Apple pies are synonymous with domesticity: both here and across the pond, the image of an apple pie, fresh from the oven, possibly cooling on a windowsill, speaks of family, and of homeliness. While they’re not difficult to make, they take time and care, and the making of one is an act of love. Perhaps that’s why they are such a simple and clear shorthand for comfort.
A proper apple pie is just as good hot as it is cold: it is both the perfect end to a Sunday lunch, submerged under custard, or with a rapidly melting baseball of ice cream perched atop, and the most delightful bowl of leftovers, cold, and the good kind of stodgy, with squirty cream from a can. The Railway Children by E. Nesbit features just such an apple pie: when the children arrive at their new house in the country, it is night-time, and they don’t find the feast that had been left for them. The next morning, aided by daylight and rest, they happen upon it: alongside the roast beef, and cheese, bread and butter, there is an apple pie: so they have cold apple pie for ‘a wonderful breakfast’.
My apple pie sits somewhere between an American apple pie and an English apple pie. The apples are distinctly English: a mix of sharp eating apples and classic English Bramley apples or ‘cookers’; the eating apples will retain the shape as they soften and cook, whereas the Bramleys will break down into a sweet, saucy compote. The pastry, however, is all-American. Pie pastry is its own category: it should be flaky and crisp rather than short and crumbly, and this is achieved by stopping combining the butter with the dry ingredients when it is in little pea-sized lumps; you want to avoid the fine, sandy, breadcrumb texture that you seek when you make shortcrust pastry.