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.
Or you could use cheese.
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.
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?
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.
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.
- 1 1/4 cups (160 grams) all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 5 ounces (142 grams) sharp white cheddar, grated (about 1 3/4 cups)
- 6 tablespoons cold water
- 3 (small, ~5-ounce) pink lady apples, peeled and sliced (figure 1/4-inch thick)
- 1/4 cup (53 grams) light brown sugar
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Have you ever tried a cheesy pastry crust? Tell us about it in the comments!