baking/ this is life/ traditions and rituals

Salted Caramel Apple Pie with a spelt all-butter crust

What a fraught time it has been; all the events of this whole year are certainly proving to be a catalyst for many important changes in this world of ours. And whilst the events that kick start change are so often truly horrible, what can be born from this change is so, so important and actively reminds us how we should really live.

Life is not simple, and we must care for each other and be willing to love and support all people and the earth – with our eyes open and hearts willing to be vulnerable, and ready to right any wrongs. We need to be open to change, and actively work towards creating a better world for all of us. We need to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. We can kick start any positive change, and keep it going, because we can do it together.

If I could give you all a hug, I would. But it seems like it’s still going to be a little while until that is our reality again – what I can give you right now is a virtual hug via this cosy food blanket of a little slice of pie.

If you’re needing some comfort right now, that’s okay. Maybe that comfort for you can be this pie; or maybe you’ve just been delivered a ton of wind-fall apples which are surely delicious and would look right at home in a Carravaggio painting and you really need to do something with them all.

Either way, a quick post for you this week, in case you’re in need of pie.

You never know when you might have a hankering for something; hankerings have a mind and will of their own. Maybe it’s the time of year when the leaves are just right and there’s a crispness in the air, or maybe you’ve been feeling some deep emotions you haven’t felt in a while. Maybe it’s an anniversary, or a memory evoked from the smell of fruit in a bowl as you walk by. Maybe it’s your family tradition to make something special with the first apples of the season. Or maybe you’ve just found yourself with a whole lot of apples and you need to find a way to eat them up.

Wherever you’re at, pie is a way to take some apples and make a little time in the kitchen to ponder the thoughts while you make yourself and your loved ones something comforting and delicious. 

Being at home a lot has meant we have opened up some lovely books we haven’t looked at in a while. Curling up with a cookbook is a very nice way to spend the afternoon, and take your mind somewhere else. You can be transported away from your living room to a different culture and cuisine, or revisit places from your memories. You can imagine living somewhere different if you let your imagination take hold, and then take your tastebuds along for the ride.

Sometimes these cookbook wanderings bring you the right recipe at the right time, like when you have a whole lot of apples and need to find another thing to do with them, and bring a little extra comfort at the same time.

We celebrated a birthday in our house a few weeks ago, a birthday for a loved one no longer with us, which always makes the day full of reflection, as well as attempts to celebrate. Instead of cake, we thought it would be fun to make family cooking part of the day and make a birthday pie together.

The process took a good part of a day, but sometimes the days have time to fill, and the reward was worth the wait. Put on some music and let the kids decorate the top whichever way they want; enjoy the work and the rewards.

Pie? Yes please.

Salted Caramel Apple Pie

adapted slightly from The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book by Emily Elsen & Melissa Elsen.

This recipe takes a little while, what with the pastry making and chilling, so make sure you’re making it at a time when you’re happy to be patient and enjoy the process (don’t try and rush a pie!). The Elsen’s recommend waiting 3 – 4 hours after baking before cutting the pie but of course we couldn’t wait that long, the smell of the pie was just too good – in fact, the smell of the pie baking alone was almost reward enough (almost).

We were desperate to eat our pie, and waited just long enough to not burn our tongues… dive in, there’s no time to waste.

I would venture to say that I think the pie was even better the following day, reheated in a moderate oven for 10 – 15 minutes – just enough time to warm through (and scent the house once again) and re-crisp the crust. Comfort, all week long.

Making, resting and chilling the dough takes the longest amount of time, so start by making the dough, perhaps even the day before, if you want to eat the pie sometime before late afternoon. While it’s hanging out you can get on to the fillings, at your leisure.

We used wholemeal spelt flour for our crust, and reduced the sugar in the filling as we figured what with caramel and sweet-smelling apples it could probably do with a little less. We left out a few things, and used the spices we had, plus a little lemon zest (for the kid who really likes zesting!).

Sprinkling the salt both on the apples and on the pastry just before baking really amplifies the flavours, so I recommend not skipping the salt! Just a pinch for each will do.

Our pie was delicious and I have no doubt a pie made to the original recipe, as it stands in the book, would be also.

Alas, I did not take a photo of our pie sliced; we were simply too busy eating it.

All-butter spelt pie crust

A little note about making the pie crust – you won’t use all the liquid, no way, at least that has been my experience! But, you want to have enough, so make the full amount and use what you need – the dough should hold together, have streaks of butter and still be just a little bit crumbly when it’s ready, but it definitely shouldn’t be sticky or wet. Trust the dough to be a little touch crumbly, it will come together further after hanging out and hydrating in the fridge for a while.

Emily and Melissa suggest making the dough by hand, and that’s what we did as part of our process, but you can also make it by blitzing the ingredients together in a food processor, adding the water a little at a time and finishing it off, quickly, by hand.

