One of the challenges on my 101 List is to ‘Win something – anything’, which means I actually need to enter competitions.
Cue the 2nd Annual Queen Anne Farmers’ Market Blue Ribbon Pie Contest, which I decided to enter on a whim, despite the fact that I haven’t actually baked a pie for about ten years – crumble always seems so much quicker, easier and less daunting – and that Seattle is home to some fiendishly expert piemakers.
This year I’ve been able, through extensive excitable Twittering and emailing, to locate a local source of Bramley apples. Despite being home to more fabulous apple varieties than you can shake a stick at, America appears to be almost entirely ignorant of Bramleys, which I’ve missed horribly over the past couple of years.
For those of you who don’t know, Bramleys are a large knobbly British heirloom ‘cooking’ apple – too tart to eat raw, but which, thanks to the extra acidity, have a uniquely wonderful flavour and soft fluffy texture when cooked. It’s funny the things you miss, but I am not the only Brit to nearly wet my knickers with excitement at finding them.
So, I decided to make a traditionally English Bramley Apple Pie for the competition and show Americans what they’re missing out on.
And here’s my finished pie literally seconds before it slipped out of my hands as I was putting it in the oven and it crashed to the oven floor. Fortunately I was able to perform extensive reconstructive surgery using leftover scraps of pastry and make it look like a pie again, but it certainly wasn’t going to win any beauty competitions.
So you can imagine that I wasn’t holding out much hope of a prize when I was greeted by a veritable masterclass in the piemaker’s art on arriving at the market. (My poor battered pie is at top right in the red pie dish, I didn’t even bother to take a proper close up photo of it).
Here it is after the judges had tucked into it.
And here it is sporting its ribbon for 3rd Prize! You could have knocked me down with a feather, quite literally. They clearly weren’t judging on looks.
Anyway, it was a lovely and very unexpected surprise to end to what has been a fairly shitty week, so many thanks to all at Queen Anne Farmers’ Market, to Jones Creek farms for their wonderful Bramley apples, to my lovely friend M for coming to my rescue with lard, and to my fellow competitors who made some SERIOUSLY delicious pies (enough already, it’s getting like the Oscars round here :- the Ed)
And it’s made me think that maybe I should make pie more often.
75g/5 tbsps butter*
75g/5tbsps lard or vegetable shortening**
Iced water + lemon juice
1-2 tbsps of butter
5 Bramley apples – peeled, cored and sliced***
1 tbsp lemon juice
3 tbsps raisins soaked in Madeira****
6 tbsps bakers/caster sugar
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp ground cloves
A few grindings of nutmeg
1 tbsp cornstarch/cornflour/plain flour
* I used an imported European butter as the fat content is higher and it apparently works better for pastry. You can get Kerrygold and Lurpak reasonably easily in the US. I also used salted butter as Il like the whole salty /sweet thing in my desserts.
**It appears that good quality lard is also very difficult to get hold of in the US. It’s available as ‘manteca’ and extensively used for Mexican cuisine but the brands I’ve found seem to be full of partially hydrogenated fats. Or else you need to track down ‘leaf lard’ from a good butcher or farmer. I was lucky enough to be given some by a friend. Brits, treasure that pack of Tesco’s lard you’ve had squashed in the back of the fridge since time immemorial.
*** Bramleys are unique in my experience. If you can’t get hold of them, Granny Smiths have a similar tart taste, but very different texture and I’ve heard that Gravensteins and Belle de Boskoop are other good cooking varieties. You may need to adjust cooking method (below) accordingly.
**** Madeira is yet another very English thing. If you don’t have madeira, rum, whisky or Calvados would be great. If kids are going to eat the pie use apple or oran ge juice.
Soak your raisins in your booze of choice a few hours before starting.
Chop your fats into small dice and put the flour and fats into the freezer for around 15 minutes. If you didn’t use salted butter, you could maybe add a pinch of salt.
Prepare a cup of iced water and add a squeeze of lemon.
Put your flour and fats into a food processor and pulse process until the fats are fully incorporated and the mixture looks like coarse sand or oatmeal.
Add iced water to the mix a teaspoon at a time and keep pulsing until everything has almost clumped together. Fish it out and knead it into a smooth dough by hand. (You can of course use the traditional ‘rubbing in’ method. I like the above, courtesy of Nigella Lawson – God love that despicable woman – because it’s quick, easy and means you don’t have to handle the pastry more than is strictly necessary).
Put the pastry in the fridge for at least 30 mins to relax.
Core, peel and slice your apples and place the slices in a bowl of cold water with a couple of tablespoons of lemon juice to stop them browning. Americans seem to prefer more discernible lumps of apple in their pies, so may want to slice them more thickly.
Melt a tablespoon or two of butter in a large frying pan and then turn off the heat and add your apples, drained raisins, approximately 6 tablespoons of caster sugar depending on how sweet your apples are (if you’re not using tart Bramleys you may want to use a bit less), the spices and the cornflour. I also added a little lemon juice, and you can adjust this according to the tartness or otherwise of your apples. If you’re using very sweet dessert apples go for more.
Stir the apples around until all the buttery juices are amalgamated. If you prefer a softer pie filling or are using dessert apples that don’t disintegrate easily you may want to cook the apples gently at this stage. I didn’t with my Bramleys.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Roll out the one of the pastry circles and line the bottom of your pie dish.
Add the filling.
Roll out the other pastry circle and place over the top of the pie dish, cutting the excess away with a knife.
Paint the edge of the pie with milk and then crimp together the top and bottom layers. Pierce vents in the top layer to let the steam escape and decorate how you like with the pastry scraps, eggwash or milk and lots of sugar. I experimented using different types of sugar – caster, demerara, and large-crystalled ‘sparkling’ sugar to decorate different elements of my design.
Bake for about 45-50 minutes until golden. I covered my pie with foil for the first 20 minutes so it wouldn’t get too brown.
I’m not going to count this as a win for the 101 Things, since it was only a 3rd place. However ask me again when the three years is nearly up. Oh and here’s a gratuitous cute picture of the Minx chatting up a baby at the market.
Here’s a link to a write-up about the competition on the Queen Anne Farmers’ Market website, with a rare flattering photo of me (on the far left).
Photo by John Schussler
Thank goodness I didn’t know that professional bakers would be competing and that we would be judged by professional pastry chefs.
Here are links to the three other prize-winning recipes which all looked utterly incredible. Mine was apparently the highest-ranked apple pie (of which there were several) which I attribute entirely to the amazing power of the Bramley apple.