Pies for Succot and Simhat Torah

We like to accent our pies with fruits and nuts that were available in the Land of Israel in biblical times.

apple pie 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
apple pie 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Fruit pies are a good choice for the harvest holiday of Succot because they showcase the flavors of the season. For Simhat Torah, we like to accent our pies with fruits and nuts that were available in the Land of Israel in biblical times, such as grapes or raisins, dates, figs, almonds, pistachios and walnuts.
A popular way to enhance fruit pies is to bake them with a crumbly streusel. Ofer Gal, author of Les Gateaux de La Boutique Central (in Hebrew), which features recipes from the Tel Aviv patisserie, uses streusel on several of his pies.
A buttery almond streusel tops Gal’s apple pie, which is flavored with raisins, brandy and cinnamon (see recipe). For his pistachio and cherry pie, which he notes that you can make with frozen cherries, he spoons pistachio-almond cream into the pie shell. He tops the filling with cherries, toasted pistachios and almond streusel, then bakes it.
To flavor his plum pie, Gal uses almonds in three ways: Ground almonds flavor the streusel topping, the sweet buttery pastry shell and the creamy filling in which the plums bake. Before mixing the plums with the almond filling, he flavors them with cassis (blackcurrant liqueur).
Caramel provides another route to delicious dessert pies. Caramel and apricot-filled linzer torte is a favorite among dinner guests of Carole Bloom, author of the just-published book Caramel. To fill her linzer torte, she mixes apricot preserves with caramel sauce enriched with cream and butter, and bakes the mixture in the traditional Austrian almond pastry.
Caramelized bananas are the filling of Bloom’s individual puff pastry turnovers, which are easy to make because you can use packaged pastry. For a festive touch, Bloom drizzles these mini-pies with caramel glaze (see recipe).
Even if you don’t plan to bake for the holidays, the caramelized bananas, made of banana pieces sautéed in butter with brown sugar, nutmeg and vanilla, are delicious on their own, or better yet, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Parve Apple Pie
This recipe for crumble-topped apple pie is from Les Gateaux de La Boutique Central. Author Ofer Gal cooks the apples in caramel with cinnamon, almonds and raisins, and flames the mixture with brandy; the flaming is optional. Gal writes to roll the pie dough to the thickness of half your finger, which shows that you don’t have to worry about an exact measure. A few minutes before the pie is baked, the chef recommends opening the oven carefully to let the steam escape, and then leaving the oven door wedged open slightly with a folded kitchen towel while the pie finishes baking.
Makes 10 tartlets of 10 cm. (4 inches) in diameter or 2 pies of 26 cm. (10 inches).
Parve Streusel: 200 gr. (1¾ cups) flour 120 gr. (4.2 ounces or ½ cup) baking margarine, unflavored, cut in cubes 120 gr. (4.2 ounces or scant 1 cup) powdered sugar 50 gr. (½ cup) ground blanched almonds - - - - - - -- - - - - - -- - - - - - -- - - - - - -- - - - - - -- - - - - - -- - - - - - -- - - - - - -- - - - - Parve Pie Dough (see recipe) 1.5 kg. (3.3 pounds) Granny Smith apples 200 gr. (1 cup) sugar 200 gr. (7 ounces or 14 Tbsp.) margarine, unflavored 1 tsp. ground cinnamon 40 gr. (1.4 ounces or ¼ cup) raisins 3 vanilla beans, halvedA drizzle of brandy (about 1 or 2 Tbsp.) 50 gr. (1.7 ounces or generous ⅓ cup) flour
To make the streusel: Preheat oven to 170ºC (340ºF). Line a baking pan with baking paper. Combine the flour, margarine, powdered sugar and almonds in a bowl. Mix between your fingers until it forms large crumbs. (Using your fingers is preferable, but if you like, you can use a mixer with a dough hook.) Bake for 12 minutes. Remove from the pan and let cool.
Roll the pie dough to the thickness of half your finger.
Cut in circles that are larger than the tartlet pans or pie pans, and line the pans. Make sure the pans are lined snugly and that there are no air pockets between the dough and the pan. With a knife, trim off the excess dough from above the pan’s edges. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 180ºC (355ºF). Press a circle of plastic wrap into each pan against the pastry. Fill each one with dried beans in order to “blind bake” the tarts or pies. Bake for 12 minutes. Remove the beans with the aid of the circles of plastic wrap.
Peel the apples and cut in cubes. Heat the sugar in a large saucepan until it turns light brown. Add the margarine. Add the apples and stir until coated. Add the cinnamon, raisins and vanilla beans and cook for 10 minutes.
