Well, it’s Thanksgivukkah eve, and I have to say it is kind of weird standing in the kitchen up to our ears in butternut squash, shallots, Libby’s canned pumpkin, cornmeal, sweet Italian sausage, and Knorr’s classic brown gravy mix (we’re hosting tomorrow), and simultaneously having the kids pester us to light candles so we can hand out night-one of Hanukkah swag.
Not quite Christmas in August, but still, it’s a little dissonant.
Thanksgiving is all cranberry, gold, and rust; sweet potatoes, marshmallows and cider; bowl games and TV parades and company—lots of company.
Hanukkah is blue and silver. Fried potatoes and apple sauce. Candles and chocolate coins and wrapping paper. Usually just us and the kids.
One holiday is quintessentially and karmically American. The other, obviously Jewish, even though it’s become a sort of American”alt-Christmas,” with presents, songs, and its own share of Hallmarky, commercialized crap.
But since we have a hybridized holiday this year (my friend Nina debated what to call it on Huffington Post here), I decided to embrace the weird, rare duality: get some marshmallow on the latkes, play spin the sweet potato, and do a mashup for dessert.
A Thanksgiving x Hanukkah remix.
I’m calling my little project “Baked Apple חַי.” (For the uninitiated, that’s the Hebrew word “Chai,” pronounced with a gutteral ckh and not a soft ch as in “Chai Tea Latte”). It’s the word and symbol for Life, and might sound familiar to many from the ubiquitous toast, “L’Chaim,” or “to Life.”
Here’s how it rolls:
First, peel, core, and slice 5-6 apples. I used a mix of Galas and Macouns.
Next, add 3/4 cup of sugar…a full cup if you want to delight the kids and piss off your wife:
Then some cinnamon and salt (half teaspoon of one, eighth of the other)…
And add some fresh lemon juice, stir it all up and let it rest a little while… (click to see the best internet pie making video EVER, and one of a thousand superb Guided By Voices rock anthems)
Then, on to the crust. Flour (2 1/2 cups), crisco (half a stick), butter (whole stick), salt (1/2 teaspoon) sugar (teaspoon), and a few tablespoons of ice water, cut together, then pressed into a ball, and flattened out on a cool countertop. Warm hand might equal warm heart, but they make for gummy pie crust—run yer mitts under cold water first.
Note the unblended, unmelted butter marbleized throughout the pie dough. Necessary for creating flakiness, as when the butter cooks, it pushes some of the dough apart, creating flakes. (A tip from yours truly, the Prince of all flakes)
Use half of the dough for the bottom crust…
Spoon in the cina-sugary apple mix (your kitchen will start smelling like Cinnabon about now)…
And then on to the top crust. Roll out some of the dough between sheets of wax paper, and use a pizza wheel to trim out several 3/4″ wide strips…
Then start your Mogen David, like you’re painting stars on the wings of an IAF fighter jet. This is much easier than making a woven lattice crust. Trust me.
Then finish it. I rolled out a “crimping ring” for the edge of the pie. and used some spare dough to craft an actual “Chai.” (No, Ivy, while it’s a pie, that’s not a greek letter Pi. You have math on the brain!)
Into the oven at 425 for a half hour, then another half-hour at 350, and…VOILA!
Baked Apple חַי
Here’s to the miracle of light, and the miracle of light, flaky pie crust. To apples, not sauced with latkes, but baked with butter and sugar. To Giving Thanks, and getting presents.
And since it combines fruit from the Garden of New England, harvested in November, served on an American Day of Thanks, and bearing a Jewish symbol of Life, I’ll serve it with a sentiment reminded to me by my friend Spencer, once attributed to Ronald Reagan, but what sounds (to me) a lot like the actual words of Peggy Noonan:
“Enjoy life. It’s ungrateful not to.”