The grape escape
American baking is defined by pies such as this. Sandwiched between two great slabs of pastry, the season’s best grapes become a homely, welcoming treat like no other. Whip the rest into a grape jelly for a timeless partner to peanut butter
Ihave been making a lot of fruit pies recently. I’m on a trip back to the US, and reacquainting myself with my American roots – I can’t seem to stop myself from cooking in bulk, and inviting lots of people over to share what I’ve made. One bake that accommodates this is a slab pie. Baked in a sheet pan, the filling isn’t as thick as a typical fruit pie, so it’s perfect for pastry lovers. The rectangular shape means even portions for all, it’s free of embellishment, and it’s homely and welcoming, as a good pie should be.
And it is finally grape season. I look forward to it all year. It presents the perfect excuse to make a grape pie. You will probably make this just once a year, as the season is relatively short and the effort is considerable – but it really is well worth the time. Seek out the best grape varieties for this: in markets, delis or even online. Normal table grapes are not the same. American concord and isabella grapes have captured my culinary imagination for decades. The flavour is so striking, it’s borderline artificial – a taste like the juice and bubble gum of childhood. Muscat grapes are another favourite of mine – the magically perfumed pale purple or soft celadon green grapes used in muscat wine making. Both of these are wonderful eating grapes, but are not as popular – I assume because of their bitter seeds. But why forego flavour because of a few annoying seeds?
You can make grape icings for cakes and cupcakes, which provides a beautiful, rich, purple buttercream colour that’s totally natural. Another way to make the most of this glorious fruit is to make a jelly. Not the pudding kind, but the kind you spread on white sandwich bread with peanut butter, like a jam. You could also serve the jelly alongside a cheddar toastie for dipping. Salty-sweet perfection.
1 Whisk together the flour and salt. Add half the butter. Combine well using a cutting motion. Add the second half of the butter and rub in until your mix forms roughly pea-sized pieces.
2 Sprinkle over the iced water (holding back the ice) and toss it through the mix as you go. The dough should start to become raggedy and eventually, when all the water is added, it will come together into a ball. Divide the ball in half, wrapping each piece in clingfilm. Flatten them into squares and rest in the fridge for at least 20 minutes or up to 24 hours – any longer than this, put it in the freezer.
3 To make the filling, stem the grapes, then separate the skins from the pulp by pinching each grape to squeeze out the pulp. Set aside the skins. Heat the pulp along with the scraped vanilla bean and seeds, plus the lemon zest, in a heavy saucepan until it is soft and beginning to separate from the grape seeds (about 10 minutes). Pour the pulp through a mesh sieve placed over a bowl. Press through with a plastic pastry scraper or the back of a wooden spoon until all the pulp is in the bowl. Discard the grape seeds. Rinse and dry out the vanilla bean for another purpose. Add the lemon juice to the pulp.
4 In another large bowl, whisk together the sugars, cornflour, salt and nutmeg. Slowly whisk the strained grape mix into the sugar mixture and add the
grape skins back in. Peel, core and chop the apples and add to the grape mix.
4 Preheat the oven to 210C/410F/gas mark 6½. Butter and flour a baking sheet that measures 23 x 33cm and 3-4cm deep—a nice heavy baking sheet you might use for cookies.
5 Roll out one square of pastry on a lightly floured surface to roughly 28 x 38cm. Press the pastry down into the prepared sheet, then chill in the fridge while you roll out the other piece. The second pastry sheet (which will form the top of the pie) can be rolled out to 23 x 33cm. Remove the chilled pastry and carefully fill it with the grape mixture. It can come right up to about 2mm shy of the top but don’t let it overflow. Roll the top layer of pastry over the pie. Brush the pastry with milk. Fold or roll over the excess pastry and pinch to seal. Use a knife to pierce the top of the pie a few times. Put in your freezer or fridge for 20 minutes.
6 Brush the edge of the pie with the milk or cream and sprinkle with caster ▲ Cook’s tip sugar. Line the bottom of your oven Interesting but with foil to catch the drips, and bake concise tip to go for about 25 minutes. Reduce the heat in here and here to 180C/350F/gas mark 4 for another 35-45 minutes or until golden and the bubbles of filling coming through are thick. Cool for 3 hours before slicing.
1 Heat the grapes in a large stainless steel or copper pot until they burst open and start bubbling. Crush the grapes with the back of a wooden spoon, then let them bubble away for 20 minutes. Line a strainer with muslin, put over a large bowl and pour the grapes into it. Resist the temptation to press the mixture through, as it can make your jelly cloudy. Tie the cloth up and leave overnight to drain.
2 In a clean pot, combine the juice, jam sugar and the lemon juice. Warm over a medium heat until the sugar has dissolved. Turn the heat up to high and boil for 15 minutes. Pour into sterilised jars and seal as preferred.