Bobe's Apple Pie (gluten free)
Updated: Sep 20, 2020
Left: Maia and Jonathan Brumberg-Kraus's Bobe's Apple Pie
You won't see a lot of baking recipes on this blog. I'll make blini and dosa, but as soon as the oven is involved with anything fluffy and floury, disaster ensues. My puddings don't set, my crusts burn, my breads don't rise. As much as I love to cook, my baking experiments often seem to fail. The science of baking doesn't vibe with my make it up as a go along cooking style. I have a gluten allergy, which also makes things difficult. This recipe is a special exception. Even in its gluten free iteration, my bobe's (well, really my mother's bobe and my great grandmother's) apple pie is perfect. It's nothing fancy, but it tastes like family, and home. It is old country and very American all at once, of its time in the best way possible. Probably the 1940s? It uses margarine, cornstarch, and a mix master...new inventions in America. And my version plays on that even more by adding a bit of extra spice and heirloom apple varieties, though still far from any kind of bougified Chef's Table concoction.
This was the first Rosh Hashanah in many years that I was able to spend with my family, albeit virtually through Zoom. Because so many of our jobs are tied to the academic calendar, traveling to see family for the high holidays—which always coincide with the beginning of the school year—is really difficult. I remember as a child, though, traveling to Ra'anana, a small Jewish community in upstate New York to celebrate Rosh Hashanah. My maternal grandmother passed away very young, and my grandfather remarried at an older age. That meant we got a whole extra Jewish family—the Wolls—who established this unincorporated Jewish community in the Catskills. Though it may not have thrilled me at the time, I feel lucky now to have experienced this relic of lefty Yiddish Jewish America in the 1950s and '60s—a world that very much feels to be vanishing today. The Wolls and Brumbergs and Lazars came together over a table of tsimmes and and honey, and often someone from the Brumberg/Lazar side of the family would make bobe's pie cake. When we were not able to be with extended family, this cake served as a reminder of those times, and a hope for the new year that we might meet again. And now that I am across the country from all of my extended family, bobe's apple pie tastes even more important.
Right: Mark Lazar's Bobe's Apple Pie
I always thought this recipe was a special thing bobe invented, but it is somewhat similar to a Polish Szarlotka cake and looks exactly like "Grandma Ruth's Apple Streudel" in The Gefilte Manifesto: New Recipes for Old World Jewish Foods by Jeffrey Yoskowitz and Liz Alpern—a project from third generation Jews in New York, around my age, doing a somewhat similar project of rescuing heritage Jewish Ashkenazi recipes from the blandness of synagogue bruncheon foods.
If you are a second or third generation immigrant, maybe you have had this experience of trying to squeeze a recipe out of an older relative, that brilliant family cook who never works from cards or a book, but you need the recipe, to preserve the history and make the things that you can't get anywhere else. Bobe passed away, in Israel, when I was too young to be learning any baking. So I am also going to share my mother's story of getting the recipe:
"In 1983, Daniel [my uncle] and I went to Miami to visit Bobe and Zeide. I sensed it might be the last time the four of us would be together as we had been growing up. It was a bittersweet visit, Zeide was beginning to fade and it brought back many memories. I had decided to get Bobe's recipe for apple pie during this visit. At the beginning of the week I asked her for it. She basically agreed she'd give it to me later on. A few days later, the same thing. I said, "Bobe-I think you're trying to keep us from getting the recipe!" Zeide scoffed at that- he couldn't believe she'd do that. Then, when our visit was almost over I asked again and she balked. Zeide said something like, 'Ya know? I think maybe she is trying to stop you from having the recipe.' Bobe must have been embarrassed by that: She had me come and watch her make an apple pie and explained how much and what to do at each step-sort of. I knew that was the real reason for her reluctance-—trying to explain something you do by touch and feel automatically is really difficult. Try explaining how you tie your shoes to someone. So here's the recipe. You have to play with it a bit because some of the measurements are tricky. The size of the pan also seems to influence the pie. Use a springform pan so it stands by itself. By the way, it is almost definitely from a Polish recipe for apple cake that I have seen in other cookbooks."
Below: A slice of my gluten-free Bobe's Apple Pie
As my mother pointed out, this recipe is a bit wonky, so I have tried my best to standardize it. This version is gluten free, but you can substitute 3 cups of all purpose flour for the mix of oat and Bob's Red Mill gluten free cup-for-cup flour. You can also make this recipe pareve/dairy-free by using margarine instead of the mix of margarine and butter, which was my alteration from Bobe's recipe anyway. The dough/batter will have the texture of sugar cookie dough. It is easy to work with and harder to burn/overcook than pastry pie crusts.
Ingredients (for the dough):
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup salted Earth Balance Buttery Sticks, or margarine, or even schmaltz/lard
1/3 cup salted butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup orange juice (fresh squeezed will have a lighter flavor)
1/3 cup cornstarch
3/4 cup gluten free oat flour
2 cups Bob's Red Mill Cup-4-Cup gluten free flour blend (you can probably use another blend, but make sure it has xanthan gum in it)
For the apples:
5 cups sliced or cubed apples, a mix of sweet and sour varieties, 5-8 apples depending on apple size. I leave on the peels, but bobe peeled them. You can also reduce the number of apples to 4 cups for a cakier "pie."
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/8 cup jaggery (Indian dark/unrefined sugar) or brown sugar, or more to taste, depending on how sour your apples are
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp ground cinnamon, preferably potent Saigon cinnamon
the juice of one lemon (about 1 ounce)
Cut the margarine and butter into one-inch cubes, then cream them in a mix master with the sugar.
Add the egg, vanilla, and orange juice to the mixer.
Add the cornstarch and continue to mix until uniform in texture/color.
Slowly add the flours and continue mixing. The dough will come together as a slightly wet, moldable cookie dough. Stop mixing once it comes into a uniform ball.
Separate the dough in two parts, one slightly larger than the other, wrap in plastic, and put in the freezer for about an hour until the dough is firmed up.
While the dough is chilling, prepare the apples. Slice, peel if desired, and toss with lemon juice. Add the 1/4 cup cornstarch, jaggery, and spices. Let sit while dough is chilling the so the flavors meld together and cornstarch absorbs the apple and lemon juices.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Remove the dough from the freezer. Roll the larger half out into a round about 1/3-inch thick. Press into the bottom and sides of an 8-10-inch springform pan.
Add the apples to the pan.
Roll out the rest of the dough to 1/4-1/3-inch thickness and lay over the top of the apples.
Poke holes in the upper crust with a fork.
Bake until the top of the crust is slightly brown and the apples are soft. How long this takes depends on the size of your pan and amount of apples you used. I set the timer for 30 minutes, check on it then, and add 5-10 more minutes if it looks underdone.
Remove pie from the oven and let cool. This pie is best at room temperature and perhaps even tastier the second day, once the apples and crusts meld together.
Serve with a dab of vanilla ice cream, smetana, or creme fraiche.