When I was a young child, people used to bake Apple Pie all the time. Many people would put the just baked pies onto an open window ledge to cool off and you could sniff the aroma when you got close. The fragrance of the still-warm dough was lovely, and the scent of the cinnamon and nutmeg spice was heavenly. I still can remember that wonderful bracing bouquet. I don’t know anyone who bakes pies anymore, except for those store-bought frozen prefabricated pies that all you do is put in a hot oven. I guess they are a reasonable substitute, but people like me would want to duplicate that pie at home from scratch.
When I think of all the modern advances (convection and microwave ovens, food processors, pressure cookers, slow cookers etc. etc.) now available to everyone, it’s hard to understand why people eschew cooking so often. But I know that times change and peoples’ interests do too. When my mom did the laundry on Mondays it took all morning. When the wash cycle was complete, she would put all the laundry through rollers at the top of the tub. These originally were hand cranked, but my mom’s was electric. She still had to boil the water on the stove first for the wash, then after wringing could use cool water for the rinse and then run them through the wringer again, and then put them on a pulley wash-line with wooden clothespins to dry.
The point being, with all that activity, and before permanent press, a lot of ironing, she still prepared meals from scratch, including occasional cakes and pies.
Talking with a French immigrant a while back, he said his mom didn’t have it as easy as mine. His mom used a washboard and unheated creek water, and the toil was endured because all the other women in the area worked together and exchanged talk, not having any other way to launder at that time. But he agreed that apple pie was a favourite at his house too, although different than my mom’s.
Apple pies always have two crusts, use fragrant spices, and employ lard or vegetable shortening in the dough. The typical French apple pie is called Tarte aux pommes, has only a bottom crust and is made with butter. Personally, I like both pies, each a variation of the other.
When I first made a French apple pie it didn’t come out perfect. There is a certain technique to making the dough, assembling the tart and all, but it is not difficult. The first Tarte aux pommes I made tasted fine; the second one did too, but also looked perfect.
Please try the French apple pie, your guests will appreciate your effort and once you achieve success with the tart concept, there are a lot of tarts you can make, including a savory quiche.
TARTE AUX POMMES
Start by making the dough, called Pate Brisee:
2 cups of all-purpose flour
6 ounces (1.5 sticks) unsalted butter, cold, cut into small dice (1/4”). You should put the diced butter in your freezer to keep it cold.
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon sugar
1/3-cup ice-water (approximately)
1. Place the first four ingredients in a large bowl. Mix the ingredients so that all the butter dice are coated with flour, as if making a biscuit dough. You can use a biscuit dough blender, two dinner knives or your own hands.
2. Pour most of the water in and start kneading the ingredients to gather into a ball. You may or may not need the entire 1/3-cup of water. It should not be “wet”. You should see tiny pieces of bare butter throughout the dough and this is good because it will ultimately produce a desired flakiness. You don’t want to over-work the dough, for that would make it too elastic. If so, let rest in the refrigerator for about one hour. A simple kneading will make it malleable and able to be shaped without breaking.
3. Put the dough on a floured board, pat down and roll it uniformly, turning it a quarter of a turn while rolling until it forms a circular disk. Check that you have flour on the underside of the disk and roll it about 1/8” thick (a little thicker is perfectly ok, as long as it fits the pan you will use.)
4. Roll the dough onto the rolling pin.
5. Lift it up carefully and unroll onto a flan ring, mold or pie plate.
6. Using your fingertips, push dough into the sides. You don’t want to stretch the dough, which could make it shrink while it is baking.
7. With your thumb and forefinger, squeeze a lip gently all around the inside of the of the ridge.
8. Use a knife and rolling pin on top of the ring to trim the dough. Remove and freeze for later or discard.
9. Crimp the edge so it looks good, using once again your finger and thumb. You can also mark the edges with the tines of a fork for a nice appearance.
Now make the apple tart (Tarte aux Pommes)
If you don’t have a flan ring or removable bottom mold or pie plate, you could make it on a cookie sheet and roll up the edges to hold in the filling.
1. Preheat oven to 400F.
2. Have your dough ready. Get 5 apples such as golden delicious or granny smith and trim both ends by carving out with the tip of a paring knife. Peel the apples.
3. Cut each apple in half, and then cut out seeded area.
4. Cut into ¼” slices. Chop the end slices coarsely, and set aside the lovely uniform center slices.
5. Place the chopped apples on the pie shell bottom.
6. Arrange the center slices atop the chopped apples at the rim going inward.
7. For the pie center, arrange the apple slices almost vertically so they look almost like a flower.
8. Now sprinkle evenly 3 tablespoons of sugar and 2 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces, on top of the apples.
9. Bake the tart about 75 minutes. Check it from time to time; the tart should be well browned with a beautiful golden crust. Remove the flan ring if used. If a cookie sheet was used, use a metal spatula and remove the tart.
10. You may apply a glaze to the tart using apricot or apple jam if you like. Strain the jam through a sieve and dilute with brandy or water.
11. Do not refrigerate the tart, it is best kept and served at room temperature.
You can get eight servings of this delightful tart, depending how you slice it. Please try it, because no matter how you slice it, it’s a wonderful dessert.