Apple Pie Gone Bananas: Three unusual takes on the fall favorite

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Granny Smith, Cortland or Jonathan? Crisco, butter or lard? Because every American seems to hold a different secret to a praiseworthy apple pie, we thought we’d do some behind-the-scenes sniffing of a few unconventional approaches around town. Once you see this showcase of folded, fried and deep-dish pies, we guarantee that you’ll want to make eating apple pie even more of a fall ritual than baking it.

Fried pie
Remember the fried McDonald’s apple pie from way back when? Piping hot and oozing with sweet apple filling. Kind of like the famous fried fruit pies still made by Flippens Fruit Farm in Troy, Tenn. One fan is Mississippi Mud Coffee Roaster’s Christopher Ruess, who is looking to bring the Southern legend of the fried pie to St. Louis.

Ruess has created Mississippi Mud Pie, a fried pie with a chocolate brownie filling that includes toasted pecans and his signature Mississippi Mud espresso. “My pie is more of a combination black bottom pie and fried pie,” Ruess explained. “In the South, black bottom pie is an open-top pie with a graham cracker crust and fudge-like filling; it tastes like a fudge brownie. I’m basically using black bottom pie filling as the filling for a fried pie.”

The secret to making a good fried pie, he said, is keeping the frying temperature at a consistent 350 degrees. (You gotta expect a coffee roaster to rate heat high on the list.) Ruess uses what he calls a standard pie crust recipe, but noted that chilled Crisco and chilled ice water are important to achieving the right dough consistency. He uses a coffee can (how apropos) to cut out the dough into 6-inch diameter circles.

Which fat to fry the pie to a golden brown crispiness? “You can use lard or Crisco,” Ruess said. “I prefer lard for taste, but Crisco will work. Remember when french fries tasted good? Lard.” If you can’t bear to toss the pies in a few inches of liquid fat, go ahead and bake them, but you won’t have nearly the euphoric feeling when you take your first bite, and you’ll miss out on that memorable fried pastry waft.

Deep dish
Pi, with locations in the East Loop and Kirkwood, dishes out not one but two all-American faves: pizza and apple pie. Pi’s dessert pie also features the pizzeria’s signature cornmeal deep-dish crust, filled with tart Granny Smith apples, caramel sauce, a hint of amaretto syrup, cinnamon and other spices. Add to that a buttery sugar-and-spice crumb topping, all baked to a golden brown. Each wedge comes with a mound of whipped cream, though we order it à la mode.

A seasonal special such as pumpkin, peach, cherry or blueberry pie sometimes makes the menu, but “apple seems to be everybody’s favorite. It goes well with the crust,” said executive chef David Harper.

About that crust, how about sharing some secrets? “I can’t give you that recipe,” Harper smirked.

Apple Thingy
The Apple Thingy at Soulard Bakery most closely resembles an apple turnover, but it’s certainly not typical. Owner Marilyn Sanfilippo uses puff pastry to make her mini fruit pies. “It has real sliced apples in there, not jellied apple stuff,” she said. Meaning you get straight-up apple with a dash of cinnamon, rather than the thick, sweet, sometimes cooked filling of a traditional fruit turnover. And while the edges of most turnovers are sealed, Sanfilippo doesn’t seal hers. “I stuff them too much. They would pop open anyway.”

Just how did this dainty apple pastry get its name? “A lot of names come from customers. They’ll come in and go, ‘Gimme one of those apple thingies,’” Sanfilippo said. (Her cherry version is aptly named Just Cherry. “It’s just loaded with cherries,” she said.)

So next time you’re making the rounds at the Soulard Farmers’ Market, stop by to see Sanfilippo. She reminded us that “there’s no charge for just smelling.” But at $2.85 apiece, we think you can afford to taste this thingy.

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