The long awaited midterm breaks are finally here, and I have to say I have never looked forward to a break as much as I have this semester, which has been hell so far. So, naturally, first thing I did was to whip out my rolling pin and bake a pie.
I love baking and eating apple pie. Usually, I don't eat much of what I bake, but I just adore apple pies, and if I may say so, its one of my best creation. Flaky pie crust, sweet yet tart apple slices cooked in plenty of fragrant cinnamon, tender enough to be cut through with a fork, yet cooked just right so that it still holds its shape. This is definitely one of my best creation.
Today, I decided to do something a little different with the pie crust, and make a crumble crust instead. I adore crumble crusts. They are easy to make, looks gorgeous, and has a really amazing texture. My recipe for the crumble basically follows that of the short crust pastry, and is very convenient, with almost zero extra work. This is also a deep dish apple pie, because I wanted to try making an apple pie in a cake pan instead of the usual pie plate, so as to get that interesting tall and straight sides to the pie, and thus the amount of apple is on the high side. =) So, lets get down to it!
250g plain flour
150g unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small cubes [actually, here, salted butter might work better, up to your preference]
Few tablespoons of ice water
Sugar or salt, optional
Few tablespoon sugar
Handful of almonds or any nuts
Apple pie filling:
10 green/granny smith apples
Few tablespoons of sugar
Few tablespoons of water
Good amount of ground cinnamon
Raisins [optional, adds texture and flavour]
Always always start with the pastry, because it needs to sit in the fridge for a while before rolling out. So, shortcrust pastry has only a few steps to it, and can be really easy, but it does take practice. First, dump butter cubes into the flour and rub in with fingers, or cut in with a pastry cutter if you have one. Personally I hate touching butter, so my pastry cutter is my best helper, and it works like magic. [I'll provide an end note on how to rub in butter for those unfamiliar with the term.]
Once rubbed in, add in sugar or salt if you want. This is for you to decide if you want your crust to be sweet, slightly salty, or plain. If you like your filling very sweet, chances are you don't want to be putting sugar in your crust. As for salt, it helps to balance the sweetness of the apples a little, but is not necessary. I generally just use salted butter and save myself a step. Once all the dry ingredients for the crust is mixed in, remove roughly 1/3 of the crumbly mixture and keep aside. This will become the crumble crust later. Then, add the ice water to the rest of the crumbly mixture to make a soft dough. Add the water tablespoon by tablespoon, mixing everything up to make sure that it needs more water before you add more. A wet dough is hell to work with and the number one reason for a shrinking and ugly crust. When mixing, using a butter knife, use a cutting action on the dough, cutting the water and crumble together until they form clumps of dough. Once most of the mixture is in clumps and the mixture looks slightly moistened, using your fingers gather everything together and either knead on a flat and cool surface or just press everything together into a soft dough in the bowl you are using [here a big bowl really pays off]
There your pie dough is done, just shape into a disc, wrap in cling film or foil and bunk into the fridge for an hour or until firm to the touch. Trick with shortcrust is to touch it as little as possible, so as to keep the temperature of the dough as cool as possible, which gives a flaky crust.
Next, for the crust. Tip the reserved crumbly mixture into a bowl, add a few tablespoons of sugar and the chopped/crushed nuts. You can also add some rolled oat to it, or anything you fancy actually. Mix well, keep in the fridge until you need it, and that's done.
The filling, heart and soul of the pie, is crazy simple. I'm inordinately proud of the fact that I can peel apples in an unbroken peel, and I got 7 out of the 10 apples this time =) So, peel and core, then slice as neatly and as evenly as possible. This will make packing the slices in later easier. Once done, dump into a big pot, add raisins [if using], sugar and cinnamon to your preference, and just enough water to insulate the layer of apples touching the bottom of the pot, which usually comes to slightly less than 5 mm of water. This is just to keep the bottom apples from burning. The apples will release plenty of water later, and you don't want too much in there cooking with the apples, because they'll turn mushy.
How long to cook the apple is a matter of experience and preference, so its a little hard to say. I prefer my apples to still have some bite, so I only let my apples cook til just tender, as they will get cooked again in the oven. It looks and taste much better when the apples are still firm enough to hold their shape. Only way to get this is to practice practice practice! Drain the apple slices well [too much liquid will spoil your crust] and set aside to use later.
Now all we are left with is the assembly, which is my favourite part [after eating =)] Remove pastry from fridge [let stand a while if too hard] and roll to desired size, with your pan as a guide. This recipe fits anything from a 9 inch pan to a high dish cake pan. Remember not too thick [it might not get cooked through] or too thin [it might break while baking]. Lift into your pan, push into the edges of the pan, and trim off excess. Works the same either in a pie pan or a cake tin, only the latter is a little tricky and you have to use one with a removable bottom.
I always take the time to arrange the apple slices neatly. First, it gets much more apples into the pie, second, it looks much better, third, you won't get any empty spaces that the pie crust can collapse into. So now, layer your apple slices into the pie crust, as neatly as possible, filling every available space. Once done, simply cover the pie, right to the edges, with the crumble filling. Another advantage of this crust is that no egg wash is required! Then, put your beautiful creation into a preheated oven at 180 degree celsius, and bake until the pie leaves the side of the pan, a sign that the pastry is cooked. If the crumble starts to brown too much, pop a piece of foil over the top and continue baking. After 40 minutes or so, your delicious pie is ready =)
This has been an awfully long post, I'll leave you with a serving suggestion, my favourite way =D
Note on rubbing in:
Rubbing in is basically a way to incorporate fats [namely butter] into the flour by a rubbing motion. It sounds a little weird, but you just have to get your hands in there, grab some butter and flour and start rubbing. What happens is the butter gets rubbed into the flour, and the mixture starts to take on a pale golden colour, and most cookbooks will descript it as looking crumbly and sandy. It is also possible to use a pastry cutter on it, some even use scissors to cut it in, but I find a pastry cutter the most effective. This technique is most commonly used on shortcrust pastries to give it its flaky texture, and on crumble crusts of course, but sometimes also in cookies like rock buns =)