A Study in Apple Pie

Happy Canada Day everyone! I can’t believe I’ve been writing this little blog for 9 years now – with a little blurb, a love of food, and a bored brain full of ideas. I’ve been through quite a few changes over the years, and the blog has seen the subtle shifts as I’ve grown, developed, and learned to “adult” as opposed to “student” or “invalid”. I joined up with The Recipe Redux and The Sunday Supper crews, which keep me mostly on track with blogging (thanks!), and while I’m not the most regular of posters, I still try my best to share the joys (and the occasional frustrations) the kitchen brings me.

These days, I am gloriously happy (most days!) teaching Home Economics in the school I grew up in, taking care of my cat, Dish, and cooking and baking as much as I possibly can. Who knows what the next year will bring? Hopefully, you’ll all stick around to find out.

So for this special day, I decided to do a little R&D for that aforementioned Home Ec class – a study in apple pie, if you will. Apple pie is American, you say?? Well, the USA may be known as the “owner” of apple pie, but I’ve grown up with enough apple picking, pie making, and pie-eating to know that we have equal stake. Extra if you add a slice of old Cheddar cheese on the side. Now, our “mom standard” around here is very, very plain-Jane: as in no sweetener, butter, and half the time not even cinnamon (we get distracted when we bake!). No, our Fall Harvest pies are just crust (made with shortening, but not the Crisco recipe anymore since it doesn’t behave the same with their new formula) and Northern Spies piled up as high as we can go. They are still some of the best pies I ever remember eating, and as a kid I would not touch a storebought one becaue it was “too sweet”.

But when have I ever followed the rules? Looking back at this blog, every apple pie recipe I’ve shared has had some sort of adornment. I’ve learned that (especially cooking for kids), most people are so used to the sweetened crusts and fillings of pie from bakeries or grocery stores that ours is “flat” to their tastebuds. That said, when one of my students started bringing in to-die-for tarts she called “apple tarts with caramel”, and wrote me a request that we make them in class this coming year, I had to try and figure out what actually went into them. Thankfully, her mom pointed me in the direction of the recipe she used – the infamous Apple Pie by Grandma Ople recipe from Allrecipes. Looking at the recipe, I can see why it’s so popular – how can you go wrong with butter and sugar and a lattice crust? I was hoping for something a little more streamlined, though (I only have an hour for lessons), so I decided to try a few other options too and see what still gave the “caramel” feel with less effort (yes, I said effort. I’m managing up to 15 Grade Ones this year!).

A Study in Apple Pie for Canada Day

So, armed with my trusty muffin tin and strips of parchment for easy removal, I tried three different options (using my mom’s crust recipe, but with added instant oatmeal for texture). The first one (on the right of the photo) was filled with my variation of the Caramelized Apples recipe on rouxbe.com, using salted butter (it’s all we use at home), a pinch of cinnamon and a half teaspoon of honey (love my local honey!!). Next (in the middle) came the “original”, a scaled-down Ople pie, using salted butter, oat flour instead of all purpose simply because it was on hand, and with more water (it was clumping too much with the amount as written). Lastly, I wanted to make Bright Eyed Baker’s fantastic DIY Caramel Sauce (which has worked for me before) and drizzle that on top of the apples, but when I added the milk it split and curdled, and I wound up tossing the batch. Instead, I opted to try a mock “condensed milk”, adding a pinch of cinnamon and only reducing the sugar and milk for a few minutes, until syrupy. Those are on the far left.

Overall, looking at the options, I kind of like the first ones best. First, the recipe cooks the apples, meaning they’ll shrink less in the oven (read: more apples per bite!), second, cooking the apples in the butter / sugar mixture allows them to really soak up the butterscotchy flavour of the brown sugar, and they release their juices too. After filling the shells with the strained apples, I drizzled each with a little of that sauce left in the bottom of the pot (which I let reduce a little as I sorted the apples), and the rest makes an awesome syrup for anything appley! (For adults, I’d even add a half-shot of butterscotch schnapps to the filling mixtures… but you do you!). Regardless of the one you like, it’s always important to let the pies cool completely before digging in so the juices can set. Reheat them in a low oven afterwards!

Looking at all three, what would your pick be?

Caramelized Apple Tartlets
Makes 3 tartlets
1 tbsp salted butter
1/2 tsp honey (I used a dark amber one made by our neighbours, which could be any variety)
2 tbsp packed dark brown sugar
pinch of cinnamon
1 whole tart apple (such as a granny smith), peeled and diced

  1. Heat the oven to 400F and line 3 muffin cups with a strip of parchment.
  2. Fit rounds of pie dough into the lined cups, allowing 1/2″ overhang around the edges.
  3. In a small pot, melt the butter over medium-high heat.
  4. Add the honey, brown sugar and cinnamon and cook 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. Add the apples and cook, stirring, until they begin to collapse and release their juices – about 4 minutes.
  6. Turn off the heat (leave the pot on the burner) and, using a slotted spoon (I used a fork, which does the same thing!), fill the tartlets up to the lip.
  7. Drizzle with reduced sauce, then fold over the edges of the pastry to slightly encase the filling.
  8. Bake for 15 minutes.

Almost Ople’s Apple Tartlets
Makes 3
1 whole tart apple (such as a granny smith), peeled and diced
1 tbsp salted butter
1 tsp oat flour
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp packed dark brown sugar
2 1/2 tbsp boiling water

  1. Heat the oven to 400F and line 3 muffin cups with a strip of parchment.
  2. Fit rounds of pie dough into the lined cups, allowing 1/2″ overhang around the edges.
  3. Fill with apples, mounded slightly. Make an “X” with scraps of pie dough overtop of the apples.
  4. Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat.
  5. Stir in flour and cook 30 seconds – 1 minute, until “pasty” and not “floury” smelling.
  6. Add the sugars and stir, then stream in the water and bring to a brisk simmer.
  7. Let simmer, stirring, until the mixture is thick and creamy – about 2 minutes.
  8. Gently spoon the sugar and butter liquid over the crust and apples in the muffin tin.
  9. Bake for 15 minutes.

Sweet Milk Apple Tartlets
Makes 3
1 whole tart apple (such as a granny smith), peeled and diced
3 tbsp whole milk
3 tbsp sugar
pinch cinnamon
pinch salt

  1. Heat the oven to 400F and line 3 muffin cups with a strip of parchment.
  2. Fit rounds of pie dough into the lined cups, allowing 1/2″ overhang around the edges.
  3. Fill with apples, mounded slightly.
  4. In a small pot, heat the milk, sugar, cinnamon and salt until briskly simmering.
  5. Cook, swirling the pan often, until the milk starts to reduce and possibly take a hint of colour (it may be hard to see because of the cinnamon, but the thickness should be like a syrup).
  6. Spoon over the apples, then fold over the edges of the pastry to slightly encase the filling.
  7. Bake for 15 minutes.
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