Vanilla Apple Pie – a recipe inspired by a visit to the island of Inishmore (Inis Mór) in Ireland. Read about our travel along Wild Atlantic Way and the excursion to the Aran Islands. (Oileáin Árann.) And then try a slice of this delicious pie!
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Traveling the Wild Atlantic Way to Clifden
The first leg of my Ireland trip with my mom and sister began with sights in and around Donegal. After visiting Donegal and having lunch in Ballyshannon we headed south to find our next stop – a B&B in Clifden. This would prove to be a much more adventurous drive than we had anticipated. And I was driving.
The first half of the route was fairly uneventful, taking N17 and N5 towards the coast. We reached the town of Westport where our pace was reduced to snail-like as we navigated the charmingly narrow streets of this popular little town. (We actually did circles through town because I had trouble catching the left turn out. I began to feel like Clark Griswold in National Lampoon’s European Vacation. [maniacal laughter] “I cannot get left!!”)
It was at Westport that we picked up the Wild Atlantic Way, a 2,500 km scenic route along the western coast of Ireland. It was also at that point that it began to rain: a really heavy, steady downpour of rain, and although the speed was posted in several places as 100 kph (about 62 mph) there were many stretches where I could not go faster than 40 or 50 kph. I felt like I was in a scene in an old movie, turning my steering sheel dramatically from left to right to navigate the curvy road.
From what I could glimpse through rain and white knuckles the scenery was gorgeous: the WAW takes you along cliffs and coast, bays and inlets. The road was tight in several spots, and we saw lots of sheep just hanging by the side of the road – and around a few bends some sheep in the road.
It was approaching dusk when we reached our B&B in Clifden – the Heather Lodge, tucked into the side of a hill. Inside it was plush and comfy with overstuffed armchairs, thick-carpeting underfoot, and a billiards room just off the hall.
We didn’t have much time to relax though as we were starving and the owner told us we should get into town quickly before restaurants closed. And back out into the rain we went.
In downtown Clifden we eventually settled in E.J. King’s in a gorgeous restaurant space with stone and wood walls on the second floor above their bar. We had walked a ways in the rain and were drenched. The waitress kindly seated us under a heater (another patron said we were “lucky suckers”) and gave us plenty of hot tea and buttered brown bread! (Tap here to see my recipe for Irish Brown Bread!)
My sister had chicken breast stuffed with cream cheese and spinach in red wine au jus, with chive mashed potatoes. My mother and I had a silky gratin of butternut squash and sweet potato topped with melted Gruyere cheese.
All of the food was very warming and comforting that night!
Our desserts included homemade bread and butter pudding and a slice of apple pie. When I received my apple pie arrived I could see immediately it was not like the cinnamon-heavy, flaky apple pie of home.
This crust had a texture almost like a soft cookie and the apples were white and thick inside. The overall taste was of tart apples and lots of vanilla – it really nice variation on the apple pie we were used to! (Keep reading… my recipe for Vanilla Apple Pie is still to come!)
As we sat finishing our tea and dessert, I noticed the cool, damp breeze coming in the open window, and the evening rain falling under the streetlamps. Though we had left home in the middle of a sweltering heatwave, in Clifden it felt like lovely late October evening in Vermont, and I was suddenly wistful for fall!
Off to Inishmore
We were up with the dawn the next morning to catch the ferry to the island of Inishmore. We regretted having to leave so early because we missed a sit-down breakfast at Heather Lodge. The owner very kindly packed us bags of freshly-baked croissants, scones, and brown bread with jam and butter for the road.
That’s me in the driver’s seat and my sister in the navigator’s seat. On the drive to Rossaveal to get the ferry someone in the car summed up the week’s driving to that point as “terroristic.” Hmmm.
Inishmore is the largest of the Aran islands, sitting at the mouth of Galway Bay. Once off the ferry we were a little lost as to where to start, but ultimately hopped on a mini tour bus.
Our driver John, a native of Inishmore was a wealth of information about the island and life there. He had spent most of his life fishing until Ireland’s membership in the EU took fishing access away from local fishermen and gave it to foreign fishing operations. Now he does guided tours, expertly navigating the winding, one-lane dirt roads of the island while dodging tourists on bikes, other mini buses and horse-drawn carts.
