I have just made an apple pie, flooding the kitchen with memories of a cold Canberra childhood rendered warm and fragrant with the cooking of apple pies and apple crumbles, scenting the air with cinnamon- simmered apples and rich, buttery pastry. What could be cosier than apple pies? Universally loved, they are homely and humble, ‘easy as pie’ to whip up and gratifyingly inexpensive – the one I made cost less than $5.
I wonder how many recipes for them there are in the world. To me another of their charms is the fact I need never consult one: they are, after all, merely shortcrust pastry and apples to which you may add endless flavourings – cinnamon, lemon, nutmeg, brandy, cloves, star anise, and so on. I make up a batch of my Perfect Pastry (half self- raising flour, half plain flour, sugar and butter and egg yolk and cold water), lazily today composed in my dauntingly fancy new food processor but generally and more satisfyingly done by hand. And I pre-cook my apple filling, despite the other school of thought that believes it should be left raw: about a kilo of peeled, cored and quartered apples which I simmer in a little water and about half a cup of sugar and a cinnamon stick and a strip of lemon rind, until soft. The dissenters of the pre-cooked method claim that this results in a soggy base, a situation I generally manage to preclude by heating a baking tray for about ten minutes then sitting my pie dish on top.
I am most respectful of apple-pie purists, those who have through trial and error dedicated a lot of time and experimentation to perfecting this simple dish. And yet its very simplicity, its lack of sophistication and pretentiousness are what I love most. Once I have rolled my pulpy spicy lemon-fragrant apples and chilled my pastry then it’s a mere matter of lining a high-sided fluted flan dish or even a springform pan with the latter, piling in the former then covering it all with the lovely soft dough, pressing the edges together and pricking it with a fork and painting it with egg yolk and, if I’m feeling flash, gently arranging two pastry leaves in the middle. Into a very hot oven until golden.
The raw-filling advocates usually insist on some form of thickener to be tossed through the thin slices of apple: flour, tapioca, cornflour. Apparently this is to ensure the filling isn’t too runny; to avoid the soggy- base syndrome. I have even seen recipes that require the base to be pre-cooked – ideally at a high temperature for about 15 minutes before adding the filling – although this seems to be complicating things overly. One recipe I came across prescribed the brushing of beaten egg white over the base before pre-baking it , to ‘seal the crust’.
I do have a special apple pie recipe I occasionally make, whose filling of not only apples but also pears is baked first, together with butter, brown sugar, cinnamon and lemon juice, so you end up with a wonderfully buttery caramely sauce and intense, dense fruit filling. This is dolloped into the raw pastry crust on top of a scattering of sultanas and chopped pecans or walnuts – toasted hazelnuts are heavenly too – then sealed inside its buttery pastry lid, brushed with a little cream and a shower of sugar, and baked until deep golden brown. This is apple pie deluxe!