That's Nuts: As American as Peanut Butter and Apple Pie
Note: Lee Zalben, a.k.a. "the Peanut Butter Guy" is the creator of the Peanut Butter & Co., a New York sandwich shop with a national line of nut butters. Every week he'll chime in with some nuttiness.
It's apple season. Go to any farmer's market and you'll see them—bushels and bushels of Braeburns, McIntoshes, and Macouns. I've created many tasty recipes using apples and peanut butter over the years but was never able to perfect an apple pie recipe using peanut butter. So with all these apples in season right now, I thought this was a good time to get that peanut butter and apple pie recipe going again.
The inspiration for this recipe was my favorite after school snack when I was a kid—apple wedges with peanut butter. There's something about the cool, crisp, tart apples paired with the rich, creamy, salty-sweet taste of peanut butter.
But there are so many variables to consider when creating an apple pie recipe from the ground up. The first issue is the apples of course. Jonagolds and Cortlands are known for being good baking apples, but since it's that tart crunch that I always thought made apples and peanut butter go so well together, I decided to stick with Granny Smiths (my preferred apple as a child).
Then there's the crust. Really, the crust has so many variables. Butter or shortening? Single or double? And if it's a double, do I attempt a lattice or fancy cutouts or go with a solid sheet of pastry? Or just go with a crumb topping?
I think the problem with apple pie is that everyone has such specific expectations, be they à la Entenmanns's or Martha Stewart or somewhere in between. Some people even melt cheddar cheese over their apple pie, so I guess embellishing the national dessert with peanut butter shouldn't strike people as too crazy.
As much as I love pie crust, I decided on a single crust pie with no crumb topping. I know it's a little unorthodox for an American apple pie to be "naked" (we're not going for a French tarte tatin, after all) but I really wanted the combination of peanut butter and apple flavors to come through, and the double crust was just too much pastry, and took away from that unique combination of flavors and textures that make apples and peanut butter go so well together.
Perhaps the most controversial thing about this recipe was what I left out. The one ingredient is so synonymous with apple pie that as I write these words, I am dreading the potential hate mail. That's right, the one ingredient we're taught from foodie birth to include—cinnamon.
No cinnamon. Why? I'm not a cinnamon-hater. I love cinnamon. I love apples and cinnamon. And I love peanut butter and cinnamon. In fact, my company Peanut Butter & Co. even makes a Cinnamon Raisin Swirl variety. But the combination of all three just wasn't working. Just trust me—apple pie without cinnamon is not the end of the world, at least in this case.
Earlier this year a friend of mine turned me on to a simple German apple pie recipe that is distinctive for its use of heavy cream poured over the apples before baking. I used it as a jumping-off point to develop this recipe.
It's a very rich pie, and I knew I'd need some extra fat to work with the peanut butter. While there is certainly an art to baking, it is also largely about science—part chemistry and part physics. Peanut butter, a combination of oil and plant fiber, does not always perform as you think it would when cooked or baked, especially when combined with liquids with varying amounts of water and fat. (Water causes the oil in the peanut butter to separate from vegetable fiber leaving you with a gummy mess.)
I think this recipe is tasty and unique, combining everything that is delicious about a snack of peanut butter and apples. While I enjoyed the pie warm, it was even better at room temperature and quite good chilled as well.