A rose by any other name
I love apples; their crispy, crunchy and sweet yet tart, round selves are always a delight and joy, unless of course, they are overripe or floury, in which case you can keep them.
They are versatile crowd-pleasers in their many forms and are perfect just as is. Then there is the ubiquitous apple sauce – which makes baking a breeze – caramelised slices are a delight, and garden-fresh crunchy apples liven up any fruit salad.
While cooked apple has never really been my favourite thing, a little bit of background, as well as the role this fruit plays in pies, yielded some interesting results and ended in a slight twist on the original. The Lowveld is heading into winter, and what better way to welcome the cold than with a hearty apple pie, albeit a somewhat dainty, pretty variation?
The apple pie we all know and love is sugary sweet, fruity with a flaky, buttery pastry and a spicy hint of cinnamon. Being expensive back in the days of Chaucer, sugar was often omitted and various fruits were used in its stead, such as pears, raisins and figs. The pastry casing, known as a coffin, was also frequently inedible and was meant purely as a shell or holder.
It was in fact so hard to eat, that in 1759 the Swedish pastor and author Dr Israel Acrelius, who was staying in America, noted in letters to family back home that “apple pie is the evening meal of children. House pie, in such country places, is made of apples neither peeled nor freed from their cores, and its crust is not broken if even a wagon wheel goes over it.”
A number of different types of apples can be used, as well as in varying forms such as fresh, dried, canned or pureed. This affects the eventual outcome of the dish, resulting in a veritable smorgasbord of apple pies, none of them the same.
Different countries also have their traditions, for example Dutch apple pie was traditionally made with extra spices such as ginger, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg and mace, and the pastry was either in the form of a crumb (like a crumble) or lattice-topped. They also often include raisins and are served with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.
The French variation takes the form of a tarte Tatin, or upside-down tart, with caramelised fruit on top of a pastry crust. Oftentimes other fruits such as pears and tomatoes are used instead of apples. In English-speaking countries, apple pie is tremendously popular and is eaten hot or cold, with custard, cream or ice cream. The Swedish one is more of a crumble than a pastry, and breadcrumbs or rolled oats instead of flour are used to make the casing.
Because apples are not native to America, the colonies had to wait for the trees planted by European settlers to bear fruit. Until that time they made use of crab apples, which bear small and sour-tasting fruit. Apples were initially more popular for making cider than they were for baking, but there are a few recipes which survived from the 18th century.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, however, apple pie became a symbol of American prosperity and righteousness – as American as apple pie.
Our dish is going to encompass all of this yumminess, but with an appealing new look. Imagine flaky, buttery pastry, softened, sweet apple slices slightly caramelised on the edges, packaged in a whole new way, as pretty little rose apple tarts. They may sound quite complicated and labour-intensive, but in fact are quite the opposite. They are delicious, and they will impress even the stuffiest guests.
• 400g sheet puff pastry
• 2 Top Red or Pink Lady apples
• 3 tbs water
• 1/2 tsp cinnamon
• 1 tbs lemon juice
• 4 tbs strawberry jam.
1. Cut out 8 rounds of dough with a cookie cutter, each one approximately 9cm in diameter.
2. Fit each of the rounds into the buttered cup of a muffin tin, pushing the dough up the sides; chill while preparing the apple roses.
3. Preheat oven to 180°C.
4. Cut the apple in half and remove the seeds. Using a mandolin or very sharp knife, cut the apple halves into very thin half-moon shapes.
6. Add the water, apple slices, cinnamon and lemon juice to a saucepan, and simmer for 4 to 5 minutes, until the fruit slices are soft and pliable enough to roll without breaking. Or microwave them for about 1 minute.
7. Melt the jam and brush half of it all around the inside of the pastry cases.
8. To make the roses, place about 10 slivers of apple on a clean, flat surface, laying them out horizontally in a straight line. Each slice must overlap the previous one by half.
9. Roll them tightly from one side to the other until you have a rose shape. Add one or two petals if you want yours a little bigger. Make sure you have enough slices for all the cases.
10. Gently place a rose into each pastry case and lightly brush the edges of the petals with the remaining jam.
11. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the cases are golden brown.
12. Finish off with a sprinkling of icing snow (optional).