It was a certain someone’s birthday yesterday but instead of making an entire birthday cake (that two people would have to eat entirely) I decided to make mini apple pies.
I used to feel that making apple pie was extremely difficult and delicate work. Difficult because you have to thinly slice a billion apples, and delicate because you absolutely cannot let the butter get warm. I’ve made really good apple pies in the past and also ones that come out with a crust that feels like wet sand.
Yesterday I was close to getting that wet sand texture but luckily the crust turned out well if a tad too soft on the sides. The filling was perfect and the apple sauce delectably sweet and gooey.
For the crust I used Julia Child’s recipe for sweet short paste from Mastering the Art of French Cooking. For the filling I used royal gala apples of varying sizes (they were organic and a bit on the small side). Most recipes will say to use tart apples like granny smith but I’ve used all kinds of apple varieties and they’ve all worked.
For the filling:
6 apples of your choice
the juice of half a lemon – about 2 tbsp
1/2 cup sugar
3 tbsp flour
1/2 tsp cinnamon – I used a pumpkin pie spice mixture, which I found here.
Peel and core the apples and then thinly slice. In a bowl toss the apples with the lemon juice. In a separate bowl combine the sugar, flour, and cinnamon. Add the dry mix to the apples and toss until everything is coated. I let this mixture sit in the fridge overnight but it’s also good to use after an hour or two. See my note about a sauce at the bottom of this post.
For the crust:
2/3 cup flour
1 tbsp sugar
1/8 tsp salt
4 tbsp chilled butter and 1 1/2 tbsp chilled vegetable shortening (I didn’t have shortening so I used butter). The butter should be cut into 1/2 inch bits.
2 1/2 to 3 tbsp cold water.
This recipe is good for an 8 inch tart shell.
After cutting the butter I would strongly suggest placing the cut pieces back in the fridge for several minutes as the warmth from your hands may cause the butter to soften too much.
Mix together all ingredients except the water. Quickly break apart the butter with the dry ingredients until the mixture looks like tiny peas. Add the water little by little (make sure it’s ice cold) and rapidly blend together until you have a mass of dough. Add more water if the dough is too dry. The dough should be soft but not sticky. Next, place the dough on a lightly floured counter to knead. Use the heel of your hand (not the palm, as Julia explains is too warm) and rapidly press the dough down in small amounts and away from you, making streaks across the counter. With a spatula or scraper gather the dough into a mass and quickly form into a ball. Wrap in wax paper and place it in the fridge for about 2 hours or overnight.
Another thing I’m not entirely fond of is rolling dough. I always seem to break the dough or it’s too sticky and most of it ends up smeared everywhere. When I brought out my ball of dough it felt almost rock hard but I followed Julia’s suggestion to hammer it with the rolling pin to soften it a bit. Next knead it into a fairly flat circle making sure it’s just soft enough that it won’t crack when you roll it out. Sprinkle flour over the dough and on your rolling pin then start from the centre and roll out away from you until it’s a circle about an 1/8 of an inch thick. At this point you can press the dough into your baking shell. Fill with the apple mixture and cover with dough. I used 6oz ramekins and I had enough dough for three ramekins but I now have leftover apple filling, which I’ll be using for something else.
The baking part of this project is what I’m a little unsure of. My oven isn’t very accurate – it seems to be 15 or 20 degrees hotter than what’s on the dial. Anyway, I set the temperature to 400F and throughout the baking I turned it down to 350F and near the end to 400F again. I also checked on the pies first after 15 minutes and then every 10 minutes until the crust was golden and not soft.
If you want to make a sauce you can place the apple mixture in a strainer and collect the juices in a pan. I got about half a cup of juices out of my batch of apples. In a sauce pan I combined the juices with about a tablespoon or two of butter and a tablespoon of brown sugar. Over medium heat I cooked the sauce until it was reduced and very thick.
With a scoop of ice cream on top and a drizzle of apple caramel sauce the pies were like a little taste of heaven that the birthday boy devoured in an instant.