Apples rank high among the many ingredients that I have no excuse for purchasing anywhere but locally, and lucky for me sometimes I don’t even have to do that. This versatile fruit is much like rhubarb and zucchini around here, in the sense that during one week of the year everyone suddenly encounters an overabundance of crop. If that sounds like a complaint than I apologize, because what I really want to do is bust out the bobbing barrels and throw an apple harvest party. Before you laugh, remember that we have entire festivals dedicated to both maple syrup and pumpkins.
Certainly worth celebrating is the fact that Ontario is home to some of the best baking apples in the world, including the much coveted and super crispy Northern Spy. The key characteristic one is looking for when choosing apples for pies and other desserts, is a flesh that holds its shape well after baking. Some apples will rapidly disintegrate when heat is applied, which is especially problematic if you like to partially cook the fruit or prepare the filling beforehand. A quick internet search will turn up which varieties grown in your area are the best for baking, and which are best left for making applesauce. In this particular pie I used a 3lb bag of local McIntosh, but when options are available consider using a combination of apples and playing with different flavours.
For the crust, use your favourite recipe for all-butter pie pastry or try this one from Four and Twenty Blackbirds via Food52. Their formula and method is genius, and certainly deserves a place in a serious pie maker’s repertoire.
2 discs prepared pie pastry*
3 lb (whole) tart baking apples
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup granulated white sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 ground all-spice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon tapioca starch
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
10 oz fresh (or frozen) cranberries
1/4 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
*For complex designs or heavy lattice patterns, part of an additional disc of pastry may be required.
Prepare the pastry as directed. Roll one disc of pastry into a 12 inch circle, and fit it into a 9 inch pie plate. Return the shell to the fridge to chill while you make the filling. Roll out the second disc of pastry as thinly as possible without stretching or tearing the dough. Using a pastry wheel, pizza cutter, or scalpel, cut the pastry into long strips for a lattice. Alternatively, use cookie cutters to stamp out pieces for a unique design. Refrigerate the prepared pieces of top pastry.
In a medium bowl, combine 1/2 cup of the granulated sugar with the brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, all-spice, salt, and tapioca starch. Peel, core, and slice the apples into 1/4 inch thick wedges. In a Dutch oven or a large non-stick pan, gently toss the apple slices with the sugar mixture until they are evenly coated. Cover and cook over medium heat for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally, just until the apples begin to tenderize. Remove from the heat and gently stir in the lemon juice and vanilla extract. Let the filling cool to room temperature.
To prepare the cranberries, combine with the remaining 1/2 cup granulated sugar and the orange juice in a medium saucepan. If using frozen cranberries, cover the pot and heat on low, stirring occasionally, until the berries have thawed. For fresh cranberries, cook uncovered over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until some of the berries begin to break down and the natural pectin has thickened the liquid. Remove from the heat and let cool completely to room temperature.
Preheat the oven to 400°F
Using a rubber spatula, gently combine the cooled apple and cranberry mixtures. Scrape the filling into the chilled pie shell, leaving only enough room to fold over and crimp the pastry (if you have some filling leftover that is fine). Arrange the top pastry over the fruit, seal the edges if necessary, and crimp as desired.
Bake in the preheated oven for 55-65 minutes, or until the filling is bubbling and the pastry is a rich golden brown. Rotate the pie halfway through baking to ensure even colouring, and use a pie shield to prevent the edges from overbrowning if necessary.
Let cool completely before serving.