The days are getting shorter, almost as if the sleepy eyelids of the sky are dosing off earlier and earlier as the season progresses. Mornings are darker, the air is cooler, and the trees are sloooowly changing into their fabulously fire-colored fall frocks.
We are looking FORWARD these days (I mean, that is not the Wisconsin motto, right?), not backward. And by doing this, we arrive (always fashionably late) at the bourbon & browned butter apple-pear pie party, draped in flakey, tender pastry doused in cinnamon sugar. Yes, full of butter, both in the filling and the pastry. And for sure packed full of locally grown apples, organic pears, spices (cinnamon! ginger! cardamom! nutmeg!), and a measure of bourbon. Because booze coats will keep you warm, and cozy, as the mercury falls. Yep, booze coat. I distinctly remember the occasion in which my friend Kendra shared this expression with me, and to be expected, we were out for a night of well-earned schenanigans in Madison, during a colder month, whilst we were undergrads at UW, full of good intentions (sarcasm, right there).
The filling was adapted from two of my favorite sources, Joy and Deb, to which I got the inspiration to brown the butter for the filling from day dreaming about browned butter, white chocolate and macadamia nut cookies. The apple and pear combination, in my opinion, satisfies the best of both worlds the flavors of each compliment, and enhance, each other. The all-butter pastry, being a relatively standard recipe with the proportions, can be found many places on the internets in various (and slight) permutations, but I provide my ideal measurements just in case. Becaus you see, the trick to a really good pie is to not use a pre-made pie pastry! You get one shot at this life, people, and don't waste it on sub-par pie crusts. And, what type of fat you use is up to you, so you can tailor your pastry to suit your needs/dietary mantra: butter, coconut oil, Earth Balance, lard, non-hydrogenated shortening, straight-up plasticized crisco, nitrogen votated vegetable oil, whatever (but maaaybe don't use the last 3, cause no...just don't). I opted for using Organic Valley's award winning cultured butter, because life is too short (again!) for sub-par pie crusts (and really, we are so lucky here in WI to have amazing farmers who love their animals, and produce excellent products). I have had great success with a 50:50 ratio of quality butter and virgin coconut oil, as well as 50:50 ratio of virgin coconut oil and Earth Balance. Naturally, varied results are to be expected with what type of fat you use, but as far as I am concerned, if you make the effort to make homemade pie pastry, it will taste good.Real Life Example (and don't act like you haven't done this before, or seen it happen): you are at a party/gathering/social function that requires knives and forks, and someone walks in with/presents/proudly states that "they" brought the "pie". Your ears perk up in curiosity, and before you know it, you spin on your heels so fast, that you blurt out ("ask") "hey, what volume proportions of fat to flour did you use for the crust?!". And ladies and gentlemen, this is where the fine distinction of "pie" and "Oh, PIE!!". If you get a blank stare back, just walk away from that pie (and the person who brought it)....just walk away. Good pie does not used pre-made pastry, found in the cardboard box-a mere lifeless baton of fat mixed with flour. I don't care if you are Betty Crocker, or Poppin Fresh; the truth hurts, and that is it.
Homemade pastry=love. Pre-made, store bought pastry=sad, sad excuse.
The filling requires you to brown butter. Requires. The toasty, roasty Maillard browning that occurs as you gently heat butter to transform the milk solids (i.e. lactose, whey) to a golden color really does lend a magical, warm, cozy flavor to anything it comes into contact with (and honestly, I think we all deserve alllllll of the warm, cozy flavors during the colder months...right?)
Bonus: you can make both the pie pastry, and filling, a day ahead of time. Heck, you can make several batches of the pie pastry, and freeze them for future pie making. Look at you, all prepared for the holidays and stuff...Just be sure to thaw your pastry out, either overnight in the fridge or on the counter.
And final note: I urge you, no, BEG you to please utilize the amazing powers of tapioca to thicken the pie filling. You can make tapioca starch by grinding tapioca in a spice/coffee grinder, or you can buy straight-up tapioca starch (also known as tapioca flour). A filling thickened with tapioca, in contrast to flour and cornstarch, is freeze/thaw stable, will not be cloudy, and will not be suseptible to acid hydrolysis on heating (i.e. will not result in a runny, un-set filling).
Happy Pie'ing! This one is worth it-from the homemade pastry, to the browned butter. So get on it!
Brown Butter and Bourbon Apple-Pear Pie (with all butter crust) // makes 1 9" to 10" pie // nut-free; soy-free; makes your soul happy, espeically when shared with others //
All Butter Pastry for Bottom Crust + Lattice/Top Crust:
- 2 1/2 cups (340g) all purpose flour (I love Bob's Red Mill)
- 1 cup (2 sticks, 16 TB, 8oz) quality butter, such as Organic Valley Cultured Butter, OR fat of choice (coconut oil, Earth Balance, etc)
- 2 tsp sea salt
- 2 TB sugar
- 8 to 12 TB ice cold water, mixed with 2 tsp apple cider vinegar or lemon juice
1. Sift the flour, sea salt and sugar together in a large bowl.
2. Be sure your fat is cold, regardless of type you are using. Cut butter into small-ish cubes. For coconut oil and Earth Balance, I like to scoop out dollops directly onto the sifted flour mixture, and place the whole works in the fridge for a few minutes to allow the pieces of fat to cool. This ensures that the fat will not be too soft, and won't mix all the way into the flour mixture, resulting in a mealy or tougher crust (but no biggie if this happens!).
