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Thanksgiving : Back to Cobbler

November 17, 1994|NICK MALGIERI

Though Thanksgiving and pies are more or less synonymous, I think most of us wind up in a "pie rut" after a few years of preparing the holiday meal. To keep things simple, we prepare the same pies over and over, with no thought to varying the menu.

This year I'm making cobblers--a type of deep-dish pie baked in a shallow dish with only a top crust--as well as a few pies, among them a walnut (instead of pecan) pie and a meatless mince pie.

Mincemeat, a remnant of the medieval custom of cooking meat with fruits and spices, is one of our major imports from British baking. I always have been repelled by American and British recipes that suggest using chopped boiled tongue, beef brisket or venison, excellent foods in their own right, but not as ingredients in a dessert pie.

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It was not until I checked recipes for mincemeat in Isabella Beeton's "Book of Household Management," the bible of British cooking, that I found that meatless versions were common as early as 1861, the year in which Beeton's cookbook was first published.

Her first of two recipes for mincemeat includes beef and suet (beef fat) among the typical ingredients of apples, raisins, spices and brandy, but strangely gives no instructions for cooking either the meat or the whole mixture.

The next recipe, "excellent mincemeat," lists suet only, but calls for cooking the fruit separately and combining all the ingredients together before aging the mixture for several weeks, as in the version with meat.

The filling in the recipe below substitutes a small amount of butter for suet (Beeton used one pound of beef fat in a seven-pound batch) and has as robust a flavor or texture as any version that contains meat. The dough for both pies and the cobbler is a classic flaky pie dough, easily made in the food processor. It's simple to create and always turns out flaky and delicate.

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Try either pie or the cobbler for your celebration this year for a change of pace.

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This is the best and easiest pie dough I have ever worked with. It is easy to prepare and to roll out. Though it is not much effort to mix by hand, I find that using a food processor to prepare the dough makes it almost an instant process.

The baking powder encourages the dough to puff slightly while baking so that it presses into a hot pan bottom and bakes through evenly, preventing an underdone bottom crust.

The amount of water added to the dough is always variable. When the flour and butter mixture is very finely rubbed together and a little warm, it will absorb less water; when it is dry and cool and a little under-mixed, it will absorb more. Too little water makes a flaky crust that will crack during rolling; too much water makes an elastic, bread-like crust that lacks flakiness.

FLAKY PIE DOUGH

1 1/4 cups bleached all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces

2 to 3 tablespoons cold water

To mix dough by hand, combine flour, salt and baking powder in medium mixing bowl. Stir well to mix. Add butter pieces and toss once or twice to coat.

Use hands or pastry blender to cut butter into dry ingredients in tiny pieces, continuously pinching and squeezing butter into dry ingredients. Be careful to keep mixture uniform by occasionally reaching down to bottom of bowl and mixing all ingredients evenly together.

Continue process until mixture resembles coarse-ground cornmeal and no large pieces of butter remain visible. Scatter 2 tablespoons water on mixture and stir gently with fork. Dough should begin holding together. If mixture still appears dry and crumbly, add remaining water, 1 teaspoon at time, until dough holds together easily.

To mix dough in food processor, combine flour, salt and baking powder in processor work bowl fitted with metal blade. Pulse 3 times at 1 second intervals to mix. Add butter to work bowl. Process, pulsing at 1 second intervals, until mixture is fine and powdery, resembles coarse-ground cornmeal and no large pieces of butter remain visible, about 15 pulses in all.

Scatter 2 tablespoons water on mixture and pulse 5 or 6 times. Dough should begin holding together. If mixture still appears dry and crumbly, add remaining water, 1 teaspoon at time, until dough holds together easily.

Scrape dough onto lightly floured surface and form into disk. If doubling recipe, form into 2 equal disks. Place dough between 2 pieces of plastic wrap and press into 6-inch disk. Refrigerate dough until firm, or until ready to use, at least 1 hour. Makes about 10 ounces of dough, enough for 1 cobbler or (1-crust) pie.

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This cobbler may be varied with other fruit in season. Try a combination of pears and apples for a change.

APPLE AND CRANBERRY COBBLER

Flaky Pie Dough

3 pounds tart apples, peeled, cored and cut into wedges, such as Granny Smith

1 (12-ounce) bag fresh cranberries, rinsed, drained and picked over

1 cup light brown sugar, packed

2 tablespoons flour

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Milk

Granulated sugar

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