Apple Pie with Sharp Cheddar Crust

An apple pie without the cheese is like a kiss without the squeeze, or so the saying goes.  I've never had a slice of apple pie with sharp cheddar, but I'm definitely not opposed to it.  I mean, it makes sense... buttery flaky crust, sweet and spicy apples paired with a slice of salty creamy cheese?  I can get behind it.  But do you place the cheese on top, or is it eaten on the side?  Is it sliced or shredded?  Would it be wrong to try Gouda instead of cheddar?  So many questions.... definitely overthinking this cheese and apple pie thing.  I've only eaten apple pie a la mode with vanilla or cinnamon ice cream, which is kind of hard to beat.

But now I can get my ice cream AND cheese with this apple pie I baked.  Yayyy calcium!

Let's postpone all of the pumpkin desserts for now... there's plenty of time for that; we have three more months, people.  We should enjoy apple season while we can and September is a great month for apples.  I used Ginger Gold apples in this pie, but use whatever you'd like, as long as they're somewhat tart and can hold up to baking.  The filling is traditional - sugar, more sugar, spices, good vanilla.  The crust is the star of this pie because it has finely shredded sharp cheddar in it.  I think it turned out well, and not toooo cheesy.  Serve avec glace à la vanille! C'est délicieux!

Apple Pie with Sharp Cheddar Crust

Pastry Crust
2 1/4 cups all purpose-flour
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided use
14 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 cup finely grated sharp cheddar cheese
6 tablespoons ice water

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 lbs. peeled granny smith apples, cored, thinly sliced
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground clove
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Egg wash

To make the pastry, in a large mixing bowl, sift together flour, sugar and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt.  Cut in cold butter until well incorporated and dough forms pea-sized lumps.  Stir in cheese.  Stir in ice water, a tablespoon at a time, until dough starts to come together.  Form two balls of dough and shape into discs.  Cover in plastic wrap and chill at least 30 minutes.

To make the filling, melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat; stir in apple, brown sugar, granulated sugar, cinnamon, ginger, clove, and nutmeg until well combined.  Stir and cook apples until softened, and sugary syrup starts to thicken - about 10-15 minutes.  Place apples in a large bowl, stir in vanilla, and refrigerate until room temperature.

Roll out one pie dough disc onto a lightly floured surface, into a 9-inch thin round; transfer to the bottom of a pie dish.  Place cooked apples into the center.  Roll out additional pie dough round and place on top; pinch edges to seal.  Cut a few slits into the center of the pie.  Brush lightly with egg wash, if desired, for a shinier crust.  Sprinkle with additional 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt.  Chill in refrigerator until oven is preheated.

Heat oven to 400 degrees F.  Bake pie for 30-40 minutes, or until golden brown and bubbly.  Cool on a wire rack for at least an hour before slicing.

Makes 9 servings

Moon Pie Brownies

Every once in a blue moon(pie) I get a serious craving for brownies.  Sometimes I can satisfy it with a scoop of Ben & Jerry's Half Baked, but sometimes I have to go all out and bake a batch of homemade brownies.  This was the case the other day.

Rarely do I ever bake a plain old brownie; I usually have to add a different flavor or ingredient to make them unique.  While shopping for brownie ingredients, I noticed our Aldi in Raleigh sells mini MoonPies.  I'm not sure if all Aldis sell them, or if it's just because we're in the South.  I thought to myself, you know, I don't think I've ever eaten a MoonPie in my life, and that needs to change.  I simply cannot go another day without this Southern treat.  If only I had an RC cola to pair with it (a traditional accompaniment),

Just in case you've never had a MoonPie, let me catch you up to speed.  A MoonPie is marshmallow cream sandwiched between graham cracker flavored cake, then covered in chocolate.  Think s'mores in snack cake form.  Apparently, the MoonPie was created when a Kentucky coal miner was asked what kind of snack he would like to eat, and the miner requested something with graham cracker and marshmallow.  The miner then asked the snack be "as big as the moon", which inspired the name.

This is pretty much my go-to brownie, adapted from this Fudge Brownie recipe from King Arthur Flour.  I tweak and change the recipe every time I use it, but keep most of the ingredients and preparation the same.  It's just so good!  Better than any brownie you can buy from a bakery.

So a layer of brownie batter is placed into the baking pan, the mini moon pies are pressed in, then topped with more brownie batter, thus making a brownie-MoonPie sandwich extraordinaire.

Moon Pie Brownies

1 1/4 cups unsweetened cocoa powder (I used a combo of dark and regular)
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs
1 cup unsalted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
Chocolate chips or chopped dark chocolate (optional)
12 mini MoonPies

Heat oven to 350 degrees F.  Line a 13x9-inch baking dish with foil; coat foil with cooking spray.

In a large mixing bowl, sift together cocoa powder, baking powder and salt.  Mix in eggs, using a mixer on medium speed, until well combined and frothy - about 2-3 minutes.

Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat; stir in sugars until well combined and dissolved.  Gradually mix butter mixture into egg mixture until well combined - about 2-3 minutes.  Sift in flour and stir until just combined.  Stir in chocolate until just combined.

Spread half of brownie batter into prepared pan.  Press MoonPies into batter.  Spread remaining brownie batter on top.  Bake 30-35 minutes or until set.  Cool on a wire rack before slicing.

Makes 12 huge brownies

Salted Caramel Pretzel Bread Pudding

Once upon a time, when I was a young ambitious woman living in the bustling city of Chicago, I ate some salted caramel pretzel bread pudding.  It was from a Charlie Trotter restaurant that was more of a deli where you could buy stuff to-go... I cannot remember the name.  Please help.  I think it was in Lincoln park.  I digress... I remember shortly after trying the bread pudding, the restaurant closed down, and citizens of Chicago wept for days.  I'm sure it wasn't because of the bread pudding, because that sh*t was amaaazing.  It still haunts me to this day how delicious it was.

I recreated the dessert in my cozy kitchen in Raleigh.  I cubed up pretzel bread and toasted it up nicely in the oven to get it a little crisp.  Then I soaked the bread in a mixture of evaporated milk, eggs, sugar, vanilla, and homemade salted caramel sauce.  I used Bobby Flay's salted caramel sauce recipe and it worked beautifully.  The mixture is baked, then topped with more caramel sauce, whipped cream and sea salt.  This is soo good.... so rich, so addicting.

The baking dish I used was larger than an 8x8-inch dish, but smaller than a 13x9.  Any medium sized-baking dish should work.

Also, I was wrong; it was chocolate covered pretzel bread pudding and it was from Trotter's To-Go.  It wasn't salted caramel at all!  Oh well, I put my own spin on the dessert.

Salted Caramel Pretzel Bread Pudding

8 cups cubed pretzel bread
2 cans evaporated milk
3 large eggs
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Bobby Flay's Salted Caramel Sauce 
Pinch of sea salt
Whipped cream, for serving

Heat oven to 350 degrees F.  Place bread on a sheet pan and toast 10 minutes.  Remove from oven and cool.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together evaporated milk, eggs, granulated sugar and vanilla until well combined.  Stir in bread cubes and most of the caramel sauce (reserve 1/4 cup) and soak for 20 minutes.

Butter a medium sized baking dish; add bread pudding mixture.  Bake 45-50 minutes or until set and golden brown.  Remove dish from oven and cool on a wire rack.  Drizzle with remaining caramel sauce.  Sprinkle with sea salt.  Allow to cool at least 30 minutes before serving.  Serve with whipped cream.

Makes 6 servings