Ras el Hanout Apple Hand Pies + On Finding Unassuming Inspiration in Auch, France
My recent hiatus from writing and blogging was slightly unexpected and yet unavoidable with everything going on lately. From traveling to work to coming down with a seasonal flu virus, I have been pretty out of commission. I returned back from my recent trip brimming with inspiration and expected to jump right back into writing with flying colors and glorious ideas, but it seemed that this particular kind of inspiration was inclined towards other mediums- mostly dance and brainstorming for new projects. It took a while for me to get back the motivation to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, I suppose).
Just to clarify, if you were wondering where exactly I was on this past week-and-a-half long adventure at the end of October, here’s the rundown:
I flew from Tangier to Barcelona, had a 7 hour stopover there, saw a friend in the city, then flew to Basel. I spent 5 days there, then took a bus to Strasbourg where I spent 8 hours wandering, then flew to Toulouse and took a train directly to Auch. After 3 full days in Auch, I went back to Toulouse and spent 24 hours there before flying to Madrid and staying overnight with a friend, then finally. Finally. Flew home to Tangier.
The main event of this trip was a dance residency I participated in during my time in Basel, an intensive called Choreolab Europe. While I will be sharing a lot more about that later this week, for now I wanted to tell you a little bit about the interesting leap that was going from an active participant and inspired dancer in Basel to suddenly being a wandering traveler and passive spectator in Auch, France. There, I was visiting my brother who performed in Circa, an alternative circus festival held annually in the small town.
Auch is exactly what you picture when you think of a small river-side town in France. Quaint, charming, old and historic, and an unexpected place for a large circus festival. There was a creative sort of energy present with the events going on and yet a laziness in the pace of the town as a whole. My several days there were filled with large gaps of emptiness- I had a couple shows to see and met my brother for lunch in between his rehearsals, but otherwise I had nothing to fill my time and didn’t know much about what to see in terms of touristic spots. It was a stark contrast to Basel, where I had been constantly moving, dancing and face-to-face with big ideas, important discussions, new people and lively outings. At the beginning of the whole trip, I felt hungry for inspiration and the thing about creative hunger is that as soon as you are fed something delicious and juicy, it only makes you want more. I arrived in Auch ravenous and ready, and yet here I was in a small sleepy town with quite a lot of down time.
How was I going to find inspiration here and not let that ball of creative momentum drop?
I decided to keep my eyes open and hone in on the details. Find inspiration in the unexpected. I wandered tiny unassuming streets and took pleasure in the way a facade was slightly crumbled or ivy grew in intricate patterns along the stones. I went to see circus shows that I normally wouldn’t be drawn to and found unexpected depth and rawness in certain performances, which inspired me in turn to find new depths in my own work. I had long talks with my brother in between his performances and rehearsals, chatting about art and the future and similarities in the worlds of circus and dance. I took time to enjoy the sunrises and sunsets from the small terrace in my lovely airbnb and let go of my usual need for a healthy, full breakfast, embracing the French fashion of having a coffee and a pastry (or two). I did not visit any monumental landmarks or take any classes or workshops, but I still left with this ongoing sense of being creatively fulfilled- like something small but important had left an impression through a collage of little experiences.
Sometimes we do not need a grand workshop, intensive training or specific project to get us inspired. We cannot always expect big ideas to leap out at us and form themselves into reality. We often have to tease them out of the unexpected places, and doing so is something that has to be thoughtfully practiced, when traveling and in daily life. As the wise and quotable Mary Oliver once wrote, “To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.”
Something that is always expectedly inspiring about traveling in France is the caliber of the pastries and sweets. Since I was relishing the weather that finally felt like true fall, I frequently treated myself to a buttery and flakey chausson aux pommes and an afternoon coffee. Once I was home, inspired by the flavors but not feeling quite ambitious enough to attempt real chausson pastry dough, I decided to use the idea to create these buttery, flakey little apple hand pies. It is always fun to test myself and see if I can throw a twist into traditional recipes (a Moroccan twist, most often), so I spiced the apples with ras el hanout, a Moroccan/North African spice blend made from what are generally thought of as the best spices of the market (ras el hanout means head of the shop in arabic). I made my own spice blend, adapted from Molly Yeh’s recipe and loved the peppery, warming quality it gave these lovely little pies. They are the perfect home-y, comforting, cool-weather treat to delight in after a short period of being uprooted and on the go.
Ras el Hanout Apple Hand Pies
Makes about 10 hand pies
Prepare your pie crust according to the recipe (homemade is always best in my humble opinion) and set the dough in the fridge to chill. In the meantime, in a medium sauce pan, melt the butter and then whisk in the spices and sugar. Toss the apples in with this mixture and add the 2 tbsp of water. Heat over a medium flame until it comes to a boil, then turn down the heat, cover the pan and let cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until the apples are soft and caramel-y. Set aside to cool.
Once the dough has been in the fridge long enough, take it out and preheat the oven to 400ºF. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and whisk the single egg in a small dish. Roll out half of the dough into a thin layer and cut out large circles with a cookie cutter or the bottom of a bowl. On one side of each circle, spoon a tablespoon or so of apple filling and brush the edge with egg wash. Gently fold the other half of the circle over the top, crimping the edges with a fork to keep it closed. Place the hand pie onto the prepared baking sheet and cut a couple slits on the top for air- whatever design you like- and brush generously with egg wash. Repeat with all of the remaining dough, rolling out the second half as well. Bake the pies for about 20 minutes or until the tops are nicely golden brown. Let cool for 10-ish minutes before serving.
- 1 batch of prepared double-crust pie dough (I always use A Cozy Kitchen's recipe)
- 3 medium apples, peeled, cored and cut into small cubes
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1 tsp ras el hanout (recipe below)
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- 2 tbsp brown sugar
- 2 tbsp water
- 1 egg (for egg wash)
Ras el Hanout Spice Blend (for sweeter recipes)
Adapted from Molly Yeh's recipe, makes about 1/4 cup
Combine all ingredients in a small airtight container and store in a dry place.
- 2 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
- 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 1/2 tsp freshly ground cardamom
- a pinch of saffron (optional)
- 1 tsp ground turmeric
- 1/4 tsp ground cloves
- 1/8 tsp ground ginger
- 1 tsp ground coriander