By the time you read this, I will have undergone and, I hope, survived, my first technical lecture, my first demonstration, and my first practical of the school year, and already have blithely moved on, and be up to my elbows in mousseline and crème pâtissière. But right now I am a wibbling wreck of nerves and inadequacy; right now I am just a girl standing in front of a patisserie course asking it not to burn her.
In theory, the next nine months will teach me how to produce exquisite pastries and perfect vienoisserie; enviable entremets, and sugar work more complicated than jurisprudence. I will be a changed person: no longer the messy, disorganised cook who frequently has to run to the shops for forgotten ingredients, and sometimes can’t be bothered to line cake tins. This week marks the dawn of a new age in my baking; an age of precision and verve and professionalism.
But you’ll tear cosy Autumn puddings from my cold, dead hands.
The moment the leaves start to turn, I want pies and crumbles and cobblers. I want puddings that are thick and clumsy and studded with stewed fruit. I want dishes that cry out for custard to cool down their volcanic innards and disguise their haphazard looks. I want something that fills a bowl and takes half an hour to eat.
This isn’t a quick recipe; I’d go so far as to say it’s a bit of a weekend project. But it’s not a difficult recipe: none of the steps are complicated, and all are easily delineated if you want to make it around chores and plans. And the finished product is deeply satisfying. I think this may be the best apple pie I’ve ever had.
This pie is broadly based on a recipe by Four & Twenty Blackbirds, a sister-run pie shop in Brooklyn. My filling is different, and I’ve drastically upped the spices. But the pie crust is theirs, as are the bitters. I wasn’t sure about the bitters, to be honest with you, but they are a touch of genius. A background boozy hum, bringing out the darker, smokier notes of the caramel, and brightening the sharp apples. It makes the whole pie taste a little more grown up, more put together. It’s the red lipstick of the pie world.
The salted caramel recipe makes far more than you need for this dish, but it’s tricky to make in smaller quantities. But the leftovers will sit happily in a jar in the fridge pretty much indefinitely. Use it for crumbles and cake and to make bad days better.
After some trial and error, I’ve found it easiest to construct my lattice on a piece of greaseproof paper, refrigerate and the lift it onto the pie. You can tighten and neaten it up once it’s on the pie. If you’re unfamiliar with lattice pastry, this is a pretty good illustration of how to put one together.
It goes like this:
Spiced Apple Pie with Bitters
(Adapted from the Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book by Emily Elsen and Melissa Elsen)
Makes: 1 9 inch pie (approx 6-8 servings)
Takes: 2 hours, including chilling
Bakes: 50 minutes
For the pastry
315g plain flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
220g butter, cold and cubed
30ml cider vinegar
1 Ice cube
For the salted caramel
150g granulated sugar
125ml double cream
10g salted butter, softened
Pinch of sea salt
For the spice mix
1 heaped teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1 heaped teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
5 dashes angostura bitters
For the apples
3 granny smith apples
3 bramley apples
50ml lemon juice
2 tablespoons caster sugar
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons Demerara sugar
1. First make the pastry. Rub the fat into the flour in a large bowl until it resembles breadcrumbs. Combine the water, vinegar and ice, and sprinkle 2 tablespoons of the liquid over the mixture. Add the water a tablespoon at a time until you can bring the dough together into a ball: you may only need 3 or 4 tablespoons in total. Divide the dough equally in two; form into discs, clingfilm and refrigerate for at least an hour.
2. Now, prepare the salted caramel. Heat the sugar in a small saucepan over a medium-high heat. Slowly, the sugar will liquify and turn a deep copper; swirl the pan to encourage the solid sugar to melt, but don’t stir. If the caramel starts smoking, remove it from the heat.
3. When all the sugar has melted and turned a coppery brown, remove from the heat and add the cream in a constant, thin stream, whisking the whole time (don’t worry if it feels like it’s clumping). Add the butter to the mixture and return the mixture to the hob, now at a low heat; continue whisking until smooth, and then set to one side.
4. Now, line your tin and make your lattice: roll the first ball of dough out to a circle about 14 inches in diameter. Use this to line your tin; I do this by rolling the pastry onto the rolling pin and then gently rolling it out over the tin. Gently press and manipulate the pastry so that it’s flush against the tin. Trim any overhang pastry to about 1.5 inches. Cover with clingfilm and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
5. Roll the second ball of dough out to a circle about 14 inches in diameter. Using a pizza cutter or knife, remove an inch from both left and right side of the circle. Cut the remaining dough into eight, equal strips. Build a lattice on a piece of baking paper and refrigerate flat in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
6. Next prep the apples. Core and peel all the apples. Keep a small bowl of lemon juice by you, and as you cut the apple into chunks (about 1” squared) dredge them through the lemon juice. When you’ve cut and dredged all the apples, sprinkle with two tablespoons of sugar and set to one side for twenty minutes.
7. Now make your spice mix: place the sugar in a small bowl and pour the bitters over this. Mix together (I find this easiest with my fingers) and add the nutmeg and cinnamon.
8. Now assemble the pie. Remove the pastry and tin from the fridge. Drain the apples, and then stir the spice mix through them. Pour the apples into the pastry-lined tin, and pour about 75ml of the salted caramel over the apples. Carefully transfer the lattice on top of the apples and caramel and shift the lattice strips so that they are tight and neat. Tuck into the edge of the pie, and trim excess from the ends of the strips. Gently crimp the edge of the pie by using your thumb to push a piece of the overhang between the first two fingers of the same hand, creating a fold. Continue until the pie is crimped all the way around. Refrigerate for fifteen minutes.
9. Preheat the oven to 190°C. Brush the lattice with a beaten egg and sprinkle with demerara sugar. Bake for 20 minutes. Reduce the heat to 175°, cover with tin foil, and bake for a further 30 minutes, until the pie is taut and golden.
10. Ta Dah!
Icing on the Cake
We ate this hot and cold and then hot again, with greedy amounts of cold custard and, once, with nutmeg ice cream.