For a pandemic Thanksgiving, you need this apple pie, the dessert equivalent of work-from-home sweatpants. It's the height of comfort, and while it may not be sleek — there's no lattice or sparkly sugared top — it looks good in an "I want that" way.
The techniques that stray from tradition here make this pie different enough to keep one day from blending into the next, but require little effort to execute or enjoy. Different types of apples, up to eight or so, add complexity to the filling, along with spices and lime juice. Shaping the all-butter dough by hand yields an especially flaky crust, which stays crisp on the bottom thanks to a base layer of cookie crumbs.
What makes this pie stand out is simply that it uses as many apple varieties as possible. Amy Traverso charts 70 apple varieties in "The Apple Lover's Cookbook," an updated version of which was recently released by Norton, breaking them into four categories: firm-tart, tender-tart, firm-sweet and tender-sweet. But she also explains that you don't need to know exactly what you're buying.
"If you're making a pie and you did that trick of getting one of each at the supermarket, you'll be fine because all of the new varieties tend to be crisp," she said. "If you pick up a softer Gala or Fuji, you'll have that too."
Traverso, who is a senior food editor at Yankee magazine and lives near Boston, prefers apples from nearby farms, as does Adrian Lipscombe, the chef and owner of Uptowne Cafe & Bakery in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Lipscombe drives to orchards by her home and picks a pie mix that includes Haralson, Pink Lady and Juliet.
"It's a lot about the texture," she said. "And orchard apples still stick with their flavors after baking."
This filling calls for a balance of soft and crisp apples because the tender ones break down into a sauce that suspends the firm pieces. Adjusting the ratio of soft to crisp yields either an apple-butterlike center or a tumble of intact slices. The same is true of the sweet-tart harmony — there's no one formula for the proportions. It's a matter of preference and best determined by tasting the options raw and choosing favorites.
There is, however, a set ratio for the ingredients in this all-butter crust. The recipe is intended for a dough mixed by hand, which results in flaky layers that a machine can't replicate.
Pastry chef and cookbook author Joanne Chang still has her bakers make dough by hand even as her Flour Bakery has expanded to nine locations in the Boston area. The process is foolproof as long as the butter doesn't start to soften, which shouldn't be an issue for this small batch in cold weather. But if you know your kitchen is going to be warm, Chang advised, "freeze the butter before you even start and don't roll the dough on a countertop that had a warm stockpot on it."
The other key is to use a light touch to prevent the crust from becoming tough. The quick motions of rubbing butter into flour and gathering doughy shreds into a shaggy mass should feel more yoga flow than boxing. It's a calming practice and nearly as comforting as eating the results.
Mixed Apples Pie
Yield: One 9-inch pie
Total time: 2 1/4 hours, plus chilling and cooling
For the crust:
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling the dough
3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 cup cold unsalted butter (2 sticks), preferably high-fat European-style, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/3 cup spiced cookie crumbs, crushed from crunchy varieties such as Biscoff or gingersnaps
For the filling:
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
3 1/2 pounds apples (about 8), a mix of tart, sweet, crunchy and soft varieties such as Granny Smith, Gala, Opal and Jazz, peeled and cored
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
Make the crust: Whisk sugar and 1/3 cup water in a small bowl until sugar dissolves, then place in the freezer. In a large bowl, whisk flour and salt, then toss the butter cubes until evenly coated. Using your fingertips, quickly flatten and rub the butter into the flour, while tossing the smushed pieces to coat until the mixture is mostly thick, powdery flakes and pebbles.
Make a well in the center of the mixture, and add the chilled water all at once. Using your fingers, rake the dry ingredients into the wet, and stir until mixed. Continue stirring with your fingers, occasionally squeezing the blend gently, until large, shaggy clumps form.
Press the clumps together and into the remaining dry bits to gather into a single mass. Divide the dough in half, and pat each half into a 1-inch-thick disk. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour and up to 1 day.
On a lightly floured surface, use a floured rolling pin to roll out a dough disk into a 12-inch round. Fit into a standard 9-inch pie plate, gently tucking and pressing the dough against the bottom and sides without stretching it. Sprinkle the cookie crumbs in an even layer across the bottom, and gently press into the dough. Transfer to the refrigerator. Roll out the other disk into a 12-inch round, slide onto a parchment-paper-lined baking sheet, and refrigerate while you prepare the filling.
Make the filling: Place a rimmed baking sheet on the lowest oven rack, and heat oven to 425 degrees. Whisk the sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, cardamom and salt in a large bowl. Cut each apple into 8 wedges, then cut each piece into 1/4-inch-thick slices crosswise. Add to the bowl, and pour the lime juice over, then toss until evenly coated.
Scrape half the apples into the chilled bottom crust, and press down firmly to eliminate any gaps. Top with the remaining apples, pressing firmly into a mound. Scatter the chilled butter bits evenly on top.
Flip the other dough round over the apples to cover and peel off the parchment. Using scissors, trim the edges together 1/2 inch past the plate's rim. Fold and tuck the edges under so that they're flush with the rim and crimp, decoratively if you'd like. Using a sharp paring knife, cut 8 (3-inch-long) slits in the center of the top dough, spacing evenly. Think of these slits as a guide for cutting the baked pie into wedges.
Place the pie on the heated baking sheet, and bake for 30 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees, and bake until the crust is brown and the filling is bubbling, 55 to 60 minutes. A thin paring knife should slide through the apples easily. Transfer the pie plate to a wire rack to cool completely before slicing.