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I adore baking, and I particularly love baking pies. There’s just something gorgeous and magical about them.

Growing up, my mom and I were often in the kitchen baking, and our favorite thing to bake together was pie. Any-kind-of-fruit pie, whatever was in season, fragrant, ripe and full of flavor. Summer was the best because there were so many options: peaches and nectarines, cherries, berries, even plums and apricots. But come late summer, we’d start seeing just-picked apples in the farmers’ markets.

Apple pies are near and dear to my heart, plain or mixed with another fruit such as wild blackberries. And every Thanksgiving, for as long as I can remember, my mom and I have baked an apple pie, along with the requisite pumpkin pie. When I was a kid, it was made especially for my beloved grandmother, Mimi, because it was her favorite. I still always bake an apple pie for her, even though she’s long gone, because it’s become our family tradition.

But apple pies — and baking with apples in general — aren’t only for pie contests and holidays. Apples are great anytime, and the best part is that you can almost always find some variety of baking apples in the market year-round.

The first step in baking with apples is selecting the right one. Finding local apples that are in season is great — you’ll introduce a lot more flavor and personality into your baked goods — especially if you can get your hands on lovely, versatile Gravensteins. Our local Sonoma County beauties ripen at the end of July, just in time for the Gravenstein Apple Fair in Sebastopol, happening this weekend (Aug. 11-12). Gravensteins have a fairly short-lived season (so get them while you can). Their tart-sweet flavor and crispness make them terrific for eating out of hand, baking or even spinning into applesauce.

When you can’t find Gravensteins, there are plenty of other apples out there that are great for baking: Honeycrisp, Pink Lady (also calls Cripps Pink), Gala, Jonagold and Braeburn are all excellent, as is the ubiquitous Granny Smith. Look for crisp, tart-sweet fruits that hold their shape during baking and don’t break down into mush.

Pies are probably the first item that comes to mind when baking with apples, but apples can shine in all kinds of baked goods, including sugar-dusted turnovers; rustic, free-form galettes; whiskey-spiked cakes; and custardy tarts, to name but a few.

They are amazing dusted with cinnamon and topped with a crunchy streusel or pillowy biscuits, and fantastic even just baked with a little sugar and spice and finished off with a dollop of whipped cream.

Of course, they can also be served up in savory dishes, such as chutneys alongside pork chops or braised in sauerkraut with tender pork shoulder (a great New Year’s Day dish).

Whether you bake for a contest or not, you’ll find a variety of creations at the fair and can sample loads of other apple-y dishes, such as the scrumptious Native American-inspired apple shortcakes that will make their first appearance at this year’s fair (recipe below).

Chef Clint McKay of Papa’s Shack turns out these sweet delicacies with a base of crisp fry bread, topped with buttery spiced apples and whipped cream.

See you at the fair!

***

This juicy, fragrant pie is all about the freshness of the filling. Make the dough up to a day in advance.

And feel free to play around with it: the sweetness and juiciness of a pie is really a personal preference, so add more or less sugar, or use all white or all brown sugar if you like.

Toss in 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon if you like a little spice in your pie. And for an all-apple pie, just leave out the blackberries and use 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour instead of the tapioca starch.

Sebastopol Gravenstein and Wild Blackberry Pie

Makes 1 pie

For the crust:

2½ cups all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon kosher salt

2 tablespoon granulated sugar

¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons (7 ounces) very cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes

10 tablespoons ice cold water, plus more if needed

For the filling:

3 pounds Gravenstein apples, peeled, cored, and cut into wedges about 1/4-inch thick

— Juice of ½ small lemon

¾ cup packed golden brown sugar

¼ cup granulated sugar

¼ cup (packed) tapioca starch

— About 2 cups fresh blackberries (12 ounces)

1 egg, beaten with 1 teaspoon water

1-2 tablespoons raw sugar, for sprinkling

— Vanilla ice cream or lightly sweetened whipped cream, for serving

To make the crust, in the bowl of a food processor, process together the flour, salt and sugar.

Sprinkle the butter over the top and pulse a few times, just until the butter is the size of large peas.

Evenly sprinkle the water over the flour mixture, then process just until the mixture just starts to come together (add another 1 tablespoon if needed to bring it together).

Dump the dough into a large zippered plastic bag, and press together to flatten into a disk. Refrigerate the dough for 30 minutes. (At this point the dough can be refrigerated for up to 1 day or frozen for up to 1 month; before rolling out, bring to cool room temperature.)

