“We must have a pie. Stress cannot exist in the presence of a pie.”David Mamet – Boston Marriage
The French don’t do pies. They have ‘pie-like’ things: Tartes, mostly – Tarte aux pommes, Tarte Tatin (insert any fruit you want, add a little pastry cream); an argument could be made for clafoutis being vaguely, somewhat pie-ish…and they’re good. I like them. They are a lovely treat unto themselves, and anyone who turns down a French pastry is a little suspect, but…they’re not pie. Pie has heft, pie has depth, pie has…completeness. A pastry, or in the more gossamer-flakey original ‘patisserie’, is an indulgent diversion. Sometimes a delicate tarte is perfect with your after-dinner café, or mid-morning tea, and sometimes…sometimes you want the whole show.
You will find no diner-counter pie displays in France, no waitress named ‘Norma’ asking you, “You want some pie with that, hon?”. If you want it this side of the Channel, you have to roll up your sleeves and make it yourself.
Which is not as difficult as it may sound. This isn’t strictly a ‘pie’ either, but a ‘galette’ is the closest thing to pie in France, and it’s a close, in-the-same-ballpark approximation, and as a bonus can be thrown together in a literally a few minutes, depending on how ‘scrappy’ you want to be. You can either make the crust from scratch, not a complicated thing, basic instructions below – or even easier, in France you can buy pre-made ‘pâte brisée’ at any épicerie for less than a euro. It comes rolled out and rolled up and works just fine. If you have some in your fridge, your efforts can be in the oven inside of 10 minutes from when you first thought, “Pie would be nice….”
The work goes faster (or perhaps a little slower) if you have a helpful assistant. Madeleine insisted on joining me for this go ‘round. Cooking with children can be either a wonderfully bonding experience, or whatever circle of Dante’s hell is labelled, ‘Flour-Dusted Frustration’. This time was the former. What I learned, and continue to learn when I cook alongside my offspring, is…relax, don’t take it too seriously, don’t worry about perfection, and ask all the questions you want.
To her, the apple slices look like monster mouths, and spreading the chestnut crème is an adventure. And she’s right.
1 ¼ cup (170gm) Flour, unbleached
1 tsp Salt
1 tsp Sugar
½ cup / 115 gms Unsalted Butter, chilled, cut into chunks
2 Apples, cored and cut into ¼” wedges – don’t peel
4 oz/115 gm Chestnut crème
(Crème de Marron, or Chestnut crème, is a common product in France – delicious mixture of chestnuts, sugar, and vanilla, slow-cooked to a deep and rich paste. You could also use Almond paste, or fig jam, or…be creative)
Juice ½ lemon
Cinnamon to taste
Sugar to taste
2 Tblsp Unsalted Butter, cut into small chunks
1 Egg, beaten
Coarse Sugar to taste
If you’re making the crust from scratch, you’ll need to start at least an hour earlier, but that’s mostly chilling/resting time, opportunity for a glass of wine. Mix the flour, salt, and sugar in a medium bowl, cut in the ½ cup of butter chunks, using a pastry blender or a couple of forks, until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add 4 Tblsps ice water, work in with your hands until the dough comes together. If it’s still crumbly, add more ice water a Tblsp at a time, up to 4 more Tblsps. You don’t want it too moist, and don’t overwork it. Form the dough into a ball, flatten slightly into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap or parchment, and refrigerate for at least an hour. If you’re using the store-bought pâte brisée, well…
This is the point where you have some wine. Or you could, I suppose, core and slice your apples. I like to use 2 different kinds, these photos show Pink Lady and Granny Smith – the tartness of the granny is a nice counterpoint to the sweet lady. You could also use pears, or peaches. I’ve never tried Mango or Papaya, but I’d be willing to give it a go.
Preheat the oven to 400°F/205°C. Roll the chilled dough out into a 12”/30cm circle, and place on parchment paper on a baking sheet. Spread the chestnut crème in an even circle, leaving about 1 ½” border (this is where Maddie took poetic license) and arrange the apple slices in a sort of intricate fan/circle arrangement, or just toss ’em all in as a jumble.
Sprinkle the lemon juice over the apple slices, followed by a dusting of sugar and cinnamon, and scatter the chunks of butter. Fold the uncovered edges over in overlapping folds. Brush with the beaten egg and dust with coarse sugar and a bit more cinnamon for good measure.
Bake for 20 – 30 minutes, until nicely golden with a lightly bubbling filling. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream, or Chantilly.
“Cut my pie into 4 pieces, I don’t think I could eat 8.”Yogi Berra