Sunday, October 6, 2013

seasonal: mom's apple pie / szarlotka

This may be the first Polish recipe I'm posting here, but Autumn is a very Polish time of the year. Somehow we learned to take advantage of this gloomy time of year like no other folk. Perhaps it's because of the very special time on the beginning of the season, when everything is golden and the forests and orchards are crazy rich with stuff.

This is a recipe for apple pie for how my Mom makes it. I've never heard anyone NOT saying they've never had better. I certainly haven't.

the filling:

  • 2,5 sour apples (if possible of the Antonovka variety)
  • ground cinnamon
  • sugar

You can make the filling in advance, not too long ahead, of course. Peel the apples, remove the seeds, dice and cook them with some sugar and cinnamon - I can't tell you how much exactly - it all depends on the apples and your taste. Just remember not to make them too sweet - the dough will be sweet enough and the hint of sourness is quite important for this to be a perfect apple pie. Also remember not to cook the apples for too long - try to have most of them remaining in firm bits - remember they're still going to the oven and it's not called apple mush, now, is it?

the crust

  • 800g flour
  • 250g butter (one brick)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg-yolk
  • 1 sachet vanilla sugar (vanillin will do, if you REALLY can't get your hands on the real deal)
  • 1 sachet baking soda
  • 1 cup of sour cream (yoghurt will do, if you want the illusion of it being lighter
  • sugar (I'd say start with half-cup and continue from there until you're satisfied)

Sieve the flour through into a heap and make a small hole in the middle. Add the rest of the ingredients, chop it roughly with a large knife (or using a pastry blender, if you have one, I don't, but I'd love one, you know?) and then work it into a nice, smooth ball, checking the sweetness every once in a while and adding sugar if needed.

oven: 220C / 430F / gas mark 7

Divide the dough in two and roll out the first half onto a baking sheet fitting the baking tray you're going to use. Bake this first layer for about 15 minutes. Thanks to this the bottom crust won't get soggy and stuff. In that time roll out the second half of dough (once again - onto a fitted baking sheet). Take the first layer out from the oven (it should be golden, but not too dark) and evenly spread out the filling onto it. Cover it carefully with the second layer, remove the baking sheet and bake for another 15 minutes (or until the colour seems right).

To serve, sprinkle generously with confectioner's sugar and cut into even, square pieces. I never tried adding anything to it (no ice cream, whipped cream, nothing) - I think it's perfect on its own.

There's a profoundly sad story about how I learned to make this apple pie. I watched my mother make it for 19 years, but never touched it apart from stealing the raw dough (which is DELICIOUS). Until the day our horse died. Harcerz wasn't just any horse. He was about 34 years old (we could never agree on that and someone lost his papers) and he spent most of that time with my Mom. I grew up with him. In my life I saw more of him than anybody else (except, perhaps, my Mom). My first words were about him (and apples - for him). He was a nasty old monster, better than a couple of dobermans if let loose in the yard, but he loved me and he'd never harm me.

Anyway. The day I made my first apple pie. He was dying, we did everything we could, the vet was there for half a day already and my mother was faced with one of the most difficult decisions in her life. I moved out of the way, back to the house, through the kitchen entrance, as usual when coming back from the stable. And there, in the kitchen, I found a pastry board with all the ingredients on it, unmixed, waiting to be worked. I knew there's no way my Mom will be able to do anything with it and I figured this was a perfect way to get my mind off things just a little.

For most my life we made the apple pie with the apples from the Antonovka tree next to the stable. I used to climb that tree and pick apples for Harcerz. If I stopped, for example to eat one apple myself, he'd pull my shoelaces in a warning - do your job or fall down, your choice.