Apple crumble pie was my Valentine’s gift to my husband (I’ll make an effort not to bore you with adulation but he’s awesome). He’s an excellent crumble maker and connoisseur and it’s rare that I can produce a crumble that measures up to his; he also makes a mean pie, mainly of the chicken variety. Perhaps I was setting the bar rather too high when I aimed to woo him with his signature dish? To my mind I was aiming to produce the ultimate in desserts by combining two of his three favourite puddings (there was no way I was trying to fit a cheesecake into the mix but, having said that, I’m now plotting some kind of apple crumble cheesecake). So, in order to surpass his best efforts, I knew I had to go further than just sitting a plain old crumble atop a pie crust.
I’ll be honest and say I cheated with shop-bought ready-made pastry – a good quality one made with lots of butter and no dodgy ingredients. Sometimes a shortcut is required for mid-week baking creations. Had it been the weekend I would undoubtedly made my own pastry. Unsweetened short crust is the way to go here and it should be buttery and tender. The apples should be sharp, cookers rather than eaters, and sweetened with the barest dusting of sugar, nothing apoils an apple pie like too much sugar. Bramleys are your best bet as they becoming meltingly soft when cooked and retain a tart apple flavour that cuts through the sweet, nutty crumble.
And that crumble is something else, I wish it had been my idea but instead the honour of world’s best crumble recipe goes to Clotilde at Chocolate & Zucchini. I knew I wanted a recipe that used browned butter and spices, lucky for me Clotilde had done all the leg work, I just had to upscale and adapt it to my tastes. Browned butter is unbelievably scrummy, it tastes like toast and hazelnuts (hence the French name beurre noisette) and adds a depth of flavour to any culinary creation. I found that the upscaled recipe had too much butter so I increased all the other ingredients while using the original amount of butter. A tip I have learned from husband is to use demerara sugar; it’s toffee-like taste and large crunchy crystals are perfect in crumble mix. The overall effect of combining browned butter, ground hazelnuts and demerara sugar is a crunchy crumble that tastes like praline which is one of my favourite things. No wonder we both loved this pie!
Apple pie with spiced brown butter crumble
Crumble adapted from Chocolate & Zucchini
For the pie:
- 300g ready-made short crust pastry
- 1kg Bramley apples (I used 4 Bramleys and 2 Coxes)
- 40g sugar
- 3 tbsp plain flour
For the crumble:
- 200g plain flour
- 150g demerara sugar
- 40g roughly ground hazelnuts – there should be some little niblets amongst the powder
- pinch of sea salt
- ½ tsp cinnamon
- ¼ tsp ground cloves
- 150g unsalted butter
Roll out the pastry quite thin, just thick enough to be able to move easily, about 2-3mm. Line a 23cm pie dish and trim the edges leaving a little overhang. You will probably have some leftover pastry you can make into jam tarts.
Peel and core the apples. Cut into quarters then cut each quarter into slices. Toss the apple slices with the flour and sugar and pile into the lined pie dish. Press down gently to compact the apples.
Preheat the oven to 190°C and make the crumble.
To make the crumble, cut the butter into small squares and place in a medium pan (light coloured so you can see the colour of the butter) over a medium heat. Allow the butter to melt, swirling from time to time.
The butter will bubble as the water evaporates, eventually the bubbling will die down and then stop. The butter solids on the bottom of the pan will turn golden brown and it will take on a hazelnutty smell.
As soon as the butter reaches this point take it off the heat, stir to mix in the golden brown solids and gradually pour into the dry crumble mix. Stir the crumble with a fork then toss it together with your hands to get a nice even texture with no large clumps.
Sprinkle the crumble over the apples patting very lightly to get it to sit neatly. Bake in the centre of the oven for 40-45 minutes until the pastry is golden and the crumble is crunchy and crisp.
Allow to cool for an hour before serving with thick cream.