- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 10, 2006

NEW YORK — By now, you’d think I’d be sick of apples. Usually by mid-August, the early ones start appearingin farmers markets here. After that,

there is a profusion of varieties until the late fruit arrives around the second or third week of October. I’m not the first to admire our local apples. New York state apples were already famous by the mid-19th century, and even Europeans praised both the quality and quantity of the varieties. The combination of warm days and cool nights upstate during the ripening season provides a climate ideally suited to producing excellence.

It’s natural, then, that I love experimenting with different apples every fall. Yet, for the most part, I do my baking when I’m teaching in cooking schools from Seattle to Miami and Boston to San Diego. Because of that, I generally prepare my recipes with apples available in the local markets, often months before or after the season for locally grown. So I have come to rely on the old standards: Granny Smith and Golden Delicious.

Granny Smith apples have been around since 1865. They were first grown by Marie Ana (Granny) Smith at Eastwood, a suburb of Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. Granny Smiths are thought to be a hybrid of a wild and a cultivated apple.

Widely grown in Australia and New Zealand, the first Grannys I remember seeing in the early 1970s were from New Zealand. These days they are also grown in the United States. Granny Smith apples are quite tart, with a crisp texture and thick skin. They make good pie apples if they are allowed to bake slowly for a long time, as in the blackberry and apple pie recipe that follows.

Golden Delicious apples, which I jokingly refer to as the potatoes of the apple world, are excellent all-purpose apples. A chance hybrid of two domestic yellow apples, they were first cultivated in West Virginia in 1914. Now most of our Golden Delicious apples come from Washington state, and fortunately, they are available throughout the year. Tender, sweet and juicy, Golden Delicious apples are perfect for a filling in which other ingredients will contribute flavor. Goldens need a boost in the flavor department or they can bake up a little bland.

In the recipes that follow, the two apple varieties can be used interchangeably. If you bake with Golden Delicious for Jane Grigson’s blackberry and apple pie, increase the lemon juice to 4 teaspoons.

Although most of us think of fruit pies as having both a bottom and top crust, this blackberry and apple pie is an old-fashioned British confection, usually baked in a deep oval porcelain pie dish with only a top crust. This eliminates many of the problems that can result from a bottom crust soaking through with the abundant juices of the filling. Among the problems can be underbaking or becoming soggy after baking.

Jane Grigson was one of Britain’s most gifted food writers of the 20th century, and she left us with an outstanding legacy of excellent food and writing. This particular recipe, which is adapted from “Jane Grigson’s Fruit Book” (Atheneum), cleverly calls for cooking half the blackberries with the apple cores and peels so that the natural pectin thickens the juices. It is a pretty juicy affair, nonetheless. The dish traditionally used for this pie is not readily available from American sources. I use an oval gratin dish but you can also use a 9-by-13-by-2-inch glass pan.

I first noticed crostata tarts like the free-form Roman lattice-topped tart that follows in the late 1980s in Rome. It was early May and all the pastry shops were filled with a sour cherry version called crostata di visciole, the name applied to a local tangy sour cherry. This apple version appears in the fall, and I like to make it with a cooked apple filling. Cooking the apples in advance makes for a less watery tart and really concentrates the flavor of the apples.

All of this illustrates why I am so fond of fall apples. So celebrate them now, even with varieties available all year.

Jane Grigson’s blackberry and apple pie

CREAM SHORTCRUST PASTRY:

2½ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling dough

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, cut in 12 pieces

7 tablespoons heavy whipping cream

FILLING:

2 pounds tart apples, such as Granny Smith, peeled, halved, cored and sliced (reserve the peels and cores)

2 teaspoons lemon juice

1 pound (about 3 half-pint baskets or 1½ 12-ounce bags) frozen blackberries

Water

1 cup sugar

Egg wash of 1 egg well beaten with a pinch of salt

Additional sugar for sprinkling over dough

Clotted cream or lightly sweetened whipped cream

Get ready a 12-inch-long enameled iron or earthenware gratin dish, about 2½ quarts in capacity.

For the pastry dough, combine 2½ cups flour, baking powder and salt in bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Pulse several times to mix. Add butter and pulse 4 or 5 times, or until butter is in pea-sized pieces.

Add cream and pulse 2 or 3 times but do not allow dough to form a ball. Invert dough onto a floured work surface and carefully remove blade. Gently squeeze and press dough together and form it into an oval. Wrap dough in plastic and chill while preparing filling.

For the filling, in a large bowl, toss apple slices with lemon juice. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate while preparing rest of filling.

Put half of blackberries and apple peels and cores in a large saucepan. Stir to combine and add 1 cup water. Cook over medium heat until mixture becomes very juicy and liquid.

Continue cooking until juices are slightly reduced. Strain mixture to eliminate peels and seeds and measure it. You should have about 2/3 cup liquid. If you have too much, boil down mixture further to reduce. Stir sugar into strained juices and set aside.

