One of the definite advantages of having a birthday during the non-summer months is that your friends are around to help you celebrate. Whether it's cupcakes in pre-school or the whole class singing the happy birthday song to you, there's a lot of attention to make you feel special on your special day.
In my jr. high (yes, that makes me an old timer - they're now called middle schools), there was a fun tradition for birthdays. Even though the administration lectured strictly about never giving out your locker combination, of course you shared it with your best friends. How else could they get in to borrow a hairbrush, lip gloss, feminine products, or, weirdly enough, a textbook?
Armed with the locker combination it was the job of the close circle of friends to decorate the birthday girl's locker on her day. They'd come to school early and stuff her locker to the brim with balloons, candy, and a banner, so when she opened her locker, it would all spill out and her everyone around her would yell, "Happy Birthday!"
I was always envious of these lucky birthday celebrities because, having a summer birthday, I knew that would never be my lot in life. Sunny birthdays - yes; birthday lockers- no.
Recently I saw a post about fabulous apple pie on Melinda's Online Diary. She used a recipe from Dorie Greenspan's Baking (so I knew it had to be good!), but added quince cheese, something I'd never heard of. I left a comment asking if substituting tart apples would be OK. When she wrote back and asked for my address I had a sneaking suspicion that she was going to send me some quince cheese. Imagine someone so nice they'd send me some quince cheese just so I could make apple pie!
About a week later a box arrived. Not just quince cheese but a whole cornucopia of treats! I felt like I'd opened my birthday locker as all the wonderful gifts tumbled out onto my lap! I was surprised and overwhelmed at Melinda's generosity and thoughtfulness. Thank you, sweetie!
So, for this week's Pie Day, I had, of course, to take a shot at Melinda and Dorie's Apple and Quince Pie. It is delicious. If you want pie heaven, have a slice of this pie. Seriously.
Dorie's crust is tender and flaky and, if you follow her instructions for chill, chill, chill, it's easy to work with. I figured out why my old piecrust recipe always had me cursing and pulling my hair out. It didn't make enough. I'd have to roll it wafer thin to get it large enough to fill the pie plate and it would invariably tear, making me shriek out curses on the foul dough. Dorie's recipe yields a generous amount so you have enough to work with, plus extras if you want to get fancy and put cut-outs on your pie (I was not that fancy). Right now I have a small ball of dough in the refrigerator that I promised my daughter she could have for making her own tiny pie.
I've never had quince, so I didn't have a clue what quince cheese would be like. My daughter says it smells like apricots. It isn't a dairy cheese, but rather quince, lemon and sugar, adding a delightful, piquant zip to the pie mixture.
Because I'm lazy, I'll let you find the crust recipe on your own (Just buy the book. It's awesome and you need it. Trust me.) but I'll give you the recipe for the filling, with Melinda's adaptation.
Melinda and Dorie's Apple and Quince Pie
1 recipe Pie dough for double crust, chilled
4 lbs (about 6 very large) apples - I used 7
3/4 cup sugar
Grated zest of 1 lemon
2 Tbsp quick-cooking tapioca
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8-1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 round quince cheese (optional)
2 Tbsp graham cracker crumbs (or dry bread crumbs)
2 Tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into bits
For the glaze (optional):
Milk or heavy cream
Decorating or granulated sugar
1- Peel, core, and thinly slice the apples. I use this tool to streamline the job and the kids love to help.
2- In a large bowl toss together the apple slices with the sugar, lemon zest, tapioca, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt.
3- If using the quince cheese, nuke it for about 45 seconds in the microwave to soften it then add it into the apple mixture. Cover and let the mixture sit. Depending on your schedule you can let this sit as little as 5 minutes, or overnight. The quince seems to keep the apples from browning.
4- Pour off the accumulated juices into a small saucepan. Boil for about 3-5 minutes to thicken, then let cool completely.
5- Butter a 9-inch deep dish pie plate. Preheat the oven to 425 deg. F.
6- Roll out half of the pie dough and lift it into the pie pan. Cover this with plastic wrap and set in the refrigerator while you roll out the other half of the dough.
7- Place the pie pan on a baking sheet. Sprinkle the graham cracker crumbs on the bottom of the crust and put the sliced apple mixture into the crust. Pat them into an even mound. Dot the apples with the bits of cold butter. Pour the cooled apple juices from the saucepan over the apple mound.
8- Lightly moisten the rim of the bottom crust with water and then place the top crust over the apples. Seal the edges by pinching or by pressing with a fork, trimming off the excess crust.
9- Using a sharp knife, cut 6 slits in the top crust. You can add cut-outs from the excess pie dough to fancy it up.
10- If desired, brush the top crust with a little milk or cream and sprinkle it with sugar. I used turbinado sugar and my pie came out looking freckled.
11- Bake pie for 15 minutes then lower the oven temperature to 375 deg. F. and bake the pie for another 50 to 60 minutes, or until the crust is gorgeously browned and the juices bubble up through the top crust. After about 40 minutes, if the crust looks like it's browning too quickly, cover the pie loosely with a foil tent.
12- Transfer the pie to a rack and let it rest until it is only just warm or until it reaches room temperature.
The most difficult part of making this pie is keeping hungry people from cutting into it while it's hot. It smells divine, but if you cut it fresh from the oven, you'll have a soupy mess. Let it cool and you'll be able to cut beautiful pie slices.
(If you'd like to make your own quince cheese, try this link.)