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The holidays are just around the corner, and what better way to celebrate than with a traditional apple pie!? Sounds pretty good to me!
But did you know that apple pie is not just an American tradition? While we might like to say, “as American as apple pie”, this delicious dessert actually finds its roots in Europe. English apple pie recipes go back as far as the 1300s, and there are written records of apple pie recipes from the Netherlands from as early as the sixteenth century.
My friend, Terri Salminen, of Recipe writings and food memories by Terri Salminen, has been studying the early records of apple pies in the Netherlands, and was kind enough to share her tasty findings.
“In the Netherlands,” Terri tells us, “Dutch apple pie is much more like a cake than its name would suggest. This dessert is the single most popular sort of sweet treat in the country. It is absolutely essential at every birthday party and part of the dessert table at virtually every special occasion. It carries the name of appeltaart in the Dutch language which translates in English to apple tart.
“An appeltaart is made with butter, flour and sugar. It’s dough is so soft that it is pressed into a tall tart-shaped spring form pan, rather than being rolled out like a shortcrust pastry. What defines the appeltaart is the amount of apples used to bake it — when baked well, it looks like a mountain of apples just barely held together by a buttery crust.
“The Golden Reinette variety is the apple of tradition when baking an appeltaart, as this type of fruit is more sour than sweet. The Golden Reinette is the most cultivated apple in the Netherlands and has been part of the country’s agricultural scene since the eighteenth century. It is quite large and most usually has a pale golden skin, tinged with red. This variety is also widely used to make homemade apple sauce, by the way!
“Preparing a Dutch appeltaart is quite simple,” Terri continues. “I have consulted many authorities on appeltaart baking since I have lived in the Netherlands, and have tasted quite a few as well — my favorite appeltaart is baked at a street corner cafe’ in Amsterdam that is always jam-packed every day of the week.”
According to Terri’s research, appeltaart recipes in the Dutch language have been around since at least the sixteenth century, while historians agree that the tradition is much older. Most likely, appletaarts were a luxury well into the Middle Ages.
In the sixteenth century, rosewater and even fennel seed were added to flavor the baking apples.
Discussions about whether or not raisins should be added to a traditional appeltaart are quite heated in the Netherlands. Raisins were most definitely used in the first historic recipes for appeltaart and many like to use them today.
If you opt to use raisins in your appletaart, soak 3 1/2 ounces (100 grams) of raisins in hot water for 10 minutes and drain, before tossing them in with the apples.
Here is Terri’s recipe for a traditional Dutch appeltaart. She suggests serving as they do in the Netherlands, topped with whipped cream.
What you need for 1 appeltaart
The juice of one lemon
5 1/2 pounds apples (about 12 medium sized apples) – choose the most firm and crisp apple variety grown in your country, or mix Golden Delicious with Granny Smith in equal parts
1 teaspoon rosewater (optional)
2 tablespoons of finely ground cinnamon, divided
18 ounces flour (Terri likes to use light spelt flour or a mix of spelt and wheat flours), plus additional for dusting the work surface
a pinch of sea salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 sticks + 7 tablespoons (11 1/2 ounces) cold, unsalted butter, plus additional for greasing the pan
1 or 2 eggs (depending on the dryness of your dough)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 1/2 ounces sugar (Terri likes to use coconut blossom sugar or honey, but white sugar works, too)
one egg yolk
one tablespoon cream
What to do
Preheat the oven to 300°F.
Squeeze the lemon juice into a large bowl (Terri even puts the lemon halves in the bowl for flavor). Peel and core the apples (see the note about the peels below). Cut them in half. Lay the cut side down on a cutting board, and slice each apple half into four slices lengthwise. Toss the apple slices in the bowl with lemon juice to give them flavor, and also to prevent them from turning brown. If you would like to use rosewater to flavor the apple, add 1 teaspoon of rosewater to the sliced apples, as well.
Cover two flat baking platters with parchment paper. Layer the sliced apples snugly one against the other. Sprinkle them with one teaspoon of the cinnamon. Bake the apples 30 minutes in the oven, or until nicely baked but still firm. Remove the apples from the oven and allow them to cool.
Meanwhile, prepare the dough as follows. Sift the flour in a large bowl. Stir in the salt and baking powder. Cut the butter into slices and drop into the flour. Rub the butter into the flour with both hands until the flour and butter are like pale yellow crumbs.
Break 1 egg in a small bowl and whisk it together with the vanilla extract. Add the egg mixture, along with the sugar, to the flour and butter, and mix well until a smooth dough is formed. If your dough is still quite crumbly, work in an extra egg yolk. If it’s just a little dry, add a few drops of cool water. You want the dough to be smooth and soft, yet firm enough to form into a ball. Put the dough into the refrigerator for fifteen minutes.
Increase the oven temperature to 350°F . Grease a 12 inch springform pan with butter, and cover the bottom with a piece of parchment paper. Remove the dough from the refrigerator. Set 1/3 of the dough aside for later. Take the remaining 2/3 of the dough and press it gently with the palms of your hands into the bottom of the pan. Press the dough evenly all the way up the sides. Put the cake pan in the refrigerator for five minutes so it will firm up.
Dust a clean work surface and rolling pin with flour. Roll out the remaining dough into an even layer about 1/4 inch thick. Cut the dough into 12 ribbons of equal width.
Take the pan out of the refrigerator and fill it with the baked apples, sprinkling a bit of the remaining cinnamon as you create layers. Once the apples have filled the pan to the top, make a lattice work with the remaining dough ribbons by laying them vertically and then horizontally across the apples.
Beat the egg yolk with the cream, and brush the lattice work with it.
Place the pan on the middle rack of the oven, and bake the appeltaart for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the crust is golden.
Note: Rather than throwing away your apple peels, cook them in enough water to cover for about 30 minutes. Remove the apple peels from the cooking liquid with a sieve, and then simmer the liquid to at least half of its original volume. Allow it to cool, then put the juice into a clean bottle to use as a refreshing addition to lemon infused water.
Meet our contributor, Terri Salminen:
Food is my chosen form of expression. Cooking is language without words. Cooking defines my work as a chef, and reflects my creative passion. I believe recipes tell the stories of our lives. Exchanging food brings the world together. It is what we all have in common, no matter what culture or country we come from. A family recipe is not simply the sum of its ingredients. A traditional recipe is as unique as a signature. Cooking is all about personality. A family recipe carries a unique history along with its cooking instructions. My recipes are a combination of past memory and new discovery. I dedicate my work to my mother, who taught me the love of cooking.
I am a weekly blog contributor to the Dutch edition of Jamie Magazine, with a focus on food with an Italian attitude and stories sparked by special ingredients, and a Jamie Oliver Food Revolution Super Ambassador.
I write a blog entitled, “Recipe, Writings, and Food Memories” at TerriSalminen.com
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