Big Little Recipes

4-Ingredient Apple Turnovers With an All-Cheddar (All! Cheddar!) Crust

September 11, 2018

A Big Little Recipe has the smallest-possible ingredient list and big, BIG everything else: flavor, ideas, holy-cow factor. Psst: We don't count water, salt, pepper, and certain fats (say, olive oil to dress greens or sauté onions), since we're guessing you have those covered. Today, we’re making apple turnovers with the cheesiest crust that ever was.


The most elemental pie pastry has four ingredients—flour, butter, sugar, and salt—mixed with water. But it doesn’t have to be butter.

You could use lard—yep, like pork fat!—which produces a super flaky, slightly savory crust. You could use shortening—with its relatively high melting point—which creates an almost foolproof dough.

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Or you could use cheese.

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Top Comment:
“The best part - the crust smells like a GIANT Cheez-it when it bakes and even for a while afterwards. Yum. I am now looking to adapt this to a pie crust. ”
— Somia
Comment

This isn’t a new idea. I’ve crossed paths with many part-cheese pastry crusts—part being the key word. Because the fat in a pastry dough is such an influential ingredient, a lot of bakers opt to mix-and-match fats to get the best of both worlds.

Photo by Bobbi Lin

Our baking expert Erin McDowell doesn't disagree: “My grandma swore by a combination of fats. Once upon a time, it was half lard, half shortening. Then it became half butter, half shortening. Either way, she liked mixing the sure result of shortening with the better flavor of other fats.”

Same deal with swapping in cheese. You count on stability from, say, butter, and sharp, cheesy flavor from something like cheddar. Martha Stewart does this with a giant apple crostata (2 sticks butter to 1 cup grated cheddar). Epicurious makes a similar crust for its apple pie (1 stick butter to 2 1/2 cups grated cheddar). And King Arthur follows suit with its apple-sausage pie (1 stick butter to 1 cup grated cheddar).

But what if we dropped the butter altogether?

Photo by Bobbi Lin

I followed my usual dough-making method, only with all sharp cheddar cheese as the fat. I combined flour and salt in a food processor, pulsed, then sprinkled in the cheese, pulsed again, drizzled water on top, and pulsed again until a curdy, crumbly dough appeared.

Unlike a butter-based dough, which goes from just-right (holds together when squeezed) to all-wrong (one big sticky, gummy mass) with the snap of a finger, this dough was alarmingly easy to work with. Why? One of the cruxes of pie pastry is when the fat melts. That’s why recipes always warn you to not overwork the dough. If the fat stays in distinct bits and bobs until it goes in the oven, that heat causes the fat to melt, producing steam, which puffs up the crust into flaky layers. If the fat is already melted, you miss out—like, big time.

Which brings us back to cheese. Butter melts at 85° to 90° F. Meanwhile, cheddar melts around 150° F. So, unless you’re mixing your cheesy pie dough in a sauna, your odds of ending up with a flaky-as-heck crust are pretty good. The end result is a cross between a pie crust and cheese straw, with crunchy edges and a deeply golden color.

Photo by Bobbi Lin

I have a feeling you’ll use this dough for lots of recipes, but the one I couldn’t wait to try: apple turnovers. As the examples above agree, apple and cheddar are in love with each other, and ’tis the season to celebrate their romance. I kept the filling simple, to let the cheddar shine: Apples, brown sugar, and salt. That’s it. Pick an apple that’s sweet-tart in flavor and crisp in texture, this way it holds its own in the oven and doesn’t dissolve into mush. Pink Lady is a reliable pick (and, c’mon, such a cute name) but Granny Smith, Jonagold, and Braeburn are just as dependable.

Though, if I may be so bold, who really cares what kind of apple? I’m in it for the cheese.

Have you ever tried a cheesy pastry crust? Tell us about it in the comments!

18 Comments

Kate R. October 13, 2018
Whoa! Game changer for our house! I too admit to a deep, dark fear of homemade crust. Store bought has been my “baking method” forever...till now! First I made the recipe almost as written but snuck in a couple of healthy grinds of black pepper to the apple filling. That’s a combo that surprises and thrills whenever I serve it. Like salting fruit, the heat of pepper brings out the sweetness in an incredible way.<br />I was so thrilled by the ease of this pastry that I had to try creating something savory too. Instead of cheddar, I used shredded swiss and inside?....spinach, caramelized onions and a cheesy bechemel. It was a simple creamed spinach creation all wrapped up in that flaky goodness. The votes were in after serving it last night...a true winner.
 
Author Comment
Emma L. October 14, 2018
Thanks for sharing these awesome adaptations, Kate! So glad you're enjoying and having fun with the recipe. Your note about black pepper (yum!) made me think of this pear crisp recipe I developed last winter: https://food52.com/recipes/74825-black-pepper-pear-crisp-with-salted-oat-streusel. Seems right up your alley!
 
Kate R. October 15, 2018
Oh MY! You know this girl’s alley! Thanks kiddo😉
 
Somia September 25, 2018
These were delicious! Made great care packages for my daughters in college who just about swooned in happiness. The best part - the crust smells like a GIANT Cheez-it when it bakes and even for a while afterwards. Yum. I am now looking to adapt this to a pie crust.
 
Author Comment
Emma L. September 30, 2018
Thanks so much! That's so sweet that you sent them to your daughters in college. My mom used to send me brownies when I was in school, and those always made me swoon, too :)
 
Nicki September 17, 2018
Do you suppose a grain-free flour might work? Or maybe a combination of such flours?
 
Author Comment
Emma L. September 17, 2018
Hi Nicki! I haven't tried that with this recipe. Since the dough relies so heavily on all-purpose wheat flour, I'm not sure if it would turn out well. If you're interested in grain-free baking, though, worth checking out this creative recipe for biscuits—and the book, Sweet Laurel, that it came from—https://food52.com/blog/22852-dairy-free-gluten-free-biscuits-from-sweet-laurel
 
Kim B. September 16, 2018
Can you make these ahead of time and just keep in the fridge for a day before using?
 
Author Comment
Emma L. September 17, 2018
Hi Kim! A couple options: 1) You can make the turnovers from start to finish a day in advance, store them well-wrapped at room temp, then reheat in the oven just before serving. 2) You can make the pastry a day or two in advance, store it well-wrapped in the fridge, then roll out, assemble, and bake the day-of. Hope this helps!
 
LCMiles September 16, 2018
What would you recommend for people without food processors?
 
Author Comment
Emma L. September 16, 2018
Hi! I'd recommend using a bowl and fork or pastry cutter—or even a stand mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, if you have one.
 
LCMiles September 17, 2018
Great - thank you! This looks delicious and I can't wait to try it.
 
Daisy September 16, 2018
This looks like a tip that'll help me past my crust-phobia. I think I'll try it tonight.
 
Author Comment
Emma L. September 16, 2018
You got this!
 
Rhianna M. September 11, 2018
Could you use a pastry blender if you don't have a food processor?
 
Author Comment
Emma L. September 11, 2018
Hi—I didn't test that method, but I'm hopeful it should work! Just follow the same visual cues in the recipe/video.
 
Katie M. September 11, 2018
These were so delicious, Emma! I can't wait to make them!
 
Author Comment
Emma L. September 11, 2018
Yay! Thanks, Katie :)