It must be over a decade since I last made an apple pie. Since I became French, my default option for apples and pastry is sinfully easy Tarte Tatin. Or occasionally, if I have time, a classic tarte aux pommes. But today I suddenly felt the urge to make an old-fashioned apple pie. I had to dredge long-unvisited corners of my memory for the little tweaks I developed in the years when I made it regularly. Painting the pastry with egg white to stop it going soggy. Mixing a little cornflour in with the sugar to thicken the juices, making it easier to serve cold. Adding a few sultanas. And above all, hiding bits of quince among the apples to perfume the pie and turn the filling a rosy pink. In fact it must have been the quince in the fruit bowl that gave me the idea in the first place.
I can’t get Bramleys here, so I use eating apples, but Bramley cooking apples are better and more authentic. You should really make it in one of those traditional round enamel pie plates with a flat rim. I don’t even own one of those any more, so I used a 22 cm loose-bottomed tart tin. Whatever you use should have at least a small rim.
You can use this same method to make apple and blackberry tart — just omit the quince, sultanas and cinnamon, and replace some of the apple with blackberries.
250 g plain flour
125 g butter
pinch of salt
1 tbs caster sugar
about 6 well-flavoured eating apples, or 4 Bramleys
4-6 tbs golden caster sugar, to taste according to how tart the apples are
1 tbs cornflour
1/2 tsp cinnamon
a few sultanas
1 egg white
Make shortcrust pastry in the usual way, using just enough water for it to stick together (probably about 6 tbs). If possible, leave it to rest in the fridge for half an hour.
Mix the sugar, cinnamon, and cornflour in a small bowl. In another bowl, whisk up the egg white with a fork, just enough to make it a bit frothy. Peel, core, and slice the apples thinly. Peel the quince and then coarsely grate the flesh off it, stopping when you get to the core (quinces are very hard and this is easier than slicing them).
Preheat the oven to 200C. Cut the pastry into two pieces, one slightly larger than the other. Roll out the larger bit into a circle, and use it to line your buttered pie dish, draping the excess over the rim (don’t cut it off yet). Paint a little of the egg white over the bottom (keep the rest, you’ll need it later). Layer the apples and quince in it, sprinkling each layer with the sugar mixture and a few sultanas. Pile the fruit up into a dome shape in the middle and finish with a layer of apples.
Roll out the other piece of pastry into a circle big enough to cover the pie. Brush the pastry on the rim of the dish with a little more egg white, lay the lid over the top, and use the tines of a fork, or your thumb, to press the edges together and seal the fruit in. Use a small knife to cut off the excess pastry round the rim. Roll out these scraps and cut out shapes to decorate the top — make free-form shapes, letters, words, or use small cutters to make the shapes. Stick the shapes on with more egg white or water. Use the point of a knife to make a couple of small air vents in the centre of the pie.
Put the pie in the oven and bake for 20 minutes to cook the pastry. Check on it to make sure it’s not browning too much — if it is, turn the oven down. Once the pastry is pale gold, brush all over the top with the remaining egg white and sprinkle on a little more sugar. Turn the oven down to 160 and bake for a further 15-20 minutes to crisp and brown the top and finish cooking the filling. Let it cool to lukewarm before serving.
Serve with custard, cream, or ice cream.
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