It was raining on the morning that we arrived at Borrodell Vineyard, so our scheduled 'Heritage Apple Walk' had to be put on hold until after lunch at Sisters Rock restaurant. There were two courses. A sumptuous chicken salad followed by Bramley apple pie. We were dining in a restaurant in the midst of an orchard overlooking the spectacular Towac Valley on the outskirts of the city of Orange, renowned as the 'apple capital' of Australia. The apple pie was destined to be good. Doing my best to seem nonchalant, I looked on as a finely-dressed woman at the next table prepared to take her first mouthful of pie. She took her time, deliberately scooping up some of the crème anglaise, raspberry syrup and double cream, along with a chunk of the pie. She put the spoon with its contents into her mouth, closed her lips around it, shut her eyes, then smiled and nodded pleasurably. Be still my beating heart! From that sneak preview, the pie was very, very good, and I was already salivating!
By the time our desserts arrived at the table, Peter and I could hardly wait to tuck in. Now I don't really need to tell you that this was and is, without question, THE BEST apple pie I have eaten in all 55 years of my entire life! In fact, it was so delicious that we made our way back to Sisters Rock for lunch (and a second helping of apple pie) the following day. The cook and food writer in me simply HAD to have the recipe from Chef, Alan Meaney who, incidentally, has a very fine singing voice too. Is there anything better than a happy chef?! I think not. That said, the chef is a shy and rather modest fellow, which meant that I would have to leave him be. It was Borry Gartrell, the knowledgable and kindly owner of Borrodell Vineyard, the restaurant and orchard, who would tell me that the secret ingredient in the pie was the Bramley apples. To my surprise and delight, Borry packed me off home with enough Bramley apples to make a dozen or more pies. Thank you, Borry!
Bramleys are the most popular cooking apples in the UK, and are said to have grown from pips planted in 1809. Research tells me that the original tree is still bearing fruit to this day! Jam maker, Robbie Howard, from Lynwood at Collector in New South Wales best explains them: 'Bramley apples are a green, large, flat-round cooking apple. The flesh is white, juicy and acidic, with low sugar levels, resulting in a stronger, tangier tasting apple that retains a strong apple flavour when cooked. When boiled, the Bramley turns into a frothy pulp, giving it a moist, "melt in the mouth" texture, making it the ideal cooking apple.'
In Australia, Bramley apples are not so easily sourced, it is only through the dedication of orchardists like Borry Gartrell and Dr Jonathan Banks at Pialligo Apples here in the ACT, that such heritage varieties have been established and nurtured here. Former Canberra chef and Gourmet Farmer, Matthew Evans, has also planted Bramleys on his farm in Tasmania. He writes: 'Bramleys are soft cookers. And they puff up when cooked. They’re apparently fantastic in jelly ... and are great in pie. They’re sour and full flavoured, so make wonderful apple sauce for pork, or apple-and-mint jelly for lamb. They will go a majestic golden colour, too, so I may have to save a couple to have simply baked, so I can admire the colour.'
Vanilla is the other key ingredient in this pie. Don't go adding cinnamon or other spices. Just good quality vanilla please.
BEST-EVER BRAMLEY APPLE PIE
My recipe is adapted from Borrodell's Bramley Apple Pie by chef Alan Meaney, submitted to a booklet titled Orange's Best Recipes by Luisa Machielse who works at Sister's Rock Restaurant at Borrodell Vineyard. This adaptation has been published here with Borry's blessing.
For the sour cream pastry:
320g plain (AP) flour
240g unsalted butter, diced
80g sour cream
For the apple filling:
1kg Bramley apples*
100g vanilla-infused caster sugar
1 whole vanilla bean, split
1 egg, whisked with 1 tablespoon milk
If you feel like releasing the Earth Mother from within, make the pastry by hand. I use a deep stainless steel bowl for this purpose. Please note, having made this pie on three occasions now I found the pastry can be a little difficult to work with, so I recommend that you be patient. Persevere. It's worth it!
