitchen for at least a couple years and it was about time to use them. You’ll see what I mean later.

DSC02160Just in case you want a road map, I’m going to start with the crust, then the apple pie, go into “pie bites” and then the pumpkin. Phew. Let’s get started.

For both pies, I used Ina Garten’s Perfect Pie Crust recipe. Let’s all take a moment and talk about Ina. She is: a) very talented, b) as perfect as her pie crust recipe, c) an alumni of my alma mater, d) crazy smart (she worked at the White House), and e) someone who can make hosting a beautiful get-together look very easy. Why do I know all this? Because we’re best friends! Or I’ve just watched a two hour documentary (chefumentary) on her life. Either one.

Moving on, this yields two pie crusts, so I doubled it for these pies. Both of these pies went into an 8 inch pie pan, and the pumpkin one didn’t need a top crust, which meant I had crust left over. More on that later. I used a foil pan  for the apple so my husband could throw it out at work, and a glass Pyrex for the pumpkin because I’m a responsible adult who can bring home dishes from work (love you hubs!). Once the crusts are in the pans, you can spear both with a fork and pre-bake at 375 for 10 minutes (or use pie weights/beans). I don’t think it’s necessary for the apple one, but definitely for the pumpkin one. You can also do pretty things with the pumpkin edges before you pre-bake if you’re so inclined, but I haven’t nailed down that skill.

DSC02131For the apple pie, you need to first peel 3 pounds of apples. This makes a crazy high apple pie that makes people go “whoa” when it comes out of the oven. It’s beautiful. I chose a mixture of half green and half red. I’m not sure it makes a huge difference, but you do want to use ones a mixture of sweet and tart ones, or ones labeled “good for baking” at your grocery store. Just don’t get red delicious. Is it just me or did getting those every day in your school cafeteria kind of ruin them for you?

After peeling the apples, core and thinly slice. Grab a massive bowl (I use a stew pot) and add the apples, 1/2 cup white sugar, the zest and juice of 1 lemon, 1 teaspoon of salt, 2 teaspoons of vanilla, and 1 tablespoon of *gasp* pumpkin pie spice. You can also just use plain cinnamon. Mix this up and add 3-4 tablespoons of all purpose flour. The idea is that the mixture fully coats the apples. If not, add a bit more flour and spices. It should look like the below.


Now you have to somehow fit all of these apples into your pie crust. I recommend trying to “layer” them at the bottom, and then get impatient and just dump the rest of them and try not to drop them all of the counter and/or floor. It’s a great methodology. Next you cut up some butter into tiny squares and dot the pie with them. I don’t have a picture of this because I completely forgot. But please do it. It helps.

DSC02150At this point you roll out your second crust and place on top. Make sure when you roll it our it’s wider than you think you need. It needs to cover all those apples! For the “decorations”, I just crimped the edges and created rounded diamonds for the steam holes. You don’t have to do this design but do make sure you have some holes on top of the pie for the steam to escape.

Now for the really fun part: I used my fun cutters to cut out apples and leaves to decorate the pie with. When applying to the pie, make sure you wet your finger slightly, then wet the area of the pie where you want to put the cut out, and then put the cut out on. The water will act as glue. After this I did a simple egg wash (1 egg + 1 tbl water), and brushed the top and sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon.

Bake at 375 for 50-60 minutes, and let rest before slicing into it. I’ve made this pie a few ways, and this is definitely the simplest. You can jazz it up by adding some salted caramel to the mix, in the pie and as a topping, or making your own homemade whipped cream or vanilla bean ice cream. Either way, it’s delicious.

I promised to talk about the pie stencils more, and here we go. Are you ready? I am. I am salivating just thinking about it. As I mentioned before, I doubled Ina’s recipe to have four crusts. This allowed me to have two bases, cover the apple pie, have cut outs, and have a crust that I froze to later make a quiche with. The cut outs were super simple and were used to decorate the pies and feed my hunger as I waited for the pies to bake. All you need to do is cut out your shapes, place on a Silpat or parchment paper, cut some indentations, brush with egg wash, sprinkle some sugar, and bake. It’s explained with additional pictures at Sally’s Baking Addiction.

On to the piece de resistance, the Pumpkin Pie. This is a combination of several pie recipes, and I can’t really nail down the filling, but the topping was copied from Taste of Home. I love anything hazelnut, so this was right up my alley. Plus, who doesn’t have hazelnut liqueur sitting in your cabinet already? Just me?

