Now is the perfect time to bake apple pie, with most apple varieties readily available. There are two components to a really great pie: the filling, made with fresh seasonal apples (I like a mix of tart and sweet), and of course the pastry.
I've given two types of pastry here. The first, a flaky pastry, is along the lines of an American pie style, and the second, sweet pastry, is more typically Australian.
The sweet pastry is short and crumbly thanks to its a high fat and sugar content, and the addition of egg yolk makes it softer. The flaky pastry, meanwhile, is made with lard, which creates the flakiness; less sugar and no egg makes for a crisper finish.
When it comes to mixing the dough, it's important to chill the butter in the freezer once it has been diced so it can be pulsed through the flour without getting too warm and melting. I also use iced water to keep the dough cool, and I like to use a food processor because it does the job quicker and more evenly. Incorporating some of the fat more thoroughly with the flour helps to create a pastry that's more water-tight, reducing the amount of moisture seeping into the pastry and so preventing sogginess, while the larger pieces of fat create the crumbly or flaky quality, depending which type you're making.
Add just enough water to start bringing the pastry together; a good test is to pinch some dough between your fingers - it should just hold together. At this point I turn the mix out onto the bench and smear it together using the heel of my hand, then I divide the dough in half, form each into a disc of around 12cm diameter and rest them in the fridge wrapped in plastic wrap.
I've kept the filling simple to celebrate the flavours of the apples; I use a mix of tart Granny Smith and sweet apples, such as royal gala, pink lady or sundowner, with the simple flavourings of cinnamon, lemon and sugar. The apples need to be boiled - not vigorously, but enough so their pectin is made heat stable, which helps to hold the juices and filling together when the pie cools. Cook the apples until they're just tender.
In all you need roughly eight cups of cooled filling to make a nice deep pie in a 22.5cm x 3cm deep pyrex dish.
I roll the pastry between sheets of Go-Between freezer film to stop it sticking to the bench; it also helps when you lift the pastry into the pie dish. Occasionally you'll need to peel the sheets away from either side to let the pastry loosen as you roll.
To line the pie dish, roll the first round to 30cm, then invert it into the dish, remove the Go-Between, and use a pastry brush to lightly press the pastry into the sides of the dish. Flatten the edges slightly so the lid fits neatly on top, but try to handle the pastry as little as possible so it stays cool. Don't trim it at this stage, but refrigerate it while you roll the other half to a 26cm round for the top, and rest that in the fridge, too - this rests the gluten and firms up the pastry a little to make it easier to work with.
When the filling is cool, spread it evenly in the pastry case, then place the second pastry round on top. I use kitchen scissors to trim the edges of both pastry layers to about 1cm beyond the rim of the pie dish, pressing the edges together gently to seal.
At this point you can crimp the edges of the pastry if you like.
Because the pie takes a while to bake, I use eggwhite for the glaze, because it doesn't colour as readily as the usual egg yolk and milk or cream. The glaze also gives the sugar something to stick to - I use demerara for its flavour and texture; also, because it doesn't dissolve, it makes a nice finish. Cut five short slits in the top of the pie to let the steam escape and the filling thicken; this also helps prevent excess moisture seeping into the pastry.
The oven needs to be hot so the pastry sets faster, trapping the fat as it melts and creating the flaky and crumbly textures (and helping stop too much moisture soaking into the pastry. If you're using a tin dish, preheat a tray in the oven; if you're using a pyrex dish - which I prefer because it conducts the heat slowly and evenly and nicely colours and crisps the pastry - place it on a cool baking tray and then into the oven to avoid thermal shock. A tray also catches any filling that bubbles out. Bake the pie on the bottom rung, so the top doesn't brown too quickly. Once it's cooked, stand the pie to give the pectin time to set a little, then serve it with your favourite accompaniment - I'll be having mine with a little whipped cream.