I’ve been wanting to make this pie ever since I came back from Amsterdam last spring.
In Amsterdam, the apple pie (or appeltaart, as they call it) is queen. It’s sold in every bakery and featured on every café menu, sometimes being the only sweet option listed. Everyone does it slightly differently, but one thing’s for certain: it never looks like a North American apple pie. The traditional apple pie on this side of the ocean is thinner and the apples are generally enclosed between two sheets of pastry, top and bottom, although the top can be cut out or latticed.
A piece of appletaart at the ‘t Smalle Café, Amsterdam.
In the Netherlands, the apple pie looks almost like a cake. It’s baked in a spring-form pan and the pastry is sweet with a sablé-like texture. The crust, instead of being rolled, is pressed into the bottom and the sides of the pan. Firm apples are used (or a mix of firm and a couple of softer apples) so that the pie keeps its shape and the apple pieces are still clearly visible when a piece is cut off. The filling is flavored with raisins, spices, lemon juice and sometimes nuts and liqueur. Most often, the top is latticed, but some completely omit pastry on top while others will opt for a crumble-like topping. It’s usually eaten cold, and often served with a generous dollop of whipped cream on top.
If you ever visit Amsterdam, you’ll find yourself overwhelmed with apple pie options, and since these babies aren’t served in small portions, you’ll probably have trouble having more than one piece per day (unless you decide to make it your staple diet while you’re there!) One Amsterdam café has the reputation of being an institution in the Dutch apple pie world: the Winkel Cafe, located in the trendy Jordaan neighborhood of the city. It is featured in every guidebook and I have to say, their pie does live up to its reputation. It’s the best I’ve had in Amsterdam – so much so that I went back more than once and even had it for breakfast! Ever since I tasted it, I’ve been dreaming of making it at home.
The famous Winkel apple pie, in Amsterdam.
I waited all summer for the apple season to come around so that I could make this impressive pie with the best local apples Quebec produces. Ready to recreate the Winkel appeltaart experience at home, I hunted for their recipe. Turns out it’s a well-kept secret! Online, I’ve found hundreds of people asking for the recipe and nobody posting it. I believe what makes Winkel’s pie so addictive is the crust: it’s sweet, crumbly and crunchy. The top is especially satisfying because it’s thinner and less pressed so that it feels more like a crumble’s topping than pastry.
In the end, I printed out many different recipes, looked for the similarities, tried to remember the specific flavors of the Winkel pie, and came up with my own recipe. I was really happy with how it turned out: the crust was delicious, the taste of the apples was pure and bright, and it looked really impressive. It’s a great dessert to serve to company – I believe it would even make a great birthday cake for someone who was born in the fall. Of course, it’s also great for breakfast or just as a snack. Until you fly to Winkel, make your own Dutch apple pie at home: I’m sure you’ll quickly become a fan, too!
Deep-Dish Dutch Apple Pie, Winkel Style
This pie is easy to make – and if you’re afraid of making your own pastry, you’ll find this one is impossible to fail. It’s as simple to make as a graham-cracker crust. Simply mix all of the crust’s ingredients together in a food processor, let it rest a bit, then press it in the pan. You don’t even need to use a rolling pin!
The filling allows for variations, which I’ve listed below. Make it to please the people you are baking for. If you’re making it for children, you may want to omit the liqueur. If you don’t like raisins and/or nuts, don’t add them to the recipe. It’s that simple.
I have included the recipe for speculaaskruiden, a traditional Dutch spice mix. In the Netherlands, it’s sold pre-mixed in grocery stores (like pumpkin pie spice), but you can easily make your own. If you prefer, you can just use cinnamon, but I find the blended spices provide a more complex and intriguing aroma and taste.
It’s best to make this pie in advance because you must let the pie cool thoroughly before attempting to remove the sides of the springform pan. The pie will firm up as it cools, making it easier to cut neat pieces out of this deep-dish delight. Because Dutch apple pie is usually served at room temperature, whipped cream is the pie’s perfect companion. You can also warm up portions (in a low oven or the microwave) before serving it with ice cream. It’s also just perfect by itself, especially for breakfast or brunch.