In the gratin dish, make a layer of about one third of apple slices and sprinkle about half of blackberries over. Repeat with another third of apples and remaining blackberries. Top with a layer of remaining apples. Evenly pour cooked and sweetened blackberry juice over fruit.

Remove dough from refrigerator and place on a floured work surface. Flour dough and press it with the rolling pin in gentle parallel strokes to soften it slightly. Roll dough to size of dish you are using.

Slide a cookie sheet or a 12-inch tart pan bottom under dough and transfer it to dish, sliding it onto filling. Brush egg wash on dough and sprinkle it with sugar. Cut several 2-inch vent holes in top crust with point of a knife.

Bake pie on center rack of preheated 375-degree oven until pastry is baked through and apples are tender, about 40 minutes. Push point of a knife through one of the vent holes to see if the apples have softened. When they are fully cooked they should offer no resistance to the knife. Cool pie on a rack.

Serve pie warm or at room temperature. Serve with clotted cream, sometimes available in American supermarkets, or whipped cream. Keep pie at room temperature until you intend to serve it. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and keep leftovers at room temperature. Makes 8 generous servings.

Crostata di mele alla Romana (Roman lattice-topped apple tart)

PASTA FROLLA:

31/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling dough

½ cup sugar

1½ teaspoons baking powder

3/4 teaspoon salt

12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, cold, cut in 12 pieces

2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest

2 large eggs

3 large egg yolks

APPLE FILLING:

3 pounds Golden Delicious apples, peeled, halved, cored and sliced

½ cup sugar

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons dark rum

1 tablespoon lemon juice

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

Egg wash of 1 egg well beaten with a pinch of salt

Vanilla ice cream

Have ready one large cookie sheet lined with parchment or foil.

For the dough, combine 31/4 cups flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Pulse several times to mix. Add butter and pulse 10 times to mix in finely.

Add lemon zest, eggs and yolks and pulse repeatedly, until dough forms a ball. Invert dough onto a floured work surface and carefully remove the blade. Form dough into a rough cylinder, wrap it in plastic and refrigerate it. Dough may be kept refrigerated for up to 2 days before continuing.

For apple filling, combine apples, sugar, butter, rum, lemon juice and cinnamon in a large enameled iron Dutch oven or other pan with a tight-fitting lid. Stir well to mix. Place over medium heat until apples start to sizzle. Cover pan and cook apples, uncovering the pan and stirring 3 or 4 times, until apples are swimming in water, about 15 minutes.

Uncover pan and let water evaporate, stirring occasionally, but not too often or apple slices will break up too much. By the time the apples have cooked down, about half will have disintegrated and half the slices should remain intact, yielding a sliced apple filling bound with apple puree.

Scrape filling into a bowl and let it cool to room temperature. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate filling for up to 2 days if you do not intend to bake the tart immediately.

When ready to bake tart, remove dough from refrigerator and gently knead it on a floured surface until it is smooth and malleable. Cut dough in half.

Form one of the pieces of dough into a disk and place it on a floured surface. Flour the dough and roll it to a little larger than 12 inches in diameter. Slide dough onto prepared pan. Use a pizza wheel to cut dough into an even 12-inch disk. Reserve scraps. Spread cooled filling on dough to within ½ inch of edge.

Cut off 2/3 of remaining dough and roll it to make a rectangle about 7 by 12 inches. Use a pizza wheel to trim the 12-inch edges of the dough straight and cut it into 14 ½-inch) strips. Brush egg wash on the strips of dough.

To make the lattice top on the tart, transfer one of the strips of dough to the top of the filling and arrange it down the middle of the tart. Place 3 more strips on either side of the first one, equidistant from the first strip and edge of filling, a little more than an inch apart. Place a strip down the middle of the tart at a 45-degree angle to the first one. Repeat with 3 more strips on either side of it.

Trim away any overhanging strips at edge of tart. Gently knead scraps into remaining dough and with palms of hands roll remaining dough into a 36-inch-long cylinder. (It will be very thin.) Egg-wash dough at edge of tart and apply cylinder of dough there. Use floured fingertips to press gently and flatten cylinder of dough. Use the back of a knife to make diagonal indentations in the strip of dough at the edge of the tart. Egg-wash edge of the tart.

Bake tart on rack set in lower third of preheated 350-degree oven until crust is baked through and filling is gently bubbling, about 45 minutes.

Slide tart from pan to a rack to cool. When cool, slide tart from rack to a platter. Cut in wedges and serve slightly warm or at room temperature. A small scoop of vanilla ice cream is nice with it. Keep tart at room temperature on the day it is baked. Wrap leftovers in plastic and store at room temperature.

Makes about 16 servings.

Nick Malgieri is the author of “Perfect Cakes” and “A Baker’s Tour” (HarperCollins).


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