Saturday, October 27, 2012

Apples, Equipment and Crisps, Oh My!

With the Autumn apple harvest still underway you can find a myriad of apples at your local grocer.  And with some simple equipment you can quickly be making a number of homemade apple delights.

Apple Selection

What type of apple should you choose when baking or cooking?  I know you can find elaborate charts naming every type of apple under the sun, with this one preferred for this recipe and that one for yet another.  But can you really remember all of those options when shopping?  I use one simple rule.  When baking apples for dessert, like pies and crisps, I choose a 50/50 combination of Granny Smith and Cortland.  When I can't get Cortland I substitute Fuji.

Granny Smiths are crisp and quite sour. They're a good all-purpose cooking apple, and their flavor is enhanced when paired with sweeter, spicier apples in pies and crisps.  Cortlands are juicy and slightly tart, with bright red skin and snowy white flesh. They are a terrific baking apple when combined with Granny Smith. And if you buy too many, Cortlands are a great on a fruit and cheese plate, as the flesh doesn't brown and discolor quickly when sliced.  The Fuji was developed in Japan by crossing Red Delicious apples and Ralls Janet, an antique apple cultivated by Thomas Jefferson in 1793. Though not the best choice for baking, Fuji apples' spicy, crisp sweetness makes them excellent for for applesauce and as a substitute for Cortland in pies and crisps.


One of the reasons I most often hear for not making simple apple crisps is the peeling, coring and slicing of the apples.  If you make a full size baking dish (typically 11" x 7" in the USA), you'll need about 8-9 large apples.  If it's Thanksgiving and you're having a house full, you'll need even more!  For this task I do not peel the apples by hand.  Instead I use this tool I found while shopping in Amish country in Ohio.  You can find them online and at many local stores now. Just search for Apple Peeler/Corer/Slicer and you'll find many options.  I paid about $15 for mine and it's heavy duty cast iron and the base is painted green.  I wouldn't spend much more for anything high-tech and made of stainless steel or powered electrically.  The old design works great, has a counter suction cup and peels, cores and slices the apple quickly and easily by a few turns of the crank.  If, on the other hand, you are making homemade apple sauce, while you can rely on this device, I  prefer the KitchenAid  Fruit/Vegetable strainer which attaches to their stand mixer.  By using this device, you can cook the apples with skin and cores, which gives you additional flavor.  You place the cooked apples into the device and out one side comes the delicious apple sauce and out the other comes your seeds, peels and other solids.

Apple Crisp

I was looking back through all of my former posts thinking surely I had made apple crisp.  I've made other more exotic crisps, but never posted about the old fashioned family favorite, apple crisp.  So with the above in mind, today I'm going to share my apple crisp recipe and technique.  You may already have your own and I'm sure it's good so I hope you will pick up a little something of value from this posting.

Pre-Cook the Apples  

Now you may be thinking this seems like a waste of a first step, but I do think it is the key to having apples cooked to perfection.   I want apple slices that retain their structure as they bake, fully softening so that there is just the tiniest bit of crispness remaining, and remaining firm enough that an individual slice retains its initial shape. A splash of lemon juice helps to set the pectin in apples, which helps them retain their shape and this is why most recipes call for lemon juice.  But it's not enough to do the job  For this I typically use my microwave, tossing the apples with their usual starch, cinnamon and a little sugar, then cooking them on high for about 10 minutes in a glass bowl, stirring the ingredients gently once or twice while cooking.  This will help the pectin to fully set and then during regular baking they will not lose their structure.  Further if you've pressed the pre-cooked apples down into your baking dish, they will also not collapse further leaving you with a half dish of crisp or worse, a hollow dome on your apple pie.

Yield:  The below recipe is for a 8-inch square baking dish, serving 4-6 persons.  Double the recipe for a 11 x 7 inch baking dish.


4 large cooking apples, sliced (4 cups)
3 tablespoons flour or 2 of cornstarch (more if the apples are very juicy)
3 tablespoons white granulated sugar
juice from half of fresh lemon
dash of cinnamon

3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup quick-cooking or old-fashioned oats
1/3 cup butter, direct from refrigerator
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
pinch of salt
1/2 cup chopped walnuts, optional

Serve with cream or ice cream, if desired


Peel, core and slice your apples.  Heat oven to 350F degrees. Grease or spray with food release the bottom and sides of 8-inch square pan.  Toss the sliced apples with the remaining filling ingredients.  Microwave for 10 minutes, stirring gently 2-3 times during cooking.  Remove and let cool to room temperature.  If the apples have release significant quantities of juice, toss with a bit more cornstarch before proceeding to the next step.

In medium bowl, toss together the topping ingredients except for the nuts coating the butter pieces very well.  Using a hard bladed (not wire) pastry blender/knife, cut the butter into the dry ingredients until it forms small pieces.  Stir in the chopped walnuts if using. If using whole walnuts as I often have on hand, simply use the pastry blender to chop the walnuts right into the topping mixture.

Spread the microwaved apples in the baking dish and sprinkle crumb topping over apples.  Sprinkle a bit more cinnamon on top for color.

Bake about 45 minutes or until topping is golden brown and apple mixture is bubbling. Serve warm or at room temperature with cream or ice cream, if desired.

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