For the crust
1½ cups [360 g] unsalted butter, cubed, room temperature
1 1/3 cups [240 g] brown sugar, packed firmly
Pinch of salt
2 eggs, slightly beaten
5 cups [600 g] self-rising flour
For the filling
7 firm apples (such as Braeburn, Gala or Cortland)
3 soft apples (such as Golden Delicious or Pink Lady)
Finely grated zest of ½ orange and ½ lemon
Juice of ½ lemon
1/3 cup [80 ml] brown sugar (plus more for the topping)
2 tsp [10 ml] speculaaskruiden (see recipe below, or use cinnamon, or pumpkin pie spices)
2 tsp [10 ml] cornstarch
1 shot (1 oz [30 ml]) Cognac, Brandy or Calvados (optional)
½ cup [125 ml] sultanas (or raisins – optional)
½ cup [125 ml] chopped walnuts (optional)
To make the crust:
In the bowl of a food processor, mix the butter and brown sugar together until creamed. Sprinkle with the salt and add almost all of the eggs, keeping a tablespoonful [15 ml] to brush over the pie later. Pulse until the eggs are well-incorporated. Add a third of the flour, pulse until well-incorporated. Add another third of the flour, pulse to incorporate, then scrape down the sides of the bowl. At this point, the mixture will still be wet, but it will start gathering together.
Add the remaining flour and pulse just until the dough comes together into a ball. Transfer the dough to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and rest at room temperature while you prepare the filling.
Preheat the oven at 375°F [190°C].
To make the filling:
Peel and core the apples, then cut them into bite-size pieces. In a very large bowl, mix the apple pieces with the orange and lemon zest, lemon juice, brown sugar, spices, cornstarch, liqueur, sultanas (if using), and walnuts (if using). Reserve.
To assemble the pie:
Grease a large, springform pan (I use a 8.5 in [22 cm] pan), and cover the bottom with a cut out sheet of parchment paper.
Reserve ¼ to 1/3 of the crust mixture for the pie’s topping (Winkel has a thick upper crust; I used less to let the apples show through). Pour the rest of the mixture into the pan and firmly press the dough against the bottom and all the way up the sides of the pan. It doesn’t have to be perfect! As long as the bottom and the sides are completely covered, you’re fine.
Add the apple filling and press down to compress the filling and make it as flat as possible on top.
Spread the remaining of the crust mixture all over the apples. Yes, it’ll be a messy process: the crust mixture is soft and the apples are moist. I used my fingers to distribute the mixture all over the top, then used a spatula to spread it as best as I could.
Brush the reserved egg wash all over the top of the pie, then sprinkle with a tablespoon or two [15 to 30 ml] of brown sugar (optional).
Bake for 70 to 85 minutes. Start watching over the pie after 60 minutes. If it gets too dark on top, cover it loosely with a piece of aluminum foil. After 70 minutes, test the apples to see if they are soft enough. Since you used firm apples, you won’t be able to tell just by looking at the pie if they are done. Use a small and very sharp knife to pick through. If the pie is ready, you’ll easily pierce through the apples. If you feel they’re still a bit crunchy, continue baking until the knife test is conclusive.
Let the pie cool thoroughly before removing the sides of the pan (this can take 2 to 3 hours!). Unmold, and use a very sharp knife to cut out pieces. Serve at room temperature with whipped cream or warm with ice cream.
Speculaaskruiden (Dutch Spice Mix)
Recipe adapted from About.com Dutch Food
4 tsp [20 ml] ground cinnamon
1 tsp [5 ml] ground cloves
1 tsp [5 ml] ground mace
½ tsp [2.5 ml] ground ginger
¼ tsp [1.25 ml] white pepper
¼ tsp [1.25 ml] ground cardamom
¼ tsp [1.25 ml] ground coriander seeds
¼ tsp [1.25 ml] ground anise seeds
¼ tsp [1.25 ml] grated nutmeg
You need only 2 tsp [10 ml] of this spice mixture for the pie. Keep the rest in an airtight container and use it as you would pumpkin pie spice.