The Ugliest Pie in the World

There is something so nostalgic about apple pie. When you smell that sweet pastry and those cinnamon-laced apples baking, it takes you right back to a childhood spent standing at the kitchen bench with a mother rubbing flour and butter with her fingers, explaining why you need cold hands, letting you use the rolling pin, peeling apples, baking the thing, pulling it out of the oven and serving it with lashings of vanilla ice-cream. I didn’t have that childhood; my mother, though a proficiently skilled pastry maker and the source of most of my baking knowledge and passion, did not make apple pie. Oh she made lemon tarts, and apple crumbles, and cakes of varying flavours, just not apple pie. We ate those frozen Nanna’s apple pies (my mother will cringe to know I’ve shared that). I won’t speak for the rest of my family, but at the time I adored those things. Somehow despite this lack of apple pie-filled childhood, I still get nostalgic for apple pie. And I was craving one.

Apples set for the pie-ing

Having no one to juice for knowledge and a good recipe, I decided to use the first recipe I found as a guide, making my own changes as I went along. Stephanie Alexander was a bust on the subject, but I did find a recipe by Ross Dobson in which cinnamon was prevalent and went with that instead. I very quickly realised I had no cinnamon in the house – a common problem when it’s your favourite sweet spice – and no flour either for that matter, and such was my pie craving that I made a trip to the grocer in naught but leggings as pants. Leggings are not pants!

Sufficiently stocked up with ingredients, I went ahead with the pie. And, as I was playing very fast and loose with the recipe, and may or may not have enjoyed a glass of Chianti during the making, the integrity of my pie descended rapidly. First off, I added too much water to the dough so it was a mite too sticky. And then I forgot about the apples so they cooked a little too long (curse you delicious, delicious Chianti). And then when it came to baking the thing, I was halfway through a movie, halfway through a second bottle, and just really needing some pie, so the assemblage was, shall we say, less than perfect.

"Less than perfect" - the understatement of the century

But despite all these things being against me, holy smokes this pie was delicious. Because of my aforementioned love of cinnamon, I bumped up the spices in the dough so it was almost like gingerbread in flavour. It didn’t have the texture of good pastry; it was almost biscuity. And the apples managed to hold a little bit of texture despite their overcooking. It’s an unusual type of pie – all the spices go into the pastry, and the apples are kept plain with just a little lemon and sugar for company, which means you get this moorishly spiced dough wrapped around tangy apple filling, drizzled with lashings of cream.

I know I seem to say this about every baked good I make, but it was like crack, addictive as all get out. I had a piece for desert every single night, which is unheard of for me. Nostalgia sated, I now know why my mother didn’t feed pies to her already chubby child. Smart woman.

Apple Gingerbread Pie

8 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and sliced

2 tsp lemon juice

Zest of 1 lemon

1 tsp cinnamon

50 g caster sugar

250 g self-raising flour

190 g brown sugar

1 ½ tbsp cinnamon

1 tbsp ground ginger

125 g cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes

1 free-range egg

Place apple slices in a saucepan with lemon juice, zest, caster sugar and 1 tsp cinnamon. Cover and cook over low heat for about 15 minutes, stirring often so they soften and cook evenly. Allow the apple slices to cool.

For the pastry, pulse the flour, brown sugar and remaining spices in a food processor. Add the butter several cubes at a time and pulse. Alternatively, you can use your fingers to rub the butter into the flour. Add the egg and 1-2 tbsp cold water and process until combined. The dough should be quite dry. At this point, don’t be fooled into thinking the dough looks too dry and add more water – this was my foolhardy error. Knead to form a ball. Wrap the pastry in cling film and refrigerate for 30 minutes, or until ready to assemble.

Preheat oven to 180°C.

Cut the dough in two (one piece slightly larger than the other). Roll the larger between 2 sheets of greaseproof paper and line the bottom and sides of a greased, loose bottomed 20cm x 4cm high fluted tart tin (or the closest baking dish you can find, if all your tart and cake tins have been procured by a restaurant, as mine have. One more step to making this thing look reeeally ugly). Spoon in the apples, roll the remaining pastry out and place on top. Seal and trim the edges, then use a small knife to make several slits in the top of the pie and to seal the edges and create some sort of design (haphazardly if again, you want to imitate my work of art). Put the pie in the oven and bake for 60 minutes or until the pastry is dark brown.

Remove and allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving with loads of fresh cream.

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