There’s something about apple desserts that makes them remarkably alluring. The fruit’s sweet-tart personality builds flavors that, in all fairness, are hard to beat this time of year. Plus the smell of cinnamon and other spices are comforting.
For the home cook, there is joy in the simplicity of apple-based desserts. Sure, there’s time spent peeling and coring, but it can become a pleasing Zen-like motion with the right background music.
When it comes to which apples to use, some varieties are best cooked while others are better eaten raw. Some are delicious eaten either way.
Granny Smiths are often the first choice for baking. Their pucker-up tartness and crisp texture often makes them the first choice in tarts, pies or crisps. But don’t rule out the crunchy texture and sweeter flavor profiles of Honeycrisp, Fuji and Gala apples; they are great for snacking as well as baking, although their increased sweetness and juiciness can require a less-sugar adjustment as well as a shorter baking time.
Here are formulas for three delicious apple desserts. Each one contains nuts for added texture contrast as well as a rich flavor that some describe as “buttery.” Recently a reader told me she doesn’t like to add nuts to baked goods because they taste “nasty.” It turns out she was storing them at room temperature for long periods of time. Most nuts are quite perishable. Store shelled nuts at room temperature for no more than three months. After that they need to go into the fridge or freezer. Store shelled or unshelled nuts in the refrigerator for up to six months, or in the freezer for a year or so.
First, here’s a twist on apple crisp, a dish that most often boasts a crispy oat topping. This version replaces the oats with shaved almonds that get crunchy once combined with a flour-sugar-spice-butter mixture and baked until golden.
Apple Almond Crisp
Yield: 10 to 12 servings
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup packed golden (light) brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) chilled salted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 cup sliced (not slivered) almonds
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
8 medium-small Granny Smith apples (about 4 1/2 pounds), peeled, halved, cored, cut roughly into 1/2-inch wedges
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
For serving: Vanilla ice cream or sweetened whipped cream
1. For topping: Whisk flour, brown sugar and cinnamon in medium bowl. Add butter and either use a pastry cutter or rub with fingertips until butter is in tiny pieces. Mix in almonds and place in refrigerator.
2. For filling: Adjust oven rack to middle position. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. In a large bowl, whisk sugar, flour, lemon zest, cinnamon and nutmeg. Mix in apple wedges, then vanilla. Dump filling into prepared dish and even out. Sprinkle topping over apple mixture. Bake until topping is golden and crisp, and apples are tender, about 50 to 60 minutes. Cool at least 10 minutes and serve with ice cream or whipped cream.
Source: Adapted from “Bon Appetit Desserts” by Barbara Fairchild (Andrews McMeel, $40)
Apple Pecan Upside Down Pie
Yield: 8 servings
1 package (14.1 ounces) Pillsbury Pie Crusts (long red box)
3/4 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of salt
Pinch of ground nutmeg
5 large tart green apples, such as Granny Smiths, peeled, cored, and cut into 1-inch chunks
For serving: Ice cream or sweetened whipped cream
1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove pie crusts from refrigerator.
2. Combine topping ingredients and sprinkle into bottom of a 10-inch pie pan. Cover with 1 sheet of pie crust. Push it down gently to form a pie-shaped “bowl.”
3. Combine filling ingredients and place on top of bottom crust. Place top crust on filling. Press edges together to seal. Turn edge over toward the center of pie to make a seam. This will pull the outside edge of the pie slightly away from the sides of the pan. Cut 3 half-inch vents.
4. Place pie pan on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake 75 minutes.
5. Place on cooling rack for 7 minutes. Place platter or plate atop pan. Using oven mitts or potholders as aid, firmly grasp pan and platter together, then turn over. Cautiously and slowly lift pan off pie, starting by gently and gradually lifting one side. Serve warm or at room temperature with ice cream or whipped cream.
Apple Cake Bars
Yield: 32 bars, 2 1/4-by- 1 1/2-inches (we cut them bigger at our house — where it’s a favorite)
Butter for greasing pan
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter
1 cup (packed) golden (light) brown sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Optional: 1 tablespoon brandy, applejack or dark rum
1 medium-large apple, such as Granny Smith, Honeycrisp, Gala or Fuji, peeled, cored and finely chopped or diced
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup chopped pecans
2 1/2 tablespoons heavy cream
1/3 cup packed golden (light) brown sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish, line bottom with parchment paper, butter the paper and dust the inside of the pan with flour. Tap out the excess flour and put pan on a baking sheet.
2. Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices and salt. In medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt butter over low heat. Add brown sugar and stir with whisk until melted and mixture is smooth, about 1 minute. Remove from heat.
3. Working in the same saucepan, whisk in eggs one at a time, mixing until blended. Add applesauce, vanilla and brandy (if using); whisk until ingredients are blended and mixture is once again smooth. Switch to a rubber spatula and gently stir in dry ingredients, mixing only until they disappear, then mix in apple, raisins and nuts. Scrape the batter into the prepare pan and smooth the top with rubber spatula.
4. Bake 23 to 25 minutes or until bars just start to pull away from the sides of the pan and a knife inserted into center comes out clean. Transfer baking pan to rack and let cool while you make the glaze.
5. For the glaze: In a small saucepan, whisk stir together the cream, sugar, butter and corn syrup. Put pan over medium heat and bring mixture to a boil, stirring frequently. Adjust heat so that glaze simmers, and cook, whisking frequently for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla.
6. Turn the bars out onto a rack, remove parchment paper and invert the bars onto another rack, so they are right side up. Slide the parchment paper under the rack to serve as a drip catcher. Grab a long metal icing spatula and pour the hot glaze over the bars, using the spatula to spread it evenly over the cake. Let them cool to room temperature. Cut into rectangles, each about 2 1/4-by-1 1/2 inches. At our house we love them for breakfast served with hot coffee, but they are also delicious served as a dessert with a little whipped cream. Keep them in a covered container at room temperature and they stay perfect for three days (if they hang around that long). Because of the glaze, they don’t freeze well.
Source: “Baking From My Home to Yours” by Dorie Greenspan (Houghton Mifflin, $40)
Have a cooking question? Contact Cathy Thomas at [email protected]
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