Pastry chef Sahar Al Awadhi says to bake the perfect apple pie you need the right fruit. Courtesy US Embassy Abu Dhabi
Pastry chef Sahar Al Awadhi says to bake the perfect apple pie you need the right fruit. Courtesy US Embassy Abu Dhabi

Burj Al Arab's Sahar Al Awadhi shares her tips on how to bake the perfect apple pie



Pastry chef Sahar Al Awadhi shares a simple secret to baking the perfect apple pie – a mixture of Red Delicious and Granny Smith apples. "The Red Delicious are sweet and juicy, while the Granny Smith are tart and crunchy," she says.

It’s a marriage made in taste heaven, I discover, as the quintessential American dessert begins to take shape at a pie-baking workshop under Al Awadhi’s lead, organised by the US Embassy as part of its Discover America series.

Al Awadhi is the Burj Al Arab's first Emirati chef. Despite graduating from the American University of Sharjah with a degree in communications and marketing, she decided to pursue her passion for baking instead. After a stint as the branding and social media manager at Zayed University, Al Awadhi began working her way up at restaurants in the UAE and France, where she furthered her patisserie training and learnt how to bake bread in Paris. Her passion for baking is evident, with her pie piled high with sliced fruit and the edges of her crust perfectly crimped.

The embassy event focuses on the use of high-quality US produce, specifically apples grown in Washington state. Interestingly, approximately one in every four fresh apples grown in the US is exported, with the UAE and Saudi Arabia among the top 10 importers. I ask Al Awadhi about other American products she favours. “Florida oranges have a beautiful flavour,” she says, describing the citrus as clean and well cared for, so she is able to use the full fruit, including the zest, in her recipes.

Stressing the importance of using high-quality produce, Al Awadhi says she prefers certain products from certain countries "so we are able to get the best flavours out of everything", including butters and creams from France, cinnamon from India and saffron from Iran. She also insists on high-quality chocolate with a distinct, rich flavour. "Good quality goes a long way," she says, explaining that inferior chocolate includes more sugar to make up for the flavour. "I prefer to control the sugar I use."

In keeping with the event's American foodie theme, the chef says that her favourite dessert to eat is chocolate chip cookies, but she returns to her French training when asked what dessert she likes best to prepare.

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"Fraisier," she says. "To make and eat." The gateau has three basic ingredients – vanilla sponge cake, custard and fresh strawberries, which need minimal effort to bring out a memorable flavour.

Al Awadhi is engaging and hands-on with her apple-pie students, offering individual advice on rolling out the dough. Observing her, it’s easy to picture her rolling out a marketing campaign or communications strategy, but the kitchen is obviously her preferred boardroom.

When asked what her advice would be to someone looking for a career change, she says: “Make sure to differentiate if it is a hobby or a passion.” With the former, she says, you may end up hating it as a profession. “But if it’s a passion, you’re willing to put in the work for it, start from the bottom and learn everything, every aspect, every technique. When it’s a passion, you take the chance and never look back, even when it’s not so easy, like standing on your feet for 12 hours in the kitchen and meeting deadlines.” That sounds like the simple secret of her success.

All-American apple pie recipe

Ingredients

Crust

380g all-purpose flour

10g sugar

4g baking powder

4g salt

210g chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

10g apple cider vinegar (to add with 60ml iced water)

Filling

1.3kg premium Washington state Red Delicious and Granny Smith apples, peeled and sliced ¼” thick

130g granulated sugar

50g light brown sugar

10ml lemon juice or apple cider vinegar

30g unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

2g ground cinnamon

2g ground nutmeg

2g kosher salt

1g ground allspice

30g all-purpose flour

50g golden raisins, optional

1 large egg (for egg wash)

1tbsp milk

2tbsp demerara sugar

Method

Pulse flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a food processor. Add butter and pulse until mixture is shaggy with a few pea-size pieces of butter remaining. Transfer to a bowl and drizzle the iced water mixed with the cold apple cider vinegar over the mixture. Using a fork, mix gently until dough comes together in clumps, but butter pieces remain, adding more water by the tablespoon if it is too dry. The dough will be on the dry side; it will hydrate as it rests.

Separate the dough, roll into two disks and wrap in plastic. Rest in the freezer for at least an hour. Preheat oven to 190ºC and place the rack on the lower shelf of the oven. Roll out one disk of the dough on a lightly floured surface to a 33cm round. Transfer to a 22cm-diameter glass or ceramic deep-pie dish. Pick up edges and allow dough to lower down into the dish. Press to release any bubbles, allowing any excess dough to hang over the dish. Chill until firm, for about 20 minutes.

For the filling, toss apples, granulated sugar, brown sugar, apple cider vinegar or lemon juice, butter, cinnamon, nutmeg, kosher salt, allspice, flour and raisins (if using) in a large bowl. Pour the filling into the prepared crust.

Roll out the second disk of dough into a 30cm round and place on top of apple mixture. Press top and bottom crusts together to seal. Trim overhang to a little over a centimetre and crimp edges. Cut a few small slits into the top crust to allow steam to escape.

Beat egg with milk in a small bowl. Brush this egg wash over the crust and sprinkle with demerara sugar. Chill in the freezer for 15 minutes.

Place the pie dish on a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 175°C, rotate pie and continue baking. Loosely cover it with foil if the crust is browning too quickly. Bake until the juices are bubbling and crust is golden brown, for about 50 to 60 minutes longer.

Transfer to a wire rack; let it cool for at least 4 hours before slicing. Serve with vanilla ice cream.

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