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Taste the World: Brik Pastry Apple Pie

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Political journalist Annabel Crabb cooked this sweet treat for MP Joe Hockey on the first episode of her ABC TV show Kitchen Cabinet and will re-create it for Taste the World at this year’s WOMADelaide.

Crabb, who is participating in the music festival’s Planet Talks sessions, hunted high and low for Armenian brandy to use in the recipe to honour Hockey’s Armenian heritage. The pie is said to taste like a giant honey crackle. Yum.

Brik Pastry Apple Pie with Armenian Brandy

Ingredients

10 leaves of brik pastry
butter (50g plus extra melted)
brown sugar (100g)
6 brown sugar cubes
1 kg apples, various sorts
¾ cup walnut kernels
Small swig o’ liqueur (I used Armenian Brandy but if you can’t find any Armagnac will do)

Method
Annabel Crabb

Annabel Crabb

Cook the apples. Peel, quarter, core and slice roughly into frying pan with 50g butter and two tablespoons of brown sugar. Cook over medium heat for about 8ish minutes until they are a bit soft. Sit them in a fine sieve and let them cool (keep the buttery juice for rice pudding or something else delicious).

Cut the pastry to the right shape. Take your 10 sheets, which should be all layered together with a sheet of paper separating each one. Trace around a 23cm cake tin on to the top sheet of paper. Cut out your circle – voila, you should have 10 pieces of 23cm diameter pastry. Keep the scraps of pastry.

Make the base. Butter your 23cm round spring-form or drop-bottom cake tin and set a circle of baking paper in the bottom (don’t use the brik separating paper – disaster awaits you). Put your first lucky sheet of brik in the bottom, paint with melted butter (generously) and sprinkle brown sugar so whole layer is lightly covered. Repeat with sheets 2 and 3. Put this base in a 180-degree oven and cook for about 5 minutes (until golden, but not brown). (See video demonstration here.)

Add the middle applish layers to the base. Add another sheet of pastry to your base, this time, paint with butter, add a thinish layer of apples, leaving a bit of a border around the edge, and crumble 1 sugar cube that has been soaked in brandy over the top of the apples. Repeat with pastry sheets 4, 5, 6, 7, 8.

Add the lid to the middle layers. Pastry sheets 9 and 10 are excused from apple duty, but will give you a bit of frou frou and height to the top. The real show-pony pastry pieces are made separately; that comes later. So take these last round pieces, peel off the paper. Fold in half, in quarters, and then in eighths. Cut along each fold about halfway in. Once you unfold it, you have a kind of windmill-without-gaps effect. Put on top with the butter and brown sugar sprinkling (including the top of the top layer).

Cook the thing. Bake at 180 for about 15 minutes (or as long as the edges and top can stand without going too dark). The longer you can leave it in the better, but be guided by the colour.

The frou frou top. Put your left-over long ribbons of pastry scraps in a bowl, pour over leftover melted butter and sprinkle with 1/8 cup of sugar. Add the walnuts and mix it all together with your hands to make sure everything is well covered.

Fashion this mix in to a high and decorative tangle the approx diameter of your cake on a lined baking sheet. Have it join the middle layers in the oven (on a separate shelf, don’t put it on top yet) for about 6-7 minutes (again, be led by your colour).

Assemble. You should be able to gently lift the main cake on to a serving dish. Slide the froufrou on to the top of your main cake. Should require only light titivation for good effect.

Notes

The type of apples – most French recipes that involve apples recommend using a mix of different types. This way you get some that go soft, some that retain their shape, some sweet, some a bit more tart. I have made a few cakes (outside of this one) and this mixed approach has worked well.

The type of tin – spring-form or drop-bottom tin would obviously be the most fail-safe. I used a normal tin and was able to carefully lift the main cake out on to a serving plate with the aid of the baking paper on the bottom. I think you could even collate the thing on a plain old baking tray.

The type of sugar – by brown sugar, I mean cassonade. I think the street name is raw sugar? Granulated, free-running. The delicious dark clumpy stuff wouldn’t get the pastry crisp. As for the sugar-cube gimmick, I think this is a trick worth doing. It gives a subtle but noticeable flavour to the dish. Adding the brandy to the apples, I think it would be too strong. So I think it is a good technique in this setting where you need to keep things crisp. I used the very dense La Perruche pure canne (amber) cubes. They look lovely; like tumbled bricks. But I also tried mixing a few drops in the cassonade to be sprinkled over the apple layers and this was also ok, but not as much fun – but fine if you don’t want to have a 750g box of brown sugar cubes taking up real estate in your pantry for the next 8 years.

Working with brik/brick pastry – This stuff is a dream. It is robust, and it gives you at least 5 minutes before it starts to dry out (well, in this climate anyway). It doesn’t tear and flake like filo. But … be careful as hell to remove every sheet of paper between the pastry sheets. After you have cut your circles and paper to the same circular shape, the paper looks unhelpfully similar to the pastry. Count the paper in and out like sponges in surgery. You leave one in and the patient croaks; same thing with the cake. Who knew that greaseproof paper was so terrible on the tooth? Don’t forget that one sheet of pastry will be left with a paper either side, so it isn’t enough to rest easy with the removal of just one sheet each time.

How to prepare in advance – I think that you could easily cook the main cake the day before. The froufrou I would make within hours of serving. You could keep the pastry scraps in their paper holding and put it all together a few hours before. That part is easy. I even fancy that you could put the day-before cake in the oven for a quick re-crisp a few hours before serving.

The 2014 WOMADelaide will feature 15 Taste the World sessions hosted by Adelaide chef Rosa Matto and featuring a range of international artists.

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