Ask Peter: How to bake an apple pie without a soggy base
I am grappling with how to make an apple pie with a lovely crisp sweet short pastry, and not something with a soggy bottom. I usually cheat by making a tarte tartin, but this year I really want to master the proper pie. What tips can you give me on methods? My grandmother used to make blackberry and apple, but these days blackberries are rare (or sprayed to death). Any ideas on other flavour combinations?
My favourite apple pies, I must say, have been made and eaten in the USA. In America they really understand the idea of a double crusted or open topped sweet pie. Pies just sound like they come from America as that’s all they ever ate in The Brady Bunch, and good old "mom'' Shirley Jones was always serving them up to David Cassidy and his siblings in The Partridge Family.
Apple, cherry, blackberry and strawberry pies were all the rage in the late 60s and 70s it seemed to me. American moms also make the most delicious blackberry and apple cobbler (rather like our humble crumble) as evidenced by my second cousin Shirley Hopkins’ culinary skills over in Arkansas. Plus they make fabulous shortcake — rather like a scone that is filled with berries and whipped cream. What I also find interesting is that none of these are particularly sweet. The fillings may be, but the dough part of them is almost savoury. Almost.
However, when it comes to making an apple pie (or one with blackberries) there are a few tricks you can follow to help ensure you don’t have too soggy a bottom.
The first is to cook the filling before you put it in the pastry case. Let’s assume you’re making an apple pie...
- Place around 30g unsalted butter, 80g sugar (use more if the apples are very tart, and less if they’re sweet) in a wide pan. Add a snapped cinnamon quill, a tablespoon of grated ginger and any other ground spices you might like (cloves, nutmeg, star anise, allspice).
- Melt over medium heat and leave to sizzle. Peel eight or so apples, quarter them, remove the core, and roughly cut each quarter into four (more if the apples are large). You can put them into a bowl of acidulated water (add a little lemon juice to the water) but if you work quick enough there’s no need to — a little discolouration won’t hurt anyone, and it’ll keep the fruit less moist.
- Add the apples to the butter and cook for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the fruit has collapsed and some liquid has evaporated. Adjust sugar levels and then take off the heat, cool and chill in the fridge – a less moist filling will help keep the pastry dry and crisp. Metal pie tins seem to work better than pyrex or ceramic.
- Once you’ve lined your buttered tin with pastry, brush it with a layer of white chocolate or beaten egg before putting your chilled cooked fruit in – they both form a barrier between absorbent pastry and juice-leeching fruit.
- The following short-crust pastry works well. Place 230g diced, chilled (frozen is even better) butter in a food processor. Add 350g sifted flour, a generous half teaspoon flaky salt and 1 tablespoon caster sugar. Pulse-blitz till crumbly. Slowly add 125ml ice cold water using the pulse blitz, until the dough is barely holding together.
- Tip on to a bench and gently knead for as little time as possible until it clumps together. Divide in 2, roll roughly into a ball and press 2cm flat with your palm then wrap in plastic and leave to chill in the fridge for an hour. Roll both pieces out 3-4mm thick on a floured bench.
- Line a buttered pie dish (ideally metal) with one piece and add the filling.
- Brush egg around the pastry edge and lay the other on top. Cut some holes in the top to allow steam to escape, trim and crimp the edges, brush the top with eggwash and drizzle with caster sugar, then bake until golden at 180C.
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