The title comes from the $25,000 scholarship won by Meri Jo Leach in 1998 to attend the Culinary Institute of America's Baccalaureate Program in Hyde Park, N.Y. when a panel of five judges awarded her apple pie the top prize in the All-American Apple Pie Academic Scholarship Contest. The key is to use a mixture of at least two or three varieties of apples - selecting for sweetness, tartness and texture. Meri Jo had chosen five different varieties from the nearby Hudson Valley orchard visited by the contestants: Cortland, McIntosch, Cripsin, Empire and Ginger Gold.
I used four varieties for mine, all locally grown in Pennsylvania and New Jersey: gala, honey crisp, golden delicious and granny smith. I also tweaked Meri Jo's recipe by adding my two new secret weapon ingredients taken from Mrs Goodfellow's larder - nutmeg and rosewater. The rosewater added a little bit of a delicate flavor and the nutmeg was a spicy (but not overbearing) complementary touch. For best results, be sure to let the pie cool for several hours before serving. The filling sets up better if it gets a good long rest after coming out of the oven.
(I prefer all butter pie crusts to those that use vegetable shortening - I think they have more flavor for one thing. This one is very easy to work with and works very well in a food processor. In his cookbook, Patent also gives directions for how to mix by hand. Another reason I really like this recipe - I think the cake flour makes the dough a little softer and the resulting pie crust more tender).
2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup cake flour
½ tsp. salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter
½ cup ice water
1 tsp cider vinegar
1 large egg yolk
Place the flour in a food processor with the salt and pulse. Cut the butter into 1-inch chunks and add them to the flour. Pulse 4 to 6 times to break them up.
Combine the vinegar and egg yolk in a measuring cup and add enough ice water to bring the volume up to ½ cup. (You may not need to use all of the liquid, unless your flour is very dry.) While pulsing, add the liquid in a steady stream until the flour looks crumbly and damp. Between 25 and 30 pulses should be enough. Don’t let the dough form a ball. The crumbs should adhere when you gather them in your hand. If not, add a few more drops of ice water.
Turn out the dough and divide it into 2 pieces, one slightly larger than the other. Wrap each piece in plastic wrap and press it into a disk. Refrigerate for 30 minutes to an hour before rolling.
$25,000 Apple Pie
3 pounds apples, quartered, cored and peeled, each quarter cut crosswise into thin slices (7 cups prepared)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
Adjust two oven racks with one rack in the lowest position and the second in the center of the oven. Set a heavy baking sheet on the lower rack and preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
On a lightly floured surface, roll the larger piece of dough into a 12-inch circle. Place the dough into an 9-inch ovenproof glass pie plate without stretching the dough. Lift and nudge the dough from its edge going all the way around the pie plate to be sure the dough fits snugly on the bottom and sides of the pan. Leave the excess dough hanging over the edge of the plate. Refrigerate.
For the filling, prepare the apples and have them ready. In a large bowl, combine both sugars, the cinnamon, flour and salt. Break up any lumps of brown sugar with your fingertips. Add the apples and lemon juice and combine them well with the dry ingredients. Using a folding motion with your hands works best.
On a lightly floured surface, roll the second piece of dough out to an 11-inch circle. Don't worry about rough edges at this point.
Spoon the apple mixture into the bottom crust, mounding it slightly in the center. Distribute the pieces of butter over the apples and brush the edges of the overhanging pastry lightly with water.
Carefully place the second circle of pastry on top of the apples, centering it as best you can. Press the edges of the two pieces of dough together firmly, and use kitchen shears to trim away the excess dough, leaving 1/2 inch of overhang. Fold this double thickness of pastry under itself to form a standing rim, and flute. Cut 4 to 6 slits in the top of the pastry in a spoke pattern with the tip of a small, sharp knife. Brush the top of the pie and edge of the crust with the cream and sprinkle with the 1 tablespoon sugar.
Place the pie on the preheated baking sheet in the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Transfer the pie and its baking sheet to the center shelf and reduce the temperature to 375 degrees. Continue baking for 40 to 45 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown, the juices bubble up through the slits and the apples are tender when tested with the tip of a small, sharp knife. Cool several hours on a wire rack before serving.
Makes 8 servings.
Recipe from Baking in America by Greg Patent