The beginning of November is marked by a sudden chill in the air, cold hands and feet for people with poor circulation (including yours truly), conkers and shiny toffee apples. Or at least, the toffee apples make an appearance in the UK, the same can’t be said for here in France. So, to recreate that childhood flavour of autumn, I made the perfect substitute: toffee apple pie.
I sometimes wonder why I love autumn so much, and I think it was all thanks to Bonfire night, being bundled up in thick woollens, toffee apples sticking to my mittens, capering around in the dark with friends (and I remember one year my mum lost me and my sister – we were off having excellent fun, she not so much) all to the soundtrack of fizzing and thudding fireworks.
It took me far too long to twig that Bonfire night is marked only in the British calendar, and to anyone who has moved to the UK, burning effigies of a revolutionary on a bonfire to mark the anniversary of the 1605 gunpowder plot – year in, year out – is a bit weird. As Gaylord would say, “You Eeengleesh…” – but you French were the ones who thought eating snails was a good idea?
Anyway, I learnt my treasured night of sugar and fire didn’t mean the same to everyone a couple of years ago, and since then Bonfire night has struck me as very British indeed. I’ve lived on the other side of the world where early November is late spring so bonfires aren’t necessary, and now in France, where the 5th November goes by without even a pop of a firework. They don’t even know what toffee apples are, for goodness sake.
Every year in the UK on the 5th November, only five days after another autumnal celebration and sugar-fiesta might I add, people don their wellingtons and woolly hats and walk en masse to the local parks. There they will suffer all weathers and maybe ankle-deep mud to watch the night’s fireworks, eat candy floss and toffee apples, wave glow sticks and queue up for helter skelters and merry-go-rounds, all the while admiring the central bonfire with that all-important effigy of Guy Fawkes burning away.
Cosy yet vengeful, some might say.
To me, Bonfire night was always more exciting than the horror-fest of Halloween. Halloween has its scary stories, but Bonfire night has always hinted at something more mysterious… “remember, remember the fifth of November”. The gargantuan amount of sugar to consume was just a happy bonus.
Toffee apple pie
Apples and autumn are co-conspirators in the scheme to make me adore this season. Apples, with their innocent blush-red cheeks, act like autumn’s wingman, charming and schmoozing, suggesting we admire all their delicious recipes at this time of year. And yep – they’ve got me, hook, line and sinker.
Apple pastries are at the top of my list when it comes to bakery treats, and then add spices and the rich caramel autumnal flavour of toffee and we’re in business.
To make this wonky, flaky toffee apple pie, I followed Nicola Lamb’s recipe for caramel pear pie, yet adapted the filling. Instead of pouring in homemade caramel sauce, I took the easy road and dotted the chopped apple filling with Werther’s Originals. They melt in the oven and steep the pie with warming sweetness.
It’s not picture-perfect to say the least – one of my worst flaws is intense impatience when it comes to baking. Much of the time it all works out no matter how many corners I’ve cut and I scoff at bakers who describe baking as a science. But then, baking science evens the score when my pastry shrinks in the oven. So, if you can bare waiting, your pie might actually be attractive.
My foibles aside, this toffee apple pie is one of the best I have ever eaten – the pastry is so crisp and flaky. You may think, looking at the recipe, that it appears to be a lot of work. However, I believe you deserve this pastry. Ready-made pastry has a time and place, but not in this pie.
And that filling – oooft. Autumn, you know what you’re doing to me. Gently spiced with cinnamon and ginger, the apple pieces are so juicy and tender and the Werther’s Originals have melted to create a sticky glaze. It’s a toffee apple for grown ups with a palate beyond sweet and sugary. But it’s enough to taste like my childhood Bonfire nights. The magic is still there.
Toffee apple pie
For the flaky pastry
- 60 g crème fraiche
- 60 g cold water
- 280 g plain flour
- 6 g salt
- 24 g sugar
- 225 g unsalted butter cold
- 1 egg beaten
- demerara sugar to sprinkle
For the toffee apple filling
- 1.3 kg apples their weight before they've been peeled, cored etc.
- ½ lemon
- 2 tbsp caster sugar
- 3 tbsp brown sugar
- 1½ tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- 15 Werther's Originals
For the pastry
- Whisk the crème fraiche and cold water in a jug until smooth then place in the fridge until you need it.
- Mix together the flour, salt and sugar in a large bowl.
- Cut the cold butter into cubes. Toss them into the flour mixture, stir to coat them in flour then squash each one until flat. Don't keep your hands on the butter for to long, stay quick and light. You don't need to rub the butter in with this recipe.
- Pour in half of the crème fraiche liquid from the jug in the fridge, and use your hand to stir it all together. Pour in the remaining liquid and stir again, bringing all the crumbly bits in. Mine needed a splash more cold water from the tap.
- Tip it all onto your floured surface and quickly bring it all together. Flatten or roll it away from you with a rolling pin, scrape/fold it back up towards you then turn 90 degrees. Repeat twice more so the dough becomes uniformly smoother.
- Cut it in half and wrap each piece in cling film. Store in the fridge for at least an hour and a half.
For the apple filling
- Now it's time to make your way through that massive pile of apples! Peel, quarter, and core them, then chop into chunks. Scoop into a big bowl then, when it's all finally done, cover in the juice of the half lemon, and add the sugars and spices. Stir all together then tip into a big saucepan.
- Add a splash of water to the apples and cook over medium low heat. Stir regularly as the apples cook and soften. Once the pieces can be broken up with the edge of a wooden spoon and the liquid is mostly evaporated, tip it all back into the bowl and add half of the Werther's Originals. Stir to combine and leave to cool.
- Take one of the pieces of pastry from the fridge, flour the surface and roll it out until very thin – around 3mm. Place your pie tin – nothing bigger than 9 inches/22cm – nearby as you carefully wrap the pastry around your rolling pin. Slide the tin underneath then drop the pastry over it.
- Press it evenly into the tin's corners then return it to the fridge as you roll out the other piece for the lid. Keep it to around 3mm again.
- Preheat the oven to 220°C/200°C fan/430°F. Remove the pie base from the fridge and fill it with the apples. Top the filling with the rest of the Werther's Originals.
- Cover with the top piece of flaky pastry and push down hard along the border to seal – I used a fork. Trim any overhanging pastry but not too short – leave around 2cm just in case it shrinks.
- With any remaining pastry you can cut out some leaves or an apple for the top which will stick on without egg wash.
- Place the pie in the freezer for 15 minutes – don't get impatient; leave it in there for the whole time! Meanwhile, beat the egg in a ramekin for egg wash.
- After 15 minutes, remove the pie and quickly cover it in egg wash. The edges will colour much quicker than the centre so put more in the middle. Sprinkle with demerara sugar and place on a baking tray to catch any melted butter.
- Slide the pie into the oven and reduce the temperature to 205°C/185°C fan/400°F. Cook for 30 minutes then rotate the pie – you may need to do it sooner if your oven is fiery. If it's getting too dark too quickly, reduce the temperature to 190°C/170°C fan/375°F.
- Cook for another 15 to 20 minutes, then check again. Once it is an even deep gold it is ready. Remove from the oven and leave to cool slightly. Cut out slices and serve with crème fraiche or ice cream.