Autumn smells like cider and honey. The air is sharp and the mornings brisk. The sun is low, golden and fills the farmers’ market with lazy warmth. There’s a small crowd gathered around one particular stall: the new season’s apples are here.
Some are the colour of copper, others are almost crimson. Sharp, crisp Coxes, freckly Russets, luscious Pink Ladies and blushing Discoveries just waiting to froth up in a hot oven.
Apples are an incredibly sociable fruit: try them with honey, brandy and cream in a fool, add ground hazelnuts to an apple-topped cake, partner a particularly sharp one with pork or duck to cut through the meat’s richness. Fold a handful of blackberries into a dish of almost collapsed Charlottes and bake into a fragrant, coral-stained pie or just eat as they are with sharp cheddar or tender Vacherin.
I can’t resist one particularly tempting Bramley on the way home. No sugar or spices, no cheese or cream, an apple this perfect needs nothing to go with it.
No wonder Eve didn’t think twice: you bite into the fragrant, waxy flesh and feel the hit of icy crunch, followed by rose-scented sweetness and a hint of treacle. It’s so good I could eat the core.
By the time I get home, I know just what to do. I take a handful of particularly hard Granny Smiths, slice them up and pile onto a sheet of pastry, before brushing them with melted butter, sugar and some thyme. I fold the sides into a free-form tart and bake into the simplest, most graceful of desserts. Autumn is the time when an apple is to be savoured.
Wholemeal flour, about a cup
Light brown sugar, 4 tablespoons
Salt, a pinch
Fresh nutmeg, a grate or two
Cold butter, 100g
Apples, two medium ones
Juice of a lemon
Sugar, a couple tablespoons
Cinnamon, about half a teaspoon
Melted butter, 2 tablespoons
Preparation time: 10 mins + 30 mins refrigeration
Cooking time: 30 mins
In a bowl, use your fingers to rub the cold, diced butter with the flour, sugar, salt, nutmeg and a little cinnamon until it looks like breadcrumbs. Bring together into a ball, adding a splash of water if necessary. Refrigerate for half an hour or until hardened but still pliable.
Peel, quarter, core the apples and slice thickly. Gently toss with lemon juice, sugar and remaining cinnamon. Preheat the oven to 190℃.
Roll the pastry into a large disc between two lightly floured sheets of parchment paper. Remove upper sheet and arrange the apples on top, leaving about an inch of a rim. Brush them with melted butter. Fold the edges over and sprinkle with fresh thyme. Bake for about half an hour until golden brown.
Photography by Arek Zagata