Bake with Fall’s Favorite Fruit

by: M.R. Stanton

If there is one fruit that is in the forefront of our cultural consciousness, it has to be the apple. Just think of all the everyday expressions that revolve around this versatile fruit.

“An apple a day keeps the doctor away.”

Does anyone really believe that? We know that fiber is good for us, and apples are nothing if not fibrous, but did you grow up in a household where your mother handed you an apple every morning along with your Flintstones multi-vitamin? Probably not.

How about, “An apple for the teacher.” Now I do remember certain teachers in my Cyrus Peirce elementary-school days that always seemed to have a rosy, red apple sitting on the corner of their desks at lunchtime. And every card I ever got for a teacher – you know, those end-of-the-school-year cards that you bought to go with some silly present you gave – they always had a cartoonist’s apple drawn on them.

Then there is, “As American as apple pie.” Well, maybe in some sections of the country, but probably not in the South where you’re more likely to run into pecan, chess or buttermilk pie than apple on the menu.

On the negative side, we hear the expression, “One bad apple spoils the whole bunch.” How bizarre. I’ve never seen a fruit bowl wrecked by an apple with a bruise on it, but I have seen a whole batch of precious $5-a-pint raspberries gone to ruin because of a few moldy ones that contaminated the lot.

But you never hear anyone say, “One bad raspberry spoils the whole bunch.” Why is that?

If the apple is the universal, standby fruit that has permeated our lexicon, it has done far more than that for the home cook. While the double-crust apple pie is the all-American standard recipe that most folks think of when they think of cooking up apples, there is so much more you can do with this versatile fruit that is a baker’s favorite.

Apples lend flavor, texture and a spicy-sweet aroma to anything in which they are incorporated. They are a very forgiving fruit, withstanding longer cooking than most fruits before they lose their shape and turn to mush. But if it is mush you are looking for, such as in applesauce, they readily comply if you cook them over direct heat, with a bit of sugar and the requisite stick of cinnamon. I toss in a handful of fresh cranberries from the Nantucket bogs and a cinnamon stick to make this a Nantucket Reds Applesauce. Serve this with potato pancakes or roast tenderloin of pork. It’s also good with roast chicken.

My favorite breakfasts all incorporate apples. I’ll whip up a batch of pancakes from scratch and add thin slices of apples, either golden delicious, Granny Smith or Fuji apples which are the varieties I generally have in my fruit bowl. When the weather is cold and I am cooking oatmeal, I’ll add a few chunks of apples and a few shakes of apple-pie spice or cinnamon to the water as it comes to a boil and before I’ve added the oats.

A real treat that my grandmother used to make for me was baked apples for breakfast. She generally made them the night before for dessert and then made a few extra for us to have for breakfast the next morning. They’re simple to make. Pick a large, round variety for this, such as Rome beauty. Then core the apple and hollow out the fruit, being sure to leave a “floor” so when you place your brown sugar, spices and butter mix in the hollow it doesn’t fall out into the pan. Also be sure to pare a half-inch strip from the “equator” of the apple (imagine it’s a globe) so the fruit doesn’t split. Then pour about a quarter-inch of boiling water in the bottom of the pan and bake at 375 degrees for about an hour, basting every 10-15 minutes or so with the pan juices. If you bake them the night before for breakfast, just heat them up briefly before serving.

Desserts are where apples truly take center stage. Baked in a pie or cake, they hold their shape, while providing moisture and flavor to anything in which they appear.

Apple crisp is an easy ending to a meal if you have oats, brown sugar, butter, spices, and of course apples, in your pantry. My son and husband will often whip one up without even looking at a cookbook, slicing the apples and putting them in the bottom of a casserole dish and then in a separate bowl tossing in a few handfuls of Quaker oats, a few tablespoons of brown sugar, a couple of shakes of cinnamon, a tablespoon of flour and then enough butter mixed in with one’s fingers, so there’s a crumbly look and feel to the topping. Bake at 375 F. for 30 minutes and there’s an easy dessert. Vanilla ice cream MUST be on hand to be served with this.

An Apple Betty is a dessert that is similar but relies on a breadcrumb topping. An apple buckle has more of a biscuit/pie crust, which “buckles” while cooking, hence the name. I could never really figure out the difference between a buckle and a cobbler, but what’s most important is what flavor and texture you like best. Bake that recipe.

A cake I used to love to bake and have on hand for my kids is the Chunky Apple Walnut Cake that comes from the original “Silver Palate Cookbook.” It is dense, moist and great with a glass of cold milk or a cup of strong, hot coffee. I bake it in a Bundt pan and drizzle it with a glaze that incorporates Calvados, that great French apple brandy.

A simpler, less rich but more elegant cake is one I discovered a few years ago in Lynne Rosetto Kaper’s “The Italian Country Table.” It’s a buttery cake with a coarse crumb and bottom “crust” that comes from pressing some of the crumbs from the flour and butter in the bottom of a springform pan before you add the wet ingredients to create the cake batter. The recipe calls for apples, but I have also substituted thin slices of firm pear and chopped candied ginger as well with excellent results. The crowning touch of this Torta di Mele is meringue on top. Kasper is the voice on NPR’s wonderful show, “The Splendid Table,” and has a new cookbook out, “How to Eat Supper.”

Apples are great with any pork dish. I like to use apples in a skillet bake we make with pork chops and onions. I add salt and pepper to a half cup or so of flour in which I dredge bone-in, inch-thick pork chops. Then I brown them in a mix of oil and butter in a heavy cast-iron pan. Set them aside, scrape the pan of all the browned bits of flour and add two sliced apples, a sliced onion and fresh sage leaves from your garden. Add a half-cup to two-thirds of a cup of chicken stock. Put your chops on top of the apple-onion-sage mix, cover with foil and place in a 350-degree oven for about 25-30 minutes. Serve the chops with a side of the apple mix and mashed potatoes.

