I love my friends. I love food. So, it comes as no surprise that I enjoy baiting my friends with promises of food. Did I say baiting? I meant treating. Really. With as many grand baking plans as I have, it helps to have occasions for which to make dishes and desserts. But, my life isn't an episode of Sex and the City (not that I'd ever want it to be, thank goodness) so my social calendar isn't exactly packed with swanky events. If you're familiar at all with the show, you know that the opportunities for cocktail attire and schmoozing at fantastic restaurants are never-ending... do these women ever actually work or sleep or spend time with their husbands and children? Or just talk about doing such things. Anyway. While tuxedos and sequined dresses may not be in my near future, a hockey game in a cozy apartment seems like perfect occasion for dessert and good company.
Since I was already in my happy place, planning said get-together, I decided to make it extra fun by resorting to alliteration. Pens and pancakes. Pens and pizza. Pens and pound cake. Uhh, duh, Pens and pie! This is fall, after all (eeek rhyming), and nothing says harvest and cooling temperatures quite like apple pie. In a small apartment such as mine, you learn that cozy is good for sporting events and as long as there is dessert, no one seems to mind traveling to your humble abode. What's that saying? "No one remembers the main course but everyone remembers dessert" or something like it. Well, in this case, not tooooo many people remember the awful game but everyone remembered and licked their plates clean of the dessert. Perhaps I'm being a bit dramatic with the awful descriptor and the licking of plates, but that's how I choose to remember it, thank you.
This pie was up there with the easiest pies I've ever made. (A reader said that I claim everything is easy, but believe me this time!) Actually, considering the crust construction, it IS the easiest pie-making adventure of my life. Even pumpkin and pecan pies involve rolling out a pie crust. While I love traditional pastry crust with an apple pie, the almond crumb crust added such a depth of flavor and the crunch on top was something I'd never realized I'd been missing. And, I know I enjoy baking more than the average person, but I'd totally recommend this as a girls or date night activity. Peeling the apples was a competition, trying to keep the peel in one piece. Blanching and de-shelling the almonds was hilarious when the occasional almond would slip between my fingers and fly across the counter. And the eating, well, the eating is always a fun when in a group. The sweet cinnamon sugar-coated apples with an occasional tart hint almost completely distracted me from the on-ice meltdown I was witnessing on TV. Win win for us, at leas.
Apple Crumb Pie
(adapted from Martha Stewart Baking Handbook)
-makes one 9-inch pie
A few notes: Per Martha, "The almond crumb crust is mixed by hand and doesn't require any rolling, which makes this a great pie for beginning bakers." I couldn't agree more! Also, as far as the apple make-up of my pie, I used 3 pounds of Cortland apples but swapped two for Granny Smith apples just for a little bit of variety and tart flavor. Don't worry if the pie seems awfully high -- it will shrink during baking a fair amount. Finally, the almonds -- blanching is easy but I'd do it the night before you make the crust and lay the almonds out on a towel to dry completely instead of the oven-drying step.
Almond Crumb Crust (recipe below)
3 pounds assorted apples (such as Macoun, Cortland, Jonagold, Empire, or Rome), peeled, cored, and cut into 1/4-inch slices
Juice of 1 lemon (about 2 Tablespoons)
1/3 cup granulated sugar
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
Preheat oven to 350F. Evenly and firmly, press a little more than half of the almond crust crumbs (about 2 1/2 cups) into the bottom, up the sides, and onto the rim of a 9-inch glass pie plate. Press firmly into the edges. Freeze pie shell until firm, about 15 minutes.
In a large bowl, toss together apples, lemon juice, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Pour mixture into the chilled pie shell, mounding the apples slightly in the center. With both hands, push down on apple mixture gently. Dot with butter. Sprinkle the remaining crumbs in clump[s over the apples to cover completely.
Bake, rotating halfway through, until the crust turns golden and the juices begin to bubble, about 1 hour. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. The pie can be kept at room temperature, loosely covered with plastic wrap, for up to 3 days.
Almond Crumb Crust
-makes enough for one 9-inch pie
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup + 2 Tablespoons blanched almonds, finely ground (how-to here)
1/2 cup + 2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into small pieces
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, ground almonds, sugar, and salt. Using a pastry blender, cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs with a few larger clumps remaining. Using your fingers, squeeze the mixture together to create pea-size to 3/4-inch pieces. If not using right away, cover and chill until ready to proceed.