For this recipe you need to roast a bunch of hazelnuts. Try not to eat half the pan when they come out. To remove the skins, dump hazelnuts on a towel and rub together viciously. This will get maybe three of them off. Get frustrated, and try again. You just need more of them off. The stubborn ones you can use your fingers on. You want some of the hazelnuts very ground (for the pie filling), and some medium-ground. You want to make sure you still have a crunch in the topping.

As I mentioned before, you want to pre-bake the crust for ten minutes. Next, mix up your pie filling. Pour into pie shell and bake at 375 for thirty minutes. While it’s baking, mix together your crumble topping. I found that I needed more flour than the recipe called for in the topping (probably because I got a little over zealous with the liqueur), so I added a little extra. Next time I would add more ground hazelnuts, but I ate about half that came out of the oven.

After the half an hour is up, crumble the, well, crumble, on top of the pie. Cover and bake for an additional 30-40 minutes. The center should be very slightly jiggly, but not wobbling all over the place. Let set and add your pie cut outs on it. In hindsight, I would have limited the crumble to the middle and put the leaves on the pie itself. However, it still made for a nice presentation.

And now for the moment you’ve been waiting for, after this lengthy blog post: cat fact.  Did you know, the costliest cat ever is named Little Nicky, who cost his owner $50,000? He is a clone of an older cat. At least I’m not that crazy. Or just don’t have the money to clone my Charlie. Probably a combination of the two.

And now for the recipes:

Apple Pie
2 9-inch pie crusts
3 pounds of apples, a mix of red and green, peeled, cored and sliced thinly
1/2 cup white sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
1 lemon (zest and juice)
1 teaspoon of salt
2 teaspoons of vanilla
1 tablespoon of pumpkin pie spice or ground cinnamon
3-4 tablespoons of all purpose flour
1-2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/4 inch cubes
1 egg, if doing an egg wash
1. Roll out the dough for one pie shell on a floured surface, and roll into an 8 inch pie pan. Poke holes in the the crust with a fork all over, or cover with parchment paper and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and pre-bake for 10 minutes.
2. Mix together the remaining ingredients though the flour. Add more flour or cinnamon if necessary.
3. Layer apples into pre-baked pie crust. Dot butter over apples.
4. Roll out second crust to 9 or 10 inches in diameter and cover apples.
5. Cut slits in the top crust in order to let the steam escape, and crimp the edges with a fork. Cut out fun shapes with any extra dough.
6. Whisk together egg and 1 tablespoon of water and brush over the top of the pie. Sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar, or just sugar.
7. Bake at 375 for 50-60 minutes. Check on pie throughout baking and cover if the top is getting too brown.
Pumpkin Hazelnut Pie
Pie Filling:
1 9-inch pie crust (gives you extra for cut outs), or 1 8-inch pie crust (no cut outs)
1 15-oz can pure pumpkin (NOT pumpkin pie filling)
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
3/4 cup (packed) light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 tsp. cornstarch
2.5 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup roasted ground hazelnuts
For the Filling:
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
2 tbl all-purpose flour
3 tbl cold butter
1/2 cup chopped hazelnuts
1 tbl hazelnut liqueuer
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and roast hazelnuts for 10-12 minutes, until fragrant but not burned. If they have skins on them, place hazelnuts in a towel, fold the towel over the hazelnuts and let them steam for a few minutes. Rub the towel together to remove most of the skins. Transfer hazelnuts to a food processor and pulse. Remove 1/2 cup of the hazelnuts once they are a chopped consistency. Pulse remaining hazelnuts until ground.
2. Roll out the dough for one pie shell on a floured surface, and roll into an 8 inch pie pan. Poke holes in the the crust with a fork all over, or cover with parchment paper and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and pre-bake for 10 minutes. Let cool.
3. Mix filling ingredients together and fill pie. Bake for 30 minutes. While baking, combine hazelnut topping ingredients. If too dry, add more liqueur. If too wet, add some more flour or hazelnuts if you have extra.
4. After pie has baked for 30 minutes, crumble the topping on the pie, cover and continue to bake for an additional 30-40 minutes, or until center is only slightly wiggly, but almost completely “set.” Decorate with cut outs (directions in link above).

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