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 375 degrees (if you use convection, start at 375 degrees for the first 40 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350 for the remaining cooking time).

To make the filling, toss together the apple slices, lemon juice, sugars and tapioca starch. Set aside while you roll out the dough.

To roll out the dough, remove the chilled dough disk from the refrigerator. Divide the dough in half and form into 2 disks. (If the dough is too cold and firm to roll out, let it stand at room temperature for about 10 minutes.)

Dust a flat work surface and a rolling pin with flour. Place one dough disk in the center of the work surface. Starting from the center and rolling toward the edges and in all directions, roll out the dough into a 12-inch round that is about ⅛-inch thick.

As you roll the dough, lift and rotate it several times to make sure it doesn’t stick to the work surface, dusting the surface and the rolling pin with flour as needed.

To line the pie dish, gently roll the dough loosely around the rolling pin and then unroll it over a 9-inch pie dish (preferably glass) so that it is roughly centered on the pan.

Lift the edges of the dough to allow the dough to settle into the bottom of the dish evenly.

Roll out the second dough disk into a rectangle that is about 12 inches wide and ⅛-inch thick. Using a pizza wheel or a large knife, cut the dough into as many strips as you can; they can all be the same width (1 to 2 inches) or you can vary some thick and some thin. You should have about 10 strips, more or less.

Gently stir the blackberries into the apple mixture, then spoon the mixture, including the juices, into the pastry shell in an even layer.

Lay 5 strips of dough evenly across the top, using the longest strips in the center and the shorter strips on the sides (if you have different widths, vary those as you like).

Fold back every other strip halfway, and lay down a strip perpendicular across the unfolded strips.

Repeat to place 5 additional strips of dough evenly across the top, folding back the alternate strips each time.

Trim the dough (bottom crust and strips together) to leave a 1½-inch overhang.

Tuck the dough under itself to create a rim. Use your fingers or a fork to flute the rim. Place the prepared pie on a baking sheet.

Gently brush the top and edges of the crust lightly with the egg wash. Sprinkle with the raw sugar.

Bake until golden brown and bubbly, and the apples are tender when pierced with a wooden skewer or a thin knife, about 1 hour 15 minutes. (If the crust starts to get too dark for your liking, lay a piece of foil over the top toward the end of baking.)

Let cool to room temperature (or just slightly warm, if you can’t wait), about 3 hours.

Serve, cut into wedges, with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream.

***

The following recipe is from Clint McKay of Papa’s Shack, who sells Native American food at festivals.

Pomo Apple Shortcake

Makes about 4 servings

For the frybread:

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ cup powdered milk

1 cup of warm water

— Oil for frying

For Gravenstein apple Topping:

4 medium-sized Gravenstein apples

3 tablespoons water

2 tablespoons butter

1½ teaspoons cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/3 cup sugar

1 tablespoon cornstarch

For garnish:

— Powdered sugar

— Whipped cream

For frybread: In a large bowl mix all dry ingredients. Slowly add water a little at a time, mixing with hands until it forms a ball that pulls away from sides of the bowl.

Add more water or flour as needed, dough should be slightly sticky. Cover with towel and let dough rest for a half hour.

In a deep pan, pour oil about 2-3 inches deep. Heat oil to 375 degrees.

As pan is heating, pinch off golf-ball-sized pieces of dough and set aside. On lightly floured board, begin rolling each ball with a rolling pin. Each ball should roll out to approximately 5- to 6-inch disks. Place a small hole in the center of each disk.

Gently place dough into the hot oil, cooking one bread at a time. Using tongs turn the bread over when edges begin to turn golden in color. Continue to fry until both sides of the bread are golden brown.

Place finished bread on towels to drain and cover with foil to keep warm. Repeat until all disks are cooked.

For apple topping: Start by washing all apples. Peel the skin and slice each apple in half, then remove the core and seeds. Chop apples into desired size.

In a medium bowl combine chopped apples, cinnamon, nutmeg, sugar and cornstarch. Mix well, until all pieces are coated.

Over medium heat, place apples into shallow skillet. Add water and butter to pan, stirring continuously.

Once apples begin to simmer, turn down heat and caramelize. Once apples have reached desired thickness remove from heat.

To finish dish:

Place the frybread on dish, add Gravenstein apple to the top. Dust lightly with powdered sugar and a dollop of whipped cream as desired and enjoy.

Kim Laidlaw is a Petaluma-based food writer, recipe developer and cookbook producer. Reach her at kim@castironmedia.com

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