This past weekend Ray and I entered the annual Apple Pie Baking Contest at the Collingswood Farmers Market, marking our third apple pie contest and sixth pie contest overall (and they’ve all been at the market). Our entry was a hazelnut praline dutch apple pie with a hand-twirled top crust.
Based on the success of our praline pecan peach pie back in August (where we took second place for flavor in the peaches plus nuts category), I decided that another praline would set us apart. I used hazelnuts, since that’s what I had on hand, and I have to say, there’s definitely a tasty difference between the two pralines.
I chose to do Dutch Apple, using my favorite recipe from The New Best Recipe Book I have (Go buy it. Trust me. Just do it.) because I love the flavor and texture. But instead of doing the traditional crumb topping, I wanted to make a bang with a crust design, so we used Ray’s excellent crust recipe to create a bottom and top crust.
I made a full spiral twirled crust last year for our apple and cherry pie, which also won us second place in presentation, so I wanted to use the technique again. This time I divided the pie into quarters and twirled 4 main sections. The pie top reminds me of a quilt, which I like.
And as a final touch, I sprinkled on a cinnamon and vanilla sugar mixture before baking, because who doesn’t love cinnamon?
Our hazelnut praline dutch apple pie took second place for presentation–thanks to my hand-twirled top crust–and made it up onto the board in the flavor competition, but didn’t get enough votes to take home a ribbon … hopefully next time.
That said, once the judging was complete, we snagged 2 forks and tried it ourselves and LOVED it! Ray’s crust was perfectly buttery and flaky–as always … the man is a genius with pie dough–and the salty-sweet layer of praline was a perfect backbone for the tart and apple-packed filling.
Ray and I really enjoy the pie baking competitions that the Collingswood Farmers Market puts together, thanks to folks like Betsy and Dave and their merry band of pie-tasting judges. There’s a real sense of community. Bakers and spectators alike gather around the judging tent, chatting and pointing out pies. Bakers trade secret ingredient tips and everyone claps and cheers for the winners. Is it a competition? Sure. But these people are our neighbors … they’re what makes living in our little part of the Garden State so great.
Start with the hazelnut praline because it's the easiest and you don't have to cook anything. Place all praline ingredients in a bowl and mix to combine. Set aside.
For the pie dough, pulse together flour, sugar and salt in a food processor. Blend in butter by dropping a cube at a time into the food processer, just until most of mixture resembles coarse meal with some roughly pea-size butter lumps.
Drizzle 1/3 cup whiskey over the mixture and pulse a few times until incorporated.
Squeeze a small handful of dough: If it doesn't hold together, add more whiskey 1 tablespoon at a time, pulsing until just incorporated, then test again. Do not overwork dough, or pastry will be tough.
Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface. With heel of your hand, smear the dough once or twice in a forward motion to help distribute fat.
Gather dough together, with a pastry scraper if you have one, and press into a ball.
Divide in half and form into 2 disks. Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and chill until firm, at least 1 hour.
To prebake the bottom pie crust, grease the pie plate thoroughly with butter or shortening, then roll out one disk of dough and shape into the pie plate.
Place in the fridge and chill for 40 minutes, then continue to chill in the freezer for an additional 20 minutes.
Heat the oven to 375 Fahrenheit and position a rack to the lowest level in the oven (this will help ensure a crisp crust).
Place a double layer of foil over the crust, shaping around the edges of the crust. Add 2 cups of dried beans, ceramic or metal pie weights.
Bake for 25-30 minutes, then carefully remove the foil and pie weights and bake for an additional 5 minutes to brown the crust. Remove from the oven.
Work on the filling while the crust is chilling and being prebaked.
For the filling, combine the peeled, cored and sliced apples in a large mixing bowl with the sugar, cinnamon and salt. Toss to combine.
Heat the butter in a dutch oven over medium-high heat until the foaming subsides. Add the apple mixture and cook with the lid on for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Remove the lid and cook for an additional 5-10 minutes until the apples have softened.
Place a colander over a large bowl and drain the apples, shaking a bit to get as much juice drained as possible. Set the apples aside.
Return the juices to the dutch oven and add the heavy cream. Heat the mixture over high heat and bring to a boil, stirring.
Continue cooking and stirring the juice/cream mixture until it's thick enough that a wooden spoon leaves a trail in the mixture. This should be about 5 minutes.
To assemble the pie, first press the hazelnut praline into the bottom crust.
Spoon in the filling, then spoon the cream mixture over top. You may have extra.
For the top crust, roll out the second disk of dough into an oblong shape and cut long pieces approximately 1/4" wide to form the ribbons.
Twirl the pieces into designs of your choice. When you need to add on to a strip, moisten both its end and the end of the new strip.
Once you have your design laid out, sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.
Bake the pie for 20 minutes at 375 Fahrenheit to lightly brown the top crust.
Cool for 1-2 hours.