May 3, 2009
A matter of crust
The important thing about making an apple pie is to choose a crust that holds in the fruit juice and stays crisp
By Cynthia Low
When I can't decide what to make for dessert, I resort to apple pie.
Most people like it, it is relatively easy to make and needs only a few ingredients.
Of course that is why apple pie is on the menu of cafes and restaurants everywhere and can be bought ready-made. But I guarantee once you have tried your own homemade version, you will be hooked.
The French make a very nice apple tarte tatin, an artful layer of caramelised glazed apples on a puff pastry base. Then there are versions with nutty brown sugar topping. Some have cheese or dried fruit added, or even a meringue top.
Basically, it all comes down to the crust.
Shortcrust pastry is the traditional crust for apple pie but puff pastry can also be used. However, with so many variations possible on a basic apple pie recipe, almost any type of pastry or base for the apples is fine.
That is provided it is crisp and not soggy, and able to keep the apples and their juice locked inside during and after cooking.
If you have guests arriving soon and and there is not much time for preparation, the quickest option is frozen ready-made pastry from the supermarket.
Although I do this too from time to time, I prefer to make my own. It generally tastes better but even more reason to do so is that some purchased brands contain trans fat.
So if you have the time, try making the pastry yourself. It is not too hard although it can be a bit messy. That is because the best way to mix the pastry is to rub it together with your fingers.
Another thing to consider is the type of apples to use, which will also help you avoid a soggy crust.
Professional and amateur cooks all have different opinions on which type of apple makes the best apple pie. What you choose depends largely on what you want the pie to taste like. Golden Delicious apples make a sweeter-tasting pie but many people, including me, prefer a pie that contains a hint of tartness.
Also, some apples go mushy when they are cooked, so it is best to use a variety that is known as a 'cooking' apple. Then again, mushy apples can still taste good in a pie so if you actually want a mushy inside and a soft crust, they may be what you want.
I prefer to use Granny Smith apples, the dark green ones. Unless they are overcooked, they tend to hold their shape when baked, giving the pie a nice, layered look.
Apart from that, the only other consideration is what spices to use to pep up the flavour. Cinnamon and cloves have a special affinity with apples, as does lemon zest. Just finely grate the zest of one lemon and sprinkle it into the apples when you are putting them into the pastry case.
MAKE IT YOURSELF: APPLE PIE
250g plain flour
4 Tbs caster sugar
150g cold butter chopped into cubes
2-3 Tbs ice-cold water
3 Tbs finely chopped macadamia nuts (optional)
1. Make the pastry by mixing the flour, sugar and butter in a large bowl. Rub everything together with your fingers until the pastry resembles fine breadcrumbs.
2. Add just enough cold water to get everything combined. Knead it slightly, form it into a ball, then wrap the ball in cling film and place in the fridge for about 30 minutes.
3. Roll out two-thirds of the pastry on a lightly floured surface, reserving the other third in the fridge for the pie top. If it is too sticky, add a little more flour or roll it between two sheets of baking paper.
4. When it is about 2mm thick, lay it on the bottom of a 20cm-diameter baking dish, allowing the sides to come up a bit higher than the edge of the dish.
5. If using, sprinkle the chopped macadamia nuts onto the pastry base. They add a nice taste and can help stop the pastry base from becoming soggy.
6. Place the pastry back in the fridge until apple filling is ready.
For the pie filling and top crust:
8 large apples peeled, cored and sliced
2 Tbs water
6 Tbs caster sugar
2 Tbs grated lemon rind
1-½ tsp cinnamon
1 egg, beaten
1. Put the apples and the water in a large frying pan, cover with a lid and simmer gently, shaking the pan now and then, for about 5 minutes or until the apples start to become tender.
2. Stir in the sugar, lemon rind and cinnamon and remove from the heat and allow to cool.
3. Heat the oven to 200 deg C.
4. Remove the chilled pie case from the oven and pack the cooled apple mixture into the case.
5. Roll the remaining third of the pastry into a round the size of the pie dish top. Brush the rim with a little water then press the edges together to seal the pie. Cut some slits in the top and decorate with some pastry 'roses' if you wish. Brush the top with beaten egg and place in the oven.
6. Bake for around 30 minutes until the top is golden and crisp
7. Serve with some ice cream.