Dutch Apple Tart (Appeltaart)

There is absolutely nothing better than the spicy-sweet autumnal smell of a freshly baked apple pie. We’ve all got a recipe for one, so I was keen to try a different twist on this family favourite.  I recently read an interview with sweet-toothed Dutch actress Famke Janssen, where she declared apple pie and ice cream to be one of her favourite treats – and I’m willing to bet she prefers her home country’s version.

Appeltaart is a traditional Dutch favourite; no celebration is complete without one and every bakery sells it. (Winkel in Amsterdam is widely reported to make the very best.) It is somewhere between a cake and a pie; it is very deep, and the pastry has quite a cake-like texture, its recipe being similar to a pâte sucrée (sweet shortcrust), but made with self raising flour for leverage. It is also gently spiced with speculaas (a Dutch sweet spice mix, similar to British mixed spice) and then rolled very thickly. The apple filling is fairly standard, although the depth of this pie requires perhaps a bit more than usual. My recipe also contains sultanas – the essential partner for apples in my opinion – but you can omit these if you prefer.

This pie is best made the day before you plan to serve it, as the spices really have a chance to develop when allowed to rest overnight. The classic Dutch way to serve is at room temperature with whipped cream or ice-cream.

Serves 8-10.

You will need a 20cm/8″ cake tin, about 6-7cm deep. A springform tin is best for both size and easy removal. I used my trusty little 20cm enamel casserole dish as it was a good depth (all my standard cake tins are far too deep, and I don’t have a 20cm springform tin). Whatever tin you use, make sure it is well buttered.

For the dough:
350g self raising flour (cake flour in the US)
50g ground almonds
1 tsp speculaas spice mix or mixed spice (*see note below)
200g butter, fridge-cold and cubed
120g soft light brown sugar
2 large eggs

For the apple filling:
8-10 apples, depending on size – about 1kg -peeled, cored and sliced.
45g butter
45g soft light brown sugar
1 tbsp speculaas spice mix or mixed spice (*see note below)
1 tbsp lemon juice
100g raisins or sultanas (optional)

1 egg, beaten, to glaze
Demerara sugar and a pinch of cinnamon to sprinkle

*Speculaas is a traditional sweet Dutch spice mix – it is similar to mixed spice in the UK. I use vanDotsch Speculaas Spice Mix. If you only have mixed spice, I would suggest adding a fat pinch of white pepper and ground cardamom to it, for a little more of an authentic kick.

Make the dough:

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This is best done quickly in a processor. Blitz together the flour, ground almonds and spices to combine. Add the cubed butter and blitz again for a few seconds until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Pour in the sugar and mix just enough to evenly disperse.

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Lightly beat the eggs in a jug and carefully pour into the processor with the motor running. Once the pastry dough has clumped together, it is ready. Empty on to a clean, floured surface and bring together lightly with your hands. Roughly divide the dough into thirds; keep 2/3 together and wrap in cling film. Separately wrap 1/3 – this will be the ‘lid’. Put the two discs in the fridge.

Preheat the oven to 170c/325f/gas mark 3.

Make the filling:

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Peel, core and slice the apples. My slices were all probably just under 1cm thick.

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Gently melt the butter, sugar and speculaas spice mix together in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan.
Place the apples into the pan and stir very gently so that all the chunks are coated with the sweet buttery spice mix. Sprinkle in the lemon juice and raisins/sultanas, if using. Clamp the lid on and allow to sit for about 5 minutes on the lowest possible heat.

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On a well-floured surface, thickly roll out the largest disc of dough. This is a very soft and fragile dough; but don’t worry about rips and tears, just patch it and squash it back together.
Bring the edges together in the middle (as shown above right) so you can more easily pick it up and unfold the dough in your well-buttered tin.

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Open up the piece of dough in the tin and squash it into place as best you can. It will look a bit uneven but this doesn’t matter one bit. Just make sure you have a nice thick layer of dough covering the bottom and sides of the tin.

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Spoon the apple mixture into the cake tin. Roll out your remaining 1/3 disc of dough.

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Press the ‘lid’ on to the pie. Press down on to the apples; the dough will probably look a bit bumpy – even better! If there’s an overhang of pastry around the sides, fold it inwards so the apples are snuggly enclosed by the pastry. This will allow for a bit of a rise, too. Brush generously with beaten egg and lightly sprinkle a little cinnamon all over.

Bake in the centre of the preheated oven for around 50 minutes. Check after 40 minutes, but remember to aim for a really deep golden brown colour.
Allow to cool in the tin. This is best made the day before, if possible. Serve as the Dutch do – at room temperature, with whipped cream or ice cream.

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