Move the apples to the side of the pan, pour in a little brandy, and carefully tilt the pan so the brandy will flame. (If you hesitate to flame brandy, use just 1 teaspoon of brandy and skip the step of flaming.) Add the flour and cook over low heat for 5 minutes.
Remove vanilla bean pieces. Set the filling aside and let cool.
Preheat oven to 165ºC (330ºF). Fill the pastry shells with the apple filling. Cover the filling with a thin layer of streusel. Bake for 40 minutes or until the pastry shells and the streusel are deep golden brown.
Parve Pie Dough
Gal recommends using baking margarine without any added flavorings. Unlike dough made with butter, he writes, parve dough does not need to be chilled before it is rolled, although it should rest to prevent it from springing back during rolling and from shrinking during baking.
Makes enough for 10 tartlets of 10 cm. (4 inches) in diameter or 2 pies of 26 cm. (10 inches)
400 gr. (3½ cups) flour 50 gr. (½ cup) ground blanched almonds 150 gr. (scant 1 1/8 cups) powdered sugar Pinch of salt 250 gr. (8.8 ounces or 1 cup plus 1½ Tbsp.) margarine, cut in small pieces, cold 1 egg Additional egg yolk 30 gr. (2 Tbsp.) water
In a food processor, combine flour, almonds, powdered sugar and salt.
Add the margarine and process by pulsing until the mixture forms small crumbs.
In a small dish beat the egg with the egg yolk and water. With the food processor running, add the egg mixture and process briefly until the dough forms a ball. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and let stand for half an hour.Caramelized Banana Turnovers
This recipe is from Caramel. Author Carole Bloom cautions not to overfill the puff-pastry squares “because if your mixture seeps out during baking, it will harden and burn on the baking pan.”
Makes 8 15-cm. (6-inch) turnovers
450 to 500 gr. (1 to 1¼) pounds puff pastry, thawed if frozen 4 medium-size firm bananas 85 gr. (3 ounces or 6 Tbsp.) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces 2/3 cup (110 gr. or 4 ounces) firmly packed light brown sugar 1 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract 1 large egg, room temperature
Caramel Glaze: ½ cup (100 gr. or 3½ ounces) white sugar ¼ cup water 1/8 tsp. cream of tartar
Roll out puff pastry between sheets of lightly floured waxed paper to two 30-cm. (12-inch) squares.
Use a ruler to cut each square into equal-sized quarters, making a total of eight 15-cm. (6-inch) squares.
Place the squares on parchment paper-lined baking sheets and chill while preparing the filling.
Peel each banana and slice in half lengthwise. Then cut each half into quarters across the width. Melt the butter in a 25-cm. (10-inch) sauté pan over medium heat. When butter begins to bubble, add bananas.
Sprinkle the brown sugar, nutmeg and vanilla over the bananas and stir until they are evenly coated.
Cook the bananas, stirring often, until they are soft and caramelized, about 10 minutes. Transfer them to a plate to cool slightly.
Position oven racks to the upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat to 220ºC (425ºF).
Use a fork to lightly beat the egg in a small bowl.
Use a pastry brush to brush the top edges of each square with beaten egg. Brush only the inner part of the dough, not the outside. This will help the pastry dough stick together when the turnovers are formed.
Place 2 heaping tablespoons banana filling in center of each square. Bring opposite corners of the square together and fold each square in half, lining up all the edges and points, making a triangle. Pinch edges together firmly, then crimp with a fork or roll the edges in slightly to give them a finished look. Place the turnovers on the lined baking sheets, leaving at least 2.5 cm. (an inch) of space between them.
With pastry brush, brush top of each turnover with beaten egg. Be careful that the egg doesn’t run down the sides and underneath the turnovers. If it does, wipe it up because it can cause the turnover bottoms to burn.
Bake for 8 minutes, then switch the baking sheets on the racks and bake another 7 minutes. Switch the baking sheets again and bake another 8 to 12 minutes, until the turnovers are golden.
Caramel Glaze: Place the sugar, water and cream of tartar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Brush around the inside of the pan with a damp pastry brush at the point where the sugar syrup meets the sides of the pan. Do this twice during the cooking process to prevent the sugar from crystallizing.
Cook the mixture over high heat, without stirring, until it turns amber colored, 6 to 8 minutes.
Drizzle the caramel over the turnovers. It will set quickly. Let the turnovers stand for about 20 minutes, then use a small spatula to loosen them from the baking sheet. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Store the turnovers loosely covered with waxed paper, then tightly wrapped with foil at room temperature for up to 2 days.
They can be rewarmed at 175ºC (350ºF). To do this, place them in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake for 10 to 15 minutes.
Faye Levy is the author of Dessert Sensations and of the Hebrew-language Sefer Hakinuhim (the Book of Desserts).