My favorite soup also relies on the irresistible combination of apples, butternut squash and curry powder, and is probably the recipe I made the most often from the “Silver Palate Cookbook” when it first appeared.

Kathy McGrady’s old Upper Crust restaurant on West Creek Road (now Pi Pizza’s home) made something similar to this back in the 1980s and it was a real winner. It’s just what you want for lunch on a fall day when the wind starts to blow. Make a batch the night before to allow flavors to mellow, then in the morning heat some up and pour into a well-insulated Thermos to take with you on a drive out to Great Point or an extended walk through the moors. Bring an apple for dessert – a crisp Macoun. It’s the perfect mini-picnic.

M.R. Stanton writes about food, wine and travel for Nantucket Today.


Torta di Mele

Apple Cake with a Crackly Meringue
Reprinted from “The Italian Country Table” 
by Lynne Rosetto Kasper

I love this cake at the end of a hearty meal, or to serve in the afternoon with tea or coffee when friends drop by. My kids like it for breakfast too!

2 cups plus 3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
1-1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar
Generous pinch of salt
1-1/2 sticks cold, unsalted butter, cut into pieces
3/4 cup milk
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Shredded zest of 1 large lemon
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 large (about 1 pound) apples
1 large egg white

  1. Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375 degrees F. Grease and flour a 9-inch springform pan. In a large bowl with your fingertips, rub together the two cups flour, the 1-1/2 cups sugar, the salt and butter until crumbly. Remove 1 cup of the crumbs and press them over the bottom and about a half-inch up the sides of the springform pan, making a crust about an eighth-inch thick.
  2. Make a well in the remaining crumb mixture. Add the milk, eggs, vanilla, lemon zest, the remaining 3 tablespoons flour and the baking powder. With a whisk, blend this mixture thoroughly without incorporating the crumbs. Then, with a wooden spoon, stir in the crumbs until well-blended but still a little lumpy. Fold in the apples. Scrape the batter into the pan.
  3. In a small bowl, beat the egg white until foamy. Beat in the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar and beat until the whites barely stand in peaks. Spread over the top of the batter.
  4. Bake 65-75 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven and cool 30 minutes on a wire rack.
  5. Slip off the sides of the pan and finish cooling the cake. Serve at room temperature. Covered in plastic wrap, the cake holds well at cool room temperature up to two days, or a week in the refrigerator. Either way, warming it in the oven makes it even tastier.

Serves 10-12.

Apple Brown Betty

This is an old-fashioned New England dessert that you don’t see in many restaurants any more. Esther Gibbs’ old North Shore Restaurant (now American Seasons) used to offer up a good Betty, as did Bob Leske’s Cap’n Tobey’s and The Skipper, down on Steamboat Wharf. This version is from Boston’s Durgin Park restaurant, as interpreted by Jane and Michael Stern.

1/2 cup butter
2 cups fresh bread crumbs
6 cups cored, peeled, thinly-sliced apples (Granny Smith or  golden delicious)
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground allspice
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/3 cup apple cider

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. Melt butter in a saucepan. Add crumbs and toss to mix thoroughly
  3. Grease a deep, 2-quart baking dish. Sprinkle some crumbs in the bottom of the dish.
  4. Pour half the apples on top of the crumbs. Sprinkle with half the lemon juice, half the sugar and half the spices.
  5. Add half the remaining bread crumbs.
  6. Repeat layers.
  7. Pour cider over finished dish.
  8. Cover with tin foil and bake 45 minutes.
  9. Remove foil and test with knife to be sure apples are cooked. Return to oven briefly, if need be. Be careful not to overcook, or apples will be mushy and the Betty will collapse.

Chunky Apple Walnut Cake

This dense, moist cake from “The Silver Palate Cookbook” calls for a tall glass of ice-cold milk or a steaming cup of very good coffee.

1-1/2 cups vegetable oil
2 cups granulated sugar
3 eggs
2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour, sifted
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1-1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground mace
1 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. salt
1 cup whole wheat flour, sifted
1-1/4 cups shelled walnuts, coarsely chopped
3-1/4 cups coarse chunks of peeled Granny Smith apples
3 tablespoons Calvados or Applejack
Apple Cider Glaze (optional)

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
  2. In large bowl beat vegetable oil and sugar until thick and opaque. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each edition.
  3. In a separate bowl, sift together dry ingredients: white flour, cloves, cinnamon, mace, baking soda and salt. Stir in whole wheat flour. Add to oil and egg mixture until well blended.
  4. Toss apples and walnuts in 1 tablespoon flour to lightly coat. Then stir fruit and nuts into batter along with Calvados until pieces are evenly distributed.
  5. Pour batter into greased bundt pan. Bake 1 hour 15 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean.
  6. Let cake rest in pan 10 minutes, then unmold and pour glaze over warm cake.

Serves 10-12.

Apple Cider Glaze

4 tablespoons sweet butter
2 tablespoons brown sugar
6 tablespoons granulated sugar
3 tablespoons Calvados or Applejack
4 tablespoons sweet cider
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
2 tablespoons heavy cream

  1. Melt butter in small saucepan and stir in both sugars.
  2. Add remaining ingredients, stir, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat slightly and cook for 4 minutes.
  3. Remove from heat and cool slightly. Pour over cake while still warm.

Curried Butternut Squash Soup

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups finely chopped onions
5 tsp. good curry powder
2 medium-size butternut squash (3 pounds)
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and chopped
3 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
1 cup sweet apple cider
Salt and freshly-ground pepper to taste