3. Using your finger tips (with clean hands, people), break the fat down into smaller pieces and flakes, until you get sizes that average the size of peas, with some pieces of fat being bigger or smaller being just fine. If using coconut oil, this may be more of a involved process due to its more solid nature below 76F, but be patient and have faith!
4. Sprinkle the acidulated ice water over the flour/fat mixture, starting with only 8 TB. Then, bring a shaggy, loose dough together by mixing with a fork. If there is still a good amount of crumbs/dry pieces not adhering to clump of dough, add in more of the water 1 TB at a time, sprinkling over the drier areas. Mix again with a fork, or your hands, until a shaggy, somewhat composed ball is formed. Dump onto a clean surface, and using your hands, gather it all up neatly, form a rough disc ~6" in diameter, and wrap/put in a ziplock bag.
5. Allow pastry to rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes, or up to overnight. Alternatively, you can wrap the pastry really well, and freeze for up to 2 months. While you allow your pastry to rest, carry on with the filling.
Bourbon + Brown Butter Apple-Pear Filling
- 3 TB butter, the best quality you can find
- 4-5 small, or 3-4 larger ripe, but not mushy, pears (I used Bartlett), peeled, cored and sliced into ~1/3" thick slices
- 4-5 small, or 3-4 larger apples, whatever variety you wish, peeled, cored and sliced into ~1/3" thick slices
- 3 TB bourbon (I used Four Roses Single Barrel)
- 2 TB tapioca starch
- 2/3 cups light brown sugar, lightly packed (can be made by combining scant 2/3 cup white sugar and 2-3 tsp molasses, mixing with your fingers to thoroughly combine)
- 1/4 tsp sea salt
- 1 heaped tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
- 1/4 tsp dried ginger (or you could use 1/2 tsp freshly grated)
- scant 1/4 tsp cardamom
- 1 TB freshly squeezed lemon juice
1. Brown the butter: melt butter in a small pan over medium heat. Continue to heat the butter, which will foam, and then begin to brown, usually after 7-10 minutes. Swirl pan occasionally, keeping at eye on it during the last few minutes. The milk solids will brown, and the liquid fat portion will also become darker. Take off the heat once the milk solids are golden. Optionally strain the browned butter through a fine sieve or nutmilk/sprouting bag to remove specks. Set aside to cool slightly.
2. Peel, core and slice apples and pears. Toss with the remaining ingredients, as well as with the slightly cooled browned butter. You can either cover and refrigerate the filling for up to 12 hours, allowing the fruits to macerate, or proceed with baking the pie right away.
3. Bake the pie: preheat oven to 425F. Take pastry out of the fridge (or freezer), allowing it to come to room temperature (if frozen, take it out to thaw up to 1 day in advance in the fridge, or at room temperature). Cut the pastry disc in half. Roll, going from the center outwards to the edges, one half on a lightly floured surface, taking care to gently lift the pastry after every few rolls of the pin to make sure it isn't sticking. Add a touch more flour as needed to the rolling pin and surface. Once you have a ~12" diameter circle-ish piece, transfer to a 9" or 10" pie plate. You can either fold the pastry in half, and transfer to the pie plate, OR you can roll the entire pastry circle up on the rolling pin, and unroll into the pie plate. Gently nestle the pastry into the plate. Trim the edges to leave a ~1" to 1 1/2" overhang, using a sharp knife, scissors or pizza cutter. Patch scraps into place as needed to get the overhang. Place the bottom crust in the freezer while you roll the rop crust in a similar fashion as the bottom (starting from the center of the pastry, rolling outwards, until you have a ~12" circle-ish shape). If you wish to lattice your top, cut into strips of desired width. Take the bottom crust out of the freezer, and add the filling. Lattice your top crust, or, simply top the filling with the second piece of rolled pastry, following the same motions with the overhang to get ~1" to 1 1/2" overhang (same with the lattice strips, aim for a 1" to 1 1/2" overhang). Gently press the bottom and top overhangs together, and fold under to make a smooth-ish edge. Crimp as desired with your fingers or with a fork (my method is to use my thumb pressed between my fore and middle finger). If using a full top crust, poke a few vent holes to allow steam to escape.
4. Place pie on a parchment or foil lined baking sheet (or not, up to you, I just don't like to deal with boiled over pie filling). Brush the top crust with milk of choice (I used unsweetened almond), or egg wash for a darker, shinier crust (1 egg beaten with 2 tsp water). Optionally sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar. Bake at 425F for 20 minutes, then turn down the oven to 375F and bake for another 25-35 minutes, or until the crust is golden and the filling is bubbling throughout. Allow to cool as long as you can muster, then enjoy! Serve with your favorite ice cream, or whipped cow or coconut cream (optionally spiked with bourbon and maple syrup). Also great for breakfast with coffee, but I don't need to really tell you that...do I?
My idea of an exciting Saturday evening: peeling, coring and slicing apples/pears, making brown sugar, browning butter aaaand bourbon!12-ish hours later....pie pastry all rested and ready to roll. The patience and time for this is worth it, trust me.Roll, plate, fill....showing the pastry no fear (it can sense fear). But don't sweat it if you tear or rip the pastry-just patch it up and carry on with confidence. More rolling, cutting, lattice-ing (or just top crust-ing and vent hole poking). You are a pie champion!Trim, fold, flute....brush with milk of choice (or egg wash), sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar. Bake...waft in the wonderful aromas...pat yourself on the back....you are awesome, and now you have pie. What more could you ask for?