To be honest, I’m not a huge fan of the traditional apple pie. The shortcrust pastry can be dense and cloying, and the apple filling prone to being thick and pasty. I also think that most apple pies are overly sweet, with the delicate flavours of the apple getting a little lost with all the sugar.
So lately I’ve been on a mission. I’ve made four apple pies over the last couple of weeks, testing out various different methods, pastries, and flavours, and I have now settled on my own signature version of the classic that I’m really happy with. And I’m even more delighted that my fussy kids actually liked eating it! 😀
So here are my conclusions:
Firstly, the apples matter. Although there’s nothing wrong with using whatever you can get your hands on, I am firmly of the belief that the best thing to use are dessert apples rather than cooking apples. The double edged sword with dessert apples is that they hold their texture and shape very strongly, so you’ll need to cook them down really well before baking. The extra effort is definitely worth it though – you’ll get better texture, flavour, and a nice attractive cut on your finished pie.
I chose a selection of different eating apples, to give some subtle variety in texture and also flavour. You will need to peel, core and slice a whole bunch of apples, so having some mechanical assistance is very useful. Placing your freshly sliced apple pieces into a large bowl of water and some lemon juice will stop the apples from browning, and you would be well advised to do this given how long all the peeling and slicing can take…
When all your apples are prepared, you will need to make a caramel in which to cook the apples down. If I were making this pie only for adults, I would add a lot more cinnamon and some nutmeg, but as I have a couple of kids with sensitive tastebuds, I go really easy on the spice. I also use a mixture of white and brown sugar, whereas if you are making an apple pie for adults only, I think using all brown sugar is a tastier option.
One quick note on cinnamon – I use ceylon cinnamon, which is true cinnamon. The cheaper cassia variety (fake cinnamon) is significantly less flavourful, and you will probably need twice as much. Cassia cinnamon is actually poisonous in large quantities, so I would really recommend that you don’t use it at all – I’m actually kinda surprised that anybody would buy it if they knew what an inferior product it is. If your cinnamon is not clearly labelled, use your nose to find out; The ceylon is much stronger and spicier, and smells just like Big Red chewing gum. If you are not sure if it’s the good stuff or the bad stuff, it’s almost certainly the bad stuff – you will know true cinnamon when you smell it, I guarantee it!
Several recipes I’ve seen suggest adding the caramel ingredients in stages. I’ve noticed no discernible benefit to this whatsoever, so I just chuck everything in together and get it all bubbling away. When the sugar is melted and the caramel no longer feels gritty, add in the apples, all at once. You will need to cook the apples for about 30 minutes, ideally in a wok or other large pan, stirring occasionally.
As dessert apples are quite robust, they won’t soften much during the final bake. You’ll want to aim for your final texture at this point. The apples should be soft and flexible, holding their shape, but losing their crispness.
Happily, the best way to test for texture is to eat them 😉
When you are happy with the texture of the apples, empty everything out into a heatproof dish, and leave to cool completely. I would typically cook the apples the night before I want to make the pie, and leave them to cool overnight.
Congratulations, the hardest part is already over!
I also like to start the pastry the night before. If I don’t get as far as blind baking the bottom crust, I would at least get the pastry made, so that it’s ready to go first thing in the morning.
This is my go-to flaky pastry for pies, which is a simple rough puff. It’s super easy to make, and mysteriously impresses people quite a lot! It’s barely more difficult to make that a pate briseé, so there’s really nothing to panic about…
The secret to rough puff pastry is to leave chunks of unincorporated butter in the dough, to create layers and lift. I cut cubes of cold butter into my dry ingredients, and then squash them flat between my fingers. I aim to create little shards of butter, about the size of my thumbnail.
Do not be concerned that the dough looks a little dry. The butter will continue to melt into the dough a little as you manipulate it, and a wet dough makes for a tough pastry. Just gently squash the dough until it comes together. If it’s a hot day you may want to rest the dough in the fridge for 20 minutes – but if you work quickly, it should be fine.
Roll the dough into a rough rectangle, about twice as tall as it is wide, and then letter fold it into three. Rotate the dough by 90 degrees, and repeat, so that that the dough has had two full turns, and then rest it in the fridge for 20 minutes. And that’s all the work the pastry needs 🙂
When the pastry is nice and cool, take it out of the fridge, and cut off a piece to make your base crust. Somewhere between 1/3 and 1/2 of your pastry is a good amount. You don’t need a thick base, as you don’t actually want the base to puff up, and you will struggle to get it crisp if you roll it too thick.
When you cut the dough, you will find some surprisingly impressive lamination. It’s amazing how such minimal effort can give you such a great result. Although rough puff won’t give you anything like the rise you get from a puff pastry, it will be lovely and flaky.
Roll the dough out into a large circle, doing your best not to roll over the edges of the dough and disturb the layers that you have created. Don’t be afraid to roll the pastry very thinly here – you don’t want rise on your bottom crust anyway, so if the butter layers start to melt into the dough, it’s really not a problem.
Cut off the bulk excess of pastry, and chill the lined pie dish in the fridge for about 20 minutes; you want the pastry to be nice and firm before you do the final trim around the edges. I like to add decoration to the top crust of the pie, so I always keep the scraps until the pie is safely in the oven. You should store the scraps in some clingfilm, laying your pieces on top of each other to preserve the layers that you have created.
