Winter is a season that needs small comforts to tide you through the gloom of cold weather, dark nights and rain. Little treats make all the difference – fragrant steam curling from hot drinks; warm mixed spices; the delights of wintery shopping, and the slow, creeping arrival of Christmas. With a good book, and a slice of hot apple pie, life takes on a cosier tone.
I’ve just gotten into Nail Gaiman’s books, which have the perfect escapist tone for this sort of weather. Somewhat better than the cheering up I needed after finishing Noel Streatfeild’s Saplings – definitely don’t try reading that when you’re feeling blue.
Apples have a long shelf life so even in December, you can quite happily use your windfall bounty without ill-effects. I’ve made several versions of this pie over the last few months, and that’s given me plenty of time to experiment in finding the best recipe out of the many versions tried.
The apple pie has two key components:
- The apple filling
- The pastry
Clearly the filling must have apples in it to qualify as being a true Apple Pie, although the more experimental may wish to try the infamous “Mock Apple Pie.”
In the past, I would simply use apples, diced up and thrown raw into a dish with a gentle sprinkling of cinnamon, but what tended to happen was that on opening the oven I would find a soggy pastry lid floating on a sea of water, and crunchy apple pieces. Not nice.
By precooking the apple filling, it is possible to stop this disaster from happening. The Hummingbird Bakery provides a divine indulgent filling cooking the apples in liberal amounts of butter, sugar, and spoonfuls of cinnamon. It really ups the flavour games. So to me, a good apple pie filling definitely has got to have a bit of butter, sugar, and an American-sized dose of cinnamon. Yes, you may scorn, but wait until you’ve tried it.
Others advocate adding lemon juice to their apples, particularly as it helps stop them from oxidising and turning brown. I never bother with it, finding the sharpness a rather off-putting contrast with the warm cosy sweetness I’m trying to produce.
For the pastry, there are yet more conundrums. Puff pastry, flaky pastry, shortcrust or sweet? A crust underneath or none? I found both delicious, but puff pastry only works as a top layer as it needs room to rise. Shortcrust is pretty happy in both roles, and a dash of sugar always elevates it into dessert status. The BBC Good Food recipe is pretty fabulous, and the positive ratings seem to indicate that a lot of people agree. Browsing on the net, there are always other options if you want to take your Apple Pie to a whole new level. What about bacon?
The Perfect Apple Pie
Adapted from The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook and BBC Good Food
For the pastry:
- 225g butter, cut into cubes
- 50g caster sugar
- 2 eggs
- 350g plain flour
For the filling:
- 1.5 kg apples (I like a combination of Granny Smith and Golden Delicious) peeled and cut into chunks
- 50g butter
- 3 tsp ground cinnamon
- 100-150g caster sugar (depending on how tart your apples are)
- 1 tbsp cornflour
For the pastry, beat the butter and sugar together until combined, then beat in 1 egg and 1 egg yolk until it resembles scrambled egg. Then bit by bit, mix in the flour and form into a soft dough. Knead roughly for a moment to bring it together without overdoing it (which makes the pastry tough) then wrap with clingfilm and rest in the fridge.
For the filling, melt the butter and cinnamon together in a pan. Then stir in the apple chunks, followed by the sugar and gently cook until the apple chunks have softened, and partly broken down. If they are very watery, then stir some of the liquid with a spoonful of cornflour to form a paste, then add this to the apple mixture, as this will thicken up the juices. Let the apple mixture cool completely.
Preheat the oven to 190˚C.
Remove the pastry from the fridge, divide into two. Roll the larger piece out into a circle, and line a pie dish with pastry. Trim the edges with a sharp knife. As the pastry will shrink as it cooks, make sure there is a bit of extra overhang. Fill the dish with the cooled apple filling. Roll out the second piece of pastry to form the lid. Lay this over the apple filling, and trim the edges with a sharp knife. Seal the pie crust by pressing around it with the tines of a fork.
With a sharp knife, prick 5 holes in the middle to let the steam escape. Use the pastry scraps to decorate the pie lid, then baste with the remaining egg white. Bake for around 40 minutes until the pastry is golden brown. The pie is at its best when hot, so dig in!
Note: the sharper-eyed amongst you will notice that I have actually posted my photos of two pies. The cut pie was the final version, but I didn’t have quite enough apples so you can see that it has a flatter lid as a result.