Autumn Comforts and Apple Pie

It’s such a luxury having the time to gently potter away, and fritter away the hours doing a bit of relaxing cooking. Not the kind that involves furiously thinking about how to use up the fridge odds and ends into something vaguely edible in fifteen minutes, but the kind of lovely slow stirring, stewing and baking that only a slow day at home can give.

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With autumn well underway, it’s time for comforting foods. I roasted up a batch of tomatoes for a roasted tomato soup based on Sophie Dahl’s recipe. It smelled delicious in the oven, but the tomatoes could have done with a bit more flavour. I’ve got my eye on another tomato soup recipe with the addition of sundried tomatoes and pesto.

DSC_1013Then the glories of sticky toffee pudding, which I have blogged about previously last year.

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Thanks to a massive bounty of windfall apples, I’ve also been baking multiple apple crumbles, and with the last of the lot, also decided to bake an apple pie. I adore the Hawksmoor sticky toffee pudding recipe, so was keen to try out the apple pie recipe too, which also sounded delicious.

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The pie had an unusual pastry recipe with 120g of sugar, and double cream instead of eggs used to bind the mixture together. It was more akin to a cookie dough on being handled, and on baking, was soft, slightly cakey, and the overall effect was a little like eating an apple cake. Possibly not my go-to recipe for apple pie in the future, but very tasty all the same.

Now that we’re coming towards the end of October, I’m starting to get little excited thoughts that Christmas really isn’t so far away. I love the idea of making the flat as cosy as possible, and with this, need to resist the temptation of all those delicious-smelling Anthropologie candles  – when they are packaged up so prettily, how is a girl to say no?

Autumnal Apple Pie

I went on a run on Saturday, keeping it short because I’ve sadly come down with another stonking cold. A grumpy old man HARRUMPHED me loudly as I waited for him to cross through a gate with his dog. I have no idea what made him so cross as I’m fairly sure I wasn’t giving off any signs I was desperate to overtake him – no running on the spot for instance.

It made me wonder why people sometimes get so cross about bumping into runners? We don’t take up the whole road, and we don’t slow cars down. We don’t tend to jump red lights, and we tend to be lone rangers rather than roam in packs.

That’s not to say that most encounters I’ve had are like this. Most people I meet are very friendly. We either nod in acknowledgement of one another’s pain or say a cheery hello.

Anyway, back home, we’ve collected quite a few of the first windfall apples, so after my run, I got stuck into making an Apple Pie.

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I’d love to say that I was inspired by this week’s Great British Bake Off episode, but in fact, I’ve been hankering to make one for a while. What a coincidence, eh?

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I have to say I didn’t pick a good weekend for pastry-making. It was warm, and muggy, and humid. Not so much Autumn as Indian Summer. So the pastry was a bit sticky, and hard to work with. Just for a change, I sealed the pastry by pressing by thumb evenly around the border instead of using a fork.

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As I stewed the apples down for the pie, it occurred to me that different varieties of apple behave very different during the cooking process. Bramleys cook down to mush very quickly. I used a mixture of varieties, so my apple filling became a combination of applesauce and chunks. I like my apple pieces to hold their shape in a pie, but this meant that the apple mixture filled the pastry case very compactly, with no gap between the pastry lid. Next time I think I might try using a combination of Granny Smiths and Golden Delicious, with one Bramley thrown in to create a little bit of sauce.

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Despite the heat, the pastry also turned out beautifully, crumbly and short with no annoying shrinkage.

With my cold, I sadly couldn’t really taste the pie. However, I am assured by tasters with a functioning olfactory system that it was good! I think next time I bake a pie, I’ll pick a weekend that’s a bit nippy, and dashing with rain outside. It’s the perfect dish for a cosy night in.

The Perfect Apple Pie

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.

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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.

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The apple pie has two key components:

  1. The apple filling
  2. 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.

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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?

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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.

Apple and Olive Oil Cake with Maple Icing

Over the years, I must have made cakes from hundreds of recipes. Yet it’s interesting that only a handful of them stay with me to get baked more than once. It’s mostly a balance between time required, the difficulty of the recipe, nutritional composition, and how well it goes down in a crowd.

Somtimes you make something, just catch a glimpse of it out of the oven, and you’re sold. Other times, it goes down well but you just can’t seem to like it. Most recently for me, this was this Ottolenghi cake.

Funny eh?

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Perhaps I expected too much of it, or was too careless in the method of preparation. After all, I did fling everything together without taking that much care, and it didn’t hit the spot the way I wanted it to. The sponge could have been moister, there were holes where apple pieces had shrunk within the cake. The taste didn’t hit the spot. Well….maybe it was lots of little elements combined.

True to Ottolenghi, it was a recipe that required all the mixing bowls a kitchen could yield, and a tremendous amount of washing up to follow.

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The maple icing was incredibly rich, and rather interesting to make. It was also lovely to work with, although I do prefer the taste of a classic cream cheese icing. The wave pattern I traced on as an afterthought. Simple, but decorative in that slightly quaint old-fashioned-tea-shop way.

I recall that Ottolenghi’s pear and amaretto cake was also not a favourite, and I did struggle with the hazelnut cupcakes (although they really did taste lovely). Perhaps I’m just not having a great time with the Ottolenghi cake recipes! Sometimes it’s the hype surrounding the recipe – I was hoping for something more showstopping. On the other hand, I was rather tired and grumpy when baking, and I feel like my mood affects the result too, so who knows? Might have to give the recipe another go in the future!