400g wholemeal spelt flour
1 teaspoon fine salt
1 tablespoon caster sugar
220g cold, unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
1 cup cold water
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
a couple of ice cubes to keep the water mixture super cold

one buttered pie dish around 30cm in diameter

Stir together the flour, salt and sugar in a large bowl. Add the butter and using a bench scraper (if you have one, and your fingertips if you don’t, or put the whole thing in the food processor) chop the butter into the flour mixture until you have mostly small pieces of butter, around the size of a pea.

In a large jug, mix together the water and vinegar and add the ice cubes. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of the water mixture at a time over the dough, chopping together with the bench scraper between each addition to incorporate. Keep going until the dough just almost comes together into a ball, there will still be a few dry bits remaining.

Bring the dough together as best you can, sprinkling selectively with a teeny bit more of the water mixture if any dry bits really don’t want to stick.

Cut the dough in half and shape into two flat discs. Wrap each disc well, and then place in the fridge for at least an hour, or overnight.

Once the dough has rested, remove it from the refrigerator and allow it to warm up for 5 – 10 minutes, to prevent it from cracking, before you roll it.

Roll each disc of dough, one at a time, on a lightly floured bench with a lightly floured rolling pin, until the dough is about 5cm larger than your pie tin, and around 3 – 5mm thick.

With the first portion of dough, gently lay it into your buttered pie dish, pressing it into the dish so that it fits in snugly. Trim the dough so that it is 2 – 3 cm larger than the dish – you will use this extra to crimp the edges once the pie is filled. Pop the lined pie dish into the fridge for 30 minutes.

With the second portion of dough, roll it out in the same way, then cut it however you would like for the lid of your pie – lattice, shapes, a full lid with a few holes cut out for the steam to escape; the choice is yours! We went for a lattice top, with a few extra creative shapes from the kids. Pop your pie lid onto a paper lined baking tray and pop it into the fridge too, to chill out alongside the bottom pie crust.

Salted Caramel Apple Pie Filling

The caramel recipe makes more than you need for the pie – Emily and Melissa suggest making this amount to help avoid burning the caramel; they also suggest storing the remainder in the fridge for up to 3 weeks, and warming the additional caramel up to drizzle over ice-cream.

For the salted caramel

1 cup caster sugar
1/4 cup water

110g unsalted butter
1/2 cup pouring cream

Pour the sugar and water into a medium sized saucepan and whisk to combine.

Cook over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved, then add the butter and bring to a slow boil, whisking all the time. Keep a close eye on the mixture once it begins to boil and keep cooking and whisking until the mixture turns lightly golden brown – then remove it from the heat immediately. Watch it like a hawk, because when it decides to change colour it will change colour very quickly! Whisk and watch!

As soon as the mixture is golden take it off the heat and slowly pour in the cream as you continue to whisk – be careful, it will steam and bubble and generally act like a volcano, so be careful not to burn yourself! Whisk it well and when all calms down set aside to cool, while you get on with the apples.

For the apple filling

6 or 7 apples (we used a combination of eating and cooking apples)
2 organic or un-waxed lemons (optional)
2 tablespoons caster sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
a little shake of ground cardamom
pinch of salt flakes
2 tablespoons wholemeal spelt flour

Wash and thinly slice the apples, removing the cores and seeds; we kept the skin on our apples, but you can peel them if you wish.

Toss the apples in a large bowl along with the zest and juice of the lemons, and the sugar. Set aside for 20 – 30 minutes which will allow the apples to soften a little and release a little of their juice.

After the apples have rested, drain off the liquid and toss through the spices, salt and flour.

To assemble and bake the pie

1 egg, whisked together with 1 tablespoon milk and a pinch of salt
a pinch of salt flakes, for sprinkling on the apples
demerara sugar and salt flakes, for sprinkling on the pastry

Preheat the oven to 200°C / 400°F / Gas Mark 6.

Remove the prepared pie shell from the fridge. Layer in the spiced apples, mounding them slightly in the centre and gently pressing them all into the shell so there are no gaps.

Pour 1/4 cup – 3/4 cup of the caramel sauce over the apples, depending on how sweet you would like your pie. Sprinkle over the pinch of salt flakes.

Remove the top of your pie from the fridge and lay it on top of the apples however you like, lattice style or your own bespoke lid, and crimp the edges of the top and bottom pastry together to seal.

Pop the pie back in the fridge for 10 – 15 minutes to set the pastry. Position a rack in the centre of the oven for your pie.

Once chilled, remove the pie from the fridge and brush it lightly with the whisked egg mixture (egg wash). Sprinkle over a little demerara sugar (for crunch) and another pinch of salt flakes.

Place the prepared pie on a rimmed baking tray (this is important, as it will catch any caramel or butter that may bubble up and over in the oven, nobody wants burnt caramel or butter on the bottom of their oven) and pop it into the oven to bake for 20 – 25 minutes or until the pastry is starting to brown.

Once the pastry is starting to brown, lower the temperature of the oven to 190°C / 375°F / Gas Mark 5 and bake for another 30 – 35 minutes or until the pastry is deeply golden, the juices are bubbling and the apples are tender but still holding their shape.

Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack for as long as you can bare – the recipe suggests 2 – 3 hours, which means a slice of the pie will hold its shape when cut.

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