Here it is, the pie I made earlier this week with cream cheese and apples picked at a friend’s wedding in Santa Cruz. I ended up taking this apple pie to my office after I photographed it, and there wasn’t anything left on the plate by the time I came back 15 minutes later.
Chill the butter cubes and the dry ingredients (flour, salt, baking powder) in the freezer for 20 minutes before you begin.
Place the dry ingredients in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Pulse a few times until mixed. Add the cold cream cheese cubes and process until the mixture resembles meal. Add the frozen butter and pulse until the butter is the size of small peas. Add the water and vinegar and pulse again until incorporated.
Transfer the mixture to a large freezer bag and press it together with your hands until it forms a dough. Leave the dough in the bag and allow it to rest in the refrigerator for at least 45 minutes.
Toss the apples in a large bowl with the lemon juice, sugars, nutmeg, and salt. Allow to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes to 3 hours. Strain the macerated apples using a colander suspended over a bowl; you should collect at least ½ cup of juices. Transfer the drained apples back to the large bowl and toss with the cornstarch until all traces of the starch have disappeared. Set the apples aside.
Transfer the juices to a small saucepan and cook on the stovetop over medium heat with the butter. Bring to a boil and reduce by ½. The juices will be concentrated and syrupy. Pour the concentrated juices over the apples. (If the syrup hardens on contact with the apples, don’t worry. They will soften again during baking.)
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Remove the chilled pie dough from the refrigerator. Roll 2/3 of it into a 12-inch disc on a lightly floured nonstick surface. Trim the edges so it’s a (near) perfect circle, reserving any scraps. Carefully transfer the disc to a 9-inch pie plate, tuck the edges under, and crimp the edge gently with your fingertips. (The edge should exceed the rim of pie plate by about ½-inch.) Refrigerate while you make the decorative leaves.
Roll the remaining dough (scraps and remaining 1/3 of the original recipe) into another, smaller disc. Use a cookie cutter to cut leaves that will decorate the rim of the pie. (Alternatively, you can cut them out by hand.) Use a paring knife to gently press “veins” into the leaves. Place them on a platter lined with parchment or waxed paper and transfer them to the refrigerator.
Remove the chilled bottom crust from the refrigerator and line with parchment paper, then fill with pie weights, dried beans, or rice. Bake for 20 minutes, then carefully remove the pie weights and parchment paper. Prick the bottom of the crust with a fork 3 or 4 times, then continue to bake 3-5 more minutes, until the crust is a light golden brown. Remove the crust from the oven and allow to cool. Brush with ½ egg white, beaten lightly.
Arrange the apple slices in the bottom crust in overlapping, concentric circles, working from the outside in until all slices have been used. Pour any remaining juices over the apples. Dot the apples with the unsalted butter. Arrange the chilled “leaves” around the perimeter of the pie, adhering them to the bottom crust with drops of water. Place the assembled pie in the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes to allow the pastry to rest.
Remove the pie from the refrigerator and use a pastry brush to brush the pastry leaves and any exposed crust with the lightly beaten egg. Bake the pie for 15 minutes, uncovered, then cover it loosely with foil. Cut 2-3 vents in the foil to allow steam to escape. Bake for another 45-50 minutes, or until the apples are tender but not too soft and the crust is golden brown. Remove from the oven, and let cool slightly, then brush the apples with the melted preserves.
Serve warm or at room temperature. (With vanilla ice cream of course!)