Combine the flour and the diced butter in the bowl and rub the butter into the flour with the tips of your fingers, until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. (Remember to brush a little flour onto your cheek so that your partner can see your efforts!). Then fold in the sour cream with a spatula and mix until the dough comes together, add a little flour if you find the dough is too wet. Knead gently on a lightly floured board, then divide into two pieces, one larger than the other, and shape each one into a flat disc. Wrap each disc in cling film and refrigerate for 20 minutes. Chilling the dough this way makes it easier to work with.
Meanwhile peel, core and dice the apples and combine them in a saucepan with the caster sugar and the vanilla bean (no water!). Cook over a medium-low heat until the apples are soft and fluffy. Set aside to cool (and remove the vanilla bean). Butter a 23cmx3cm deep pie or tart pan and preheat the oven to 190 degrees C.
On a lightly floured board, roll out the larger of the two pastry discs to a 30-32cm round and gently transfer to the pie or tart tin (using your rolling pin to lift it). Press the pastry into the base and sides of the tin, allowing a little extra at the top. Even though the original recipe didn't recommend it, I did prick the pie base with a fork.
Spread the apple filling over the base of the pie. Roll out the smaller of the two discs to a 24cm round and cover the top of the pie with it. Trim the edges and press together with the tines of a fork. Use any excess pastry to decorate the top (I made a small very rustic apple shape, see my images). Brush the top of the pie with the egg wash. Cut a couple of tiny steam vents in the top of the pie with the point of a sharp knife. Allow the pie to rest in the refrigerator for 20 minutes.
Bake the pie at 190 degrees C for 10 minutes, then lower the heat to 160 degrees C for 40 minutes until golden brown. Serve dusted with icing sugar, with a dollop of double cream or ice cream and some Crème Anglaise or light pouring custard. Serves 8.
* As a footnote, my friend Dr Jonathan Banks from Pialligo Apples advises that if Bramley apples are out of season in your area, Pink Lady and Lady Williams, now picking at local orchards, will hold their shape in cooking and do not fall, just like Bramleys. 'They both make a good crumble or pie, but note that the slices tend to retain their shape. Other good Australian cookers are Stewart's Seedling (early March); TwentyOunce (late February) are also good; and Gravensteins (late January) also cook beautifully. All have their own special flavours, but not that pure lemony tang of a good Bramley,' he said.
Note: Crème Anglaise can be quickly prepared with cream, eggs, sugar and vanilla. You'll find a very good recipe from thekitchn here.
© Liz Posmyk 2014. Please respect my literary work and kindly ask permission before re-blogging.
Heritage orchardist Borry Gartrell has happy childhood memories of apples...
At Borrodell, Borry Gartrell grows 170 varieties of heirloom and obscure apples; including eating, cooking and cider apples. Among them are Bramleys, Gravensteins, Codlin, Cox's Orange Pippin, Winesap, and Dr Hogg. Indeed, Borry's collection of heritage apples is one of the largest in Australia. He grows them because he loves them, and says they bring back happy memories of his childhood in the original family orchard.
'The orchard I grew up on was planted just after the first world war. As children, we would pick the apples that were grown in another era. They are so different to the varieties of today.' Borry is very proud of his collection, and rightly so methinks. Take a walk through the orchard with this wonderful gentleman and he will pick apples for you to taste while he explains the history of each variety. I asked Borry what inspires him. 'It's the joy of being able to convert the things you grow into food and wine,' he says.
Postcards from the Heritage apple walk at Borrodell...
Postcards from the vineyard, the cellar door and the restaurant...
Thank you again to Borry Gartrell and his wife, Gaye Stewart-Nairne (pictured above), for their warm and generous hospitality; and also to Taste Orange and Orange City Council who hosted us for part of our stay in Orange.
Tell me dear readers, have you ever cooked with Bramley apples? Perhaps you grow them in your part of the world? And will you try your hand at baking this delicious pie?!
Cooking and writing have been a lifelong passion.
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- Liz Posmyk
NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.