And then it’s time to blind bake! I like to do a trim with a sharp knife, and then lift the edges gently and replace them. This will ensure that the pastry shrinks back evenly, giving you a nice anchor for the top crust. If you have a very small lip on your pie dish, you may want to leave some pastry overhanging, so that it shrinks to meet the edge (although this is really hard to judge!), or perhaps use a fork to ‘smear’ the pastry against the edge of the pie dish, hopefully anchoring it in place.
Whichever method you choose, dock the base and sides, and then add your oven-safe clingfilm or baking parchment, and weigh down with some uncooked rice.
My cling film (Cuki Microwave) is only oven safe to 175c, so I need to bake this for a very long time! After extensive experimentation, I have found the optimum time to be 45 minutes with the rice, and then another 15 minutes with the rice removed.
That is not a typo.
This pastry needs a really long time to bake because there is so much butter in it. You may have success at higher temperatures using baking parchment, but given the pastry’s desperation to puff up, I think that would be a mistake. Luckily, rough puff is really resistant to burning, and the second layer of pastry will offer the lower crust complete protection in the second bake – this will be as brown as the crust gets. You could put some foil over the top if you’re really panicking about it burning, but I have never found this to be necessary.
When everything looks nicely golden brown, remove from the oven, and then wait for the pie dish to cool to room temperature before beginning the final assembly.
… I never said this pie was going to be easy or quick, I just said it was going to be good 😀
Squash all of your apples into the pie shell, ensuring that they fill every crack and crevice. You don’t want any air pockets in the filling, as that would greatly reduce the chances of an impressive cut in the finished pie. It’s worth taking your time here, especially as you’ve already spent so much effort getting to this point!
Roll out the remaining pastry to form a large circle, and then cut a hole in the centre to let the moisture escape from the pie as it cooks. You could use a leaf cutter if you’re feeling fancy, but I have come to prefer the look of a simple circular hole, so I use the back end of a small piping tip. Then carefully drape the pastry across the top of your filled pie, and when you are happy with the positioning, trim off the excess around the edge of the pie dish.
It’s important that your top and bottom crust are sealed well, so that your apple filling doesn’t bubble out of the sides. I like to use a little egg wash to glue the two pieces together, painting it on the bottom crust and gently pressing the raw pastry back down.
If you like, you could leave the edge plain, but I like to add a ring of leaves around the outside, glueing them in place with the egg wash, and overlapping in an unending circle. In order to achieve this, I take a folded up square of cling film, flour it well, and place it under the edge of the first leaf; this stops the pastry from sticking to the pie lid while you work your way around, allowing you to place it over the last leaf as you finish the circle.
I thought of this idea myself. I’m pretty sure I didn’t invent anything new, but I was pretty delighted with myself when the lightbulb went off 😀
Egg wash your pie well, and then it’s FINALLY ready for the oven!
I often sprinkle my pie tops with demerara sugar for a nice crunch and some sweetness. But with this pie, I don’t think the sweetness adds anything – in fact I think it just detracts from the contrast between the pastry and filling. If you really want to add sugar, just be aware that it will give you a slightly more rustic look when baked.
Then simply place the pie in a very hot oven, until gloriously golden brown 🙂
The pie should be left to cool completely before cutting.
Whilst there’s nothing to stop you tucking into it straight away, the filling will pour out like molten lava – delicious, apple-y molten lava. I have decided that this apple pie is best prepared the previous day if you want to serve it to guests; you won’t lose any of the pastry flake, and the impressive clean cut is all but guaranteed 🙂
And there it is, my perfect apple pie. Not much like the original, I know, but personally I like it so much better. Perfect with a big dollop of vanilla ice-cream 🙂
Dan’s Apple Pie
12 dessert apples
25g plain flour
100g caster sugar
100g soft light brown sugar
170ml double cream
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
300g plain flour
3 tsp caster sugar
1 tsp salt
300g cold butter, cubed
150g cold water
1tsp white vinegar
1 egg, beaten
pinch of salt
Peel, core and slice the apples, placing them into a large bowl with water and lemon juice, to stop them browning.
Place all other filling ingredients into a large pan, ideally a wok, and stir over a medium heat until the sugar has dissolved.
Drain the apples, and add to the caramel sauce.
Cook down for about 20-30 minutes until the apples are soft, and the remaining liquid has thickened.
Remove from the heat and allow to cool completely.
To make the pastry, stir the flour, sugar and salt together, and then add the cubes of butter.
Squash the butter into flat shards, and break them into pieces about the size of your thumbnail.
Add the water and vinegar, then gently turn and squash the dough until it comes together.
Place pastry on a floured work surface, and roll out into a rectangle twice as long as it is wide.
If the butter pieces come through the dough, dust with flour and brush off excess to seal the fat.
Letter fold the dough into three, then turn through 90 degrees and repeat.
Rest in the fridge for 20 minutes.
Cut the dough in half, and use one half to make the bottom crust.
Roll out into a large circle, about 3-4mm thick, and line your pie dish.
Refrigerate until firm – about 20 minutes.
Trim and dock the pastry, then line with oven-safe cling film or baking parchment, and uncooked rice.
Blind bake at 175c for 45 minutes, then remove the rice and bake for another 15 minutes until golden brown.
When the pastry is cool, add the apple filling, pressing down well to fill all gaps.
Roll out the other half of the pastry into a large circle, at cut a steam vent in the middle.
Place over the filled pie base, and trim to size.
Mix a beaten egg with a pinch of salt and a splash of water, and use to adhere the bottom and top crusts.
If desired, add pastry decoration to the top of the pie, and then brush with the egg.
Bake at 220c for 30 minutes, or until the pastry is golden brown.
Allow to cool completely.