Bake your holiday pie in advance (up to 2 weeks) this year, then freeze and forget it. Simply thaw it in the fridge overnight, then pop it in the oven right before serving to take the chill off. We use vodka in the pie dough-which doesn’t make the crust taste boozy, but does make it extra flaky and tender.
Special equipment: a deep 9 1/2-inch pie pan
Pulse the flour, 4 tablespoons of the butter, the lard, sugar and salt in a food processor until the mixture has the consistency of a fine meal. Add the remaining 8 tablespoons butter, and pulse until you have pea-sized pieces. Sprinkle the vodka and water over the mixture, and pulse until the dough just comes together. Evenly divide the dough between 2 pieces of plastic wrap, and gently press or pat into rounds. Wrap tightly, and refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour up to overnight. (The dough can be frozen for up to 2 months.)
Peel and core the apples, then cut them into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Toss with the sugar and lemon juice in a large bowl. Melt 4 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the apples, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the firmer apples soften but hold their shape, 15 to 18 minutes. (The softer apples, like McIntosh, will get very soft and saucy.) Add the flour, cinnamon, cream and salt, and stir until the juices thicken, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat, and let cool completely. (The filling can be refrigerated, covered, up to 2 days ahead.)
Roll out 1 disk of dough into a 13-inch round on a lightly floured surface or between 2 pieces of floured parchment or wax paper. (If the dough gets too warm, refrigerate it to firm it up.) Ease it into a deep 9 1/2-inch pie pan. Mound the cooled filling slightly in the center of the dough, and dot with the remaining 2 tablespoons butter.
To bake: Position an oven rack in the bottom slot of the oven, set a baking sheet on it and preheat to 425ºF for at least 30 minutes. Place the pie on the hot baking sheet, and lower the heat to 375ºF. Bake until the pie is golden and the filling is bubbly, 1 hour 10 minutes to 1 hour 20 minutes, rotating as needed. (Cover the edge of the crust with foil if it browns too quickly.) Transfer to a rack, and let cool until set, 3 hours.
Serve the cooled pie, or wrap it tightly in foil, label and date, and freeze for up to 2 weeks. Warm it in a 350ºF oven for 20 minutes before serving.