When I was about fourteen, I went to a cookery evening class at one of the local secondary schools. I can’t remember if my mother decided to enroll me for this or if it was voluntary, but as I enjoyed it quite a lot I suspect the latter. You’re probably waiting to hear that this was an inspirational turning point in my life, that it inspired my subsequent love of food and all things culinary, that those happy evenings still stay with me, recalled in a nostalgic haze, credited with the establishment of my life’s passion.
I wish I could say all this is true, but actually the highlight of the classes for me was when we sneaked into the supplies cupboard and snacked on handfuls of stolen raisins. Moreover, I never actually ate anything that we made, dutifully taking it home to my parents for dinner without feeling the slightest desire to try any. No branching out from my staple diet of cheese sandwiches and fish fingers, especially not for alien - and, to my younger self, repulsive - inventions like feta cheese and chickpea stew. That would take another few years.
Oh, actually, there was another highlight – or should we say lowlight. The evening where I decided I’d had ‘such a bad day’ and therefore was entitled to drink the remainder of the bottle of sherry we’d been told to bring for cooking our pork chops, then spent the evening being violently sick once I got home. While the apparent surfacing of this classic alcoholic mindset in my fourteen year-old self is, I admit, disturbing, I’d like to point out that I’ve never had any alcohol-related mishaps since, such was the humiliation of having my mother hold my hair back while I vehemently insisted, between bouts of nausea, that I just had ‘food poisoning from the pork’. She still reminds me of it to this day.
So, cookery classes weren’t quite the revelation in my culinary life that you might expect. I do, however, remember very clearly the moment where I decided I quite enjoyed the alchemy of preparing a bunch of ingredients, moving a few spoons and hot things around, and producing a delicious end result. This occurred not in the heady, raisin-pilfering environment of cookery school but at home by the hob. It involved the making of apple turnovers.
Until I made apple turnovers, the only cooking I’d ever really done at home involved baking – mixing a few things in a bowl, putting them in the oven. No knives, no hot pans. But for some reason I vividly remember the enjoyment of slicing apples, putting them in a pan with some sugar and lemon juice, and stirring away until they softened and turned sweet and golden. I felt so proud of myself that I was really, properly ‘cooking’. I felt grown up, dramatically advanced from those simple days of making childish butterfly cakes and flapjacks. I also remember the end result: gigantic puffs of flaky pastry, crisp and melting and buttery, encasing that hot, sweet, frothy filling. I probably devoured about three in a single sitting. Oh, for that childhood innocence of the concept of calories.
Strangely enough, I haven’t made apple turnovers since that moment. Last weekend, though, absolutely overwhelmed by the amount of apples on my tree and with some puff pastry in the freezer, I decided to have a go. I wanted to take some apple-themed baked goods round to the neighbours, to say thank you for basically serving the function of a post office and receiving all my mail when I'm out, and also to apologise for all those wild rowdy parties I have on such a regular basis...oh wait, no, I forgot that I'm fundamentally boring and no such thing has ever happened.
Turnovers are one of the simplest yet most delicious things you can do with cooking apples. They just have the edge over pie, I think, because you get a higher pastry to apple ratio.
First, you need a sweet apple filling. Chop up some apples and simmer them with butter, cloves, lemon juice, vanilla and cinnamon before adding sugar. Let them mostly collapse, then cool. All you need to do then is roll out some puff pastry, cut it into equal squares, spoon the filling in, fold into triangles (hence ‘turnover’), brush with beaten egg and sprinkle with demerara sugar. The real fun is watching them inflate dramatically in the heat of the oven, the layers of the pastry unfolding and the surface turning burnished and crisp. Also fun is the incredible smell they will give to your kitchen, of tart apples, warm spice and butter.
So, in the spirit of recollecting fond cooking memories, here’s my recipe for apple turnovers. They’re quick, simple and a good way to use up a glut of cooking apples, particularly if you keep some puff pastry in your freezer for when turnover cravings strike (i.e., er, all the time? Maybe that’s a dangerous suggestion…). I really don’t think you can do anything better with apples: the combination of buttery, crisp puff pastry and hot sharp-sweet spiced apples is a complete classic, for good reason.
You could even do as I did and make two batches, then spread a bit of baking joy down your street. No one could possibly feel un-neighbourly towards anyone who provides them with apples cosseted in pastry, no matter how many loud parties they might have.*
*Actually I'm not sure this is entirely true, but if anyone (cooler than me) wants to test my theory, let me know how it goes.
Apple turnovers (makes 6 large turnovers):
- 4 large cooking apples
- 30g butter
- 6 cloves
- Juice of half a lemon
- 1 vanilla pod, scored lengthways
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 50g caster sugar
- 500g good-quality puff pastry
- Flour, for rolling
- 1 egg, beaten
- 2 tbsp demerara sugar
Peel and dice the apples. Put them in a large saucepan with the butter, cloves, lemon juice, vanilla pod and cinnamon stick. Put a lid on then heat gently until the butter has melted and the apples are starting to soften, without sticking or burning. Cook for a few minutes until the apples begin to disintegrate, then add the sugar and cook, uncovered, for a few more minutes. Set aside to cool, then remove the cloves, cinnamon and vanilla.
Pre-heat the oven to 200C. On a floured work surface, roll out the pastry to about 0.5cm thick, and cut into six equal squares. Spoon some of the filling into the centre of each square, leaving a clear border. Brush the border with water, then fold the square over, pressing the edges tightly together, to form a triangle. Press down with the tines of a fork to seal. Arrange the turnovers on a baking sheet lined with non-stick parchment, then brush with the beaten egg. Sprinkle with the demerara sugar, and bake for around 30-35 minutes until golden brown and puffed up. Remove and cool on the tin for a few minutes, then place on a wire rack to finish cooling (if you can wait!)