We learned that most of the people living on the Aran Islands speak Gaelic as their first language, and at a small college on Inishmore students learn the ancient language so that it will stay alive in generations to come.
The overall impression of the island was that of stark beauty.
Through the fields, small shrubs and trees there are dark gray rock walls in criss-crossing patterns. They wind everywhere on the island, and they are no more than 4 feet tall – which means you can see from one side of the island clear to the other side! You can see all the houses, the cows and sheep, the people walking along the roads, and the ocean on all sides.
John showed us a house owned by a woman from Boston. He was excited to show us her garden, chuckling at the fact that she grows “punkins”. He said the population on the island was around 2,500 only a few years ago, but was now down around 800.
We stopped at the Seven Churches graveyard to explore the remains of… two ancient churches (seemingly a mismatched name!)
There is a curious mix there of grave sites as old as 8th century, and as recent as few years ago.
I found some beautiful Celtic carvings on lichen-crusted pillars,
…but what really captured my attention was this sweet kitty! He posed for me briefly before returning to his pursuit of a mouse under a gravestone.
Brown bread and hot soup
Midway through our tour John stopped at a small town square of shops and cafés, and recommended we try Tigh Nan Phaidi Café.
It is a sweet little spot, with flowers bursting from every window box, white-washed walls and a thatched roof.
There we had brown bread (of course) and a thick, pureed vegetable soup. It was a great little pick-me-up. Good thing, because we didn’t yet know how long of a trek lay ahead of us to get to Dún Aonghasa fort.
Dún Aonghasa Fort and that cliff
After passing through a courtyard and informational center we came out onto a path. A very long path.
It stretched ahead for a half-mile: a rocky walkway lined with stone walls and scrubby shrubs, leading out to the ancient ring fort at the edge of the sea.
It was impossible to tell from the start of the path what we would find once we got there (and we more or less ran through the informational center so picked up no information there!)
As we grew closer we began to see sheer cliff walls plunging into the ocean with crashing waves at their feet.
Once through the doorway into the fort we could really take in the breathtaking views.The flat rock floor led straight to the cliff’s edge… no fence or barrier of any kind. My mother did not care for that… or for how close we got for photo ops!
Some folks were even climbing down the walls to closer to the pounding water. I stuck with this view from above.
Looking out from the edge, the thickly foggy day made it impossible to discern where the ocean ended and the sky began.
It looked like one could step off the rocks into the mist and just float away. (I did not try it!)
We left the fort and as John drove us back to the ferry landing, he pointed out a few other sites: a goat cheese factory, a tower marking the highest point on the island, the last few thatched-roof homes on the island.
He had a endearing way of ending every sentence with “like”.
We visited a few shops at the landing including the Aran Sweater Market for an armload of Irish wool sweaters. Then we headed back to the mainland.
Vanilla Apple Pie
This is the recipe that was inspired by my dessert at E.J. King’s in Clifden: a thick apple pie flavored with lots of vanilla and held in a sweet, tender crust.
How to make this pie
Step 1: Make the crust
Blend together flour, salt, sugar, and butter to make the sweet pie crust dough. Chill the dough while you make the filling.
Step 2: Prepare the filling
Peel and slice sweet-tart McIntosh apples. Cook them down on the stovetop with sugar and vanilla extract. Allow the filling to cool to room temperature.
Step 3: Assemble the pie
Roll out half of the sweet dough to create the bottom crust. Fit this into the pie pan. Stir almond extract and a little more vanilla extract into the cooled filling, then pour the filling into the bottom crust.
Roll out the second half of the dough and cut the circle for the top crust. Fit the top crust onto the pie, tucking and rolling the edges before crimping them down. Refrigerate the pie for 30 minutes while the oven preheats.
Step 4: Bake the pie
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Place a large baking sheet in the oven. Cut a few slashes in the top of the chilled pie. Place the pie on the hot baking sheet and bake the pie for about 45 minutes. Allow the baked pie to cool a bit before slicing into it.
