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Pie is a controversial concept – like so many things, its meaning turns and twists as it crosses the Atlantic. An Old World pie likes to be savoury: pork pie, steak pie, fish and shepherd’s, and four and twenty blackbirds. Gravy or jelly, peas or no peas, chips or mash to go with it, a pie is dinner. Inexplicably though, there are mince pies, desserty things contrary to their names, and a Christmas pie, the one that Little Jack Horner plucked a plum from. They don’t half like pies in nursery rhymes.
Stateside, the pie gets sweetened. It becomes the pumpkin pie, the whoopie pie and (nothing more American than) apple pie. (Except it isn’t American – apples were only brought to America by the colonists in the seventeenth century.) But then, just like on our shores but the other way round, rogue savoury pies pop up in the shape of chicken pot pies and empanadas.
Pie is the original street food: the pastry was irrelevant and in fact mostly discarded. It served as packaging for the filling; the handheld food. Going back to Romans (of course; what is it that the bloody Romans did not invent, foodwise? only sushi I guess), appearing in England in the twelfth century, the crust back then was called ‘coffyn’ – how lovely.
There we have it – savoury but not always; a dessert but with exceptions, they certainly CHERRYSH the pie in America; with the national pie day, pie council and hundreds of cultural references.
I have twisted the classic a little by making sweetened crust but if you use tart cooking apples and not a lot of sugar in the filling, it creates a nice balance. The cut out shapes top is my favourite – no lattice skills necessary. And if you lightly cook the filling, you can bake the pie to a lighter crust which is precisely how I like it best.
- For the crust:
- 500g (4 cups) plain flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 150g (1 ½ cup) icing sugar
- 200g 1 ¾ stick) butter, cold and diced
- 2 egg yolks
- 1 tbsp. crème fraiche or soured cream
- For the filling:
- 1 ½ kg (2 ½ pound) Bramley cooking apples
- 2 tbsp. cornflour
- 3 tbsp. caster sugar
- 2 tbsp. brown sugar
- 1 ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- ¼ tsp grated nutmeg
- a pinch of ground cloves
- a pinch of grated nutmeg
- 1 tbsp. lemon juice
- 50g (1/3 cup) raisins
- 2 tbsp. apple, apricot or similar jam
- For the brushing:
- 1 egg beaten with 1 tsp double cream
1. The proportions are for a standard 23cm/9in flan/pie dish.
2. To make the pastry, stir the icing sugar and the baking powder into the flour. Rub the butter into the mix with your fingers or an electric mixer until it resembles rough breadcrumbs. Add the egg yolks and the cream and mix until it just comes together. Gather it into a ball, wrap in cling film, flatten into a disc and chill for at least 30 minutes or longer – it will happily sit in the fridge overnight or freeze – defrost before processing further.
3. For the pie you’ll need about 400g of pastry for the bottom layer and 200g for the top – you can make nice shortbread fingers with the remaining pastry or just discard it – or else make the pie in a bigger tart tin.
4. To make the pie shell, roll out the pastry into a disc to the thickness of a £1 coin – about 3mm. You can bring it back to almost room temperature, place it on a floured surface and beat with the rolling pin to even a flatter disc. Then roll it into a 30cm/12inch round. Transfer it into a 20cm/9in pie dish or a tart tin. If it breaks, just press the broken off bits back to the main pastry layer. Cut the edges with a sharp knife to make the rim smooth. Prick the pastry all over with a fork.
5. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas 4. Line the bottom with foil and spread pie weights, baking beans or simply penny coins. Bake for 15 minutes on the bottom oven rack; remove the coins and foil and bake for further 5 minutes. Leave it in the dish on a wire rack to cool down. It will keep at room temperature overnight, if you want to bake it ahead. Keep it in the dish all the time.
6. Roll out the smaller portion into a 10in/20cm disc. Cut out shapes with pastry cutters, rounds, hearts, stars or whatever you fancy, re-rolling the pastry until it’s used up. Spread the shapes on a tray and chill until ready to use.
7. To make the filling, peel, core and quarter the apples and slice them thinly across. Place them in a bowl, sprinkle over the cornflour, both sugars, the spices and the lemon juice. Leave for 30 minutes. NOTE: you can also cook the apples very lightly in a saucepan over medium heat just until they lose the raw appearance. The filling will then be jammier; alternatively cook only half the apples and mix them with the raw ones.
8. Spread the jam over the bottom of the pie shell. Squeeze the raw apple pieces lightly if they have released a lot of juice; stir in the raisins and press it all down into the pie shell.
9. Arrange the top shapes over the pie, starting at the edges, covering the surface until only small holes into the apple filling are visible. Brush the top with the egg and cream mixture using a pastry brush.
10. Bake the pie in the oven preheated to 170C/325F/gas 3 for 1 – 1 ¼ hour in the bottom rack of the oven until the pastry is golden and the apple filling slightly bubbles through. Let the pie cool on a wire rack for at least 2 hours before cutting. Serve with whipped cream, sour cream or crème fraîche. Sprinkle with icing sugar before serving.