- This pie crust is a sweet one, a pâté sucrée which because of the sugar in the dough makes a more tender crust. It’s delicious with this pie. Another delicious crust choice would be my Perfect All-Butter Pie Crust recipe. This one is less sweet and a lot more flaky. Both crusts are wonderful choices for this flavorful filling.
The Vanilla Apple Pie recipe is below! And here are a few more recipes inspired by travel in Ireland:
>>>Have you tried this Vanilla Apple Pie? Scroll down to leave a comment below and to leave a star rating on this recipe.
Vanilla Apple Pie
- 2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour (plus extra for kneading and work surfaces)
- 2-1/2 teaspoons salt, divided
- 1 cup butter, cold, unsalted
- 1-1/4 cups granulated sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1/4 cup milk
- 10 McIntosh apples (about 3-1/2 pounds)
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract, divided
- 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
Make the crust:
- Stir together the flour and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt in a large bowl. Hold this aside.
- Mix together on high speed the butter and 1/4 cup of the sugar. Mix in the eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl once they’re both in. Mix in the milk until the batter is lumpy like cottage cheese.
- Add the flour mixture to the bowl with the butter mixture and stir it in by hand just until the mixture looks crumbly. There will still be pockets of flour visible. Lightly flour a work surface and turn out the contents of the bowl. Squeeze the dough together and knead just a few times until the dough has come together. (A bench scraper is helpful here.) Do not overwork it or the crust will be too tough.
- Split the dough in half, flatten each half with your hand and wrap the dough portions in plastic wrap. Place them in the fridge for an hour.
In the meantime make the filling:
- Run about 4 cups of cold water into a large bowl. Stir in the remaining 2 teaspoons of salt until it’s dissolved. (This will be for the cut apples to keep them from turning brown.)
- Peel and core each apple, and slice the apple into 1-inch chunks. (If you’re using an apple cutter, cut each wedge into 2 or 3 pieces.) As you cut the apples place the chunks into the salt water and stir them around so that all sides get wet.
- When the apples are all cut, have a large saucepan ready on the stovetop. Drain and rinse all of the saltwater off the apples pieces, then place the apples in the saucepan. Add in the remaining 1 cup of sugar and 1 teaspoon of the vanilla extract. Heat the contents over medium heat until the apples begin to simmer. Stir and simmer the apples for about 8 minutes until the apples have softened but still have a little bite in them. Remove the pan from the heat and allow the apple mixture to cool to room temperature.
Assemble the pie:
- Have ready a 9-inch pie dish (I prefer a metal pie plate as they cook the bottom of the pie better.)
- Take one disk of dough from the fridge. On a lightly floured surface roll out the dough to about a 12-inch circle, 1/4-inch thick. (Have flour available if bits are sticking to the table. This dough tends to be a little stickier.) Use your rolling pin to help lift the crust into the pie plate. Press the dough into the bottom and up the sides, allowing a 1-inch overhang.
- Stir the remaining teaspoon of vanilla extract and the almond extract into the apple mixture. Spoon the apples into the pie crust and spread them to an even layer.
- Roll out the second dough disk on a lightly floured surface to 12 inches in diameter, 1/4-inch thick. Lift the dough carefully to the top of the pie. Trim the edge to be just a little longer than the bottom edge, then roll the top edge underneath the bottom edge all around. (If it’s too thick in a spot, trim it back a little.)
- Cut a few slashes into the top crust to vent the pie. Cover the top loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate the pie for 30 minutes while the oven heats.
- Preheat the oven to 375° F. Place a metal baking sheet in the oven (large enough to hold the pie dish.) Place the chilled pie in the oven on the hot baking sheet and bake it for about 45 minutes: the top crust should be a light golden brown color. Remove the pie and place it on a cooling rack for at least 30 minutes. Slice it and serve, with fresh whipped cream, ice cream, or creme anglaise.
- Note: this pie can also be made with the flaky Perfect All-Butter Pie Crust Recipe. It is less sweet than the crust above, and more flaky.
My Ireland posts are dedicated to my mom Kathy and sister Melissa. I loved our time together in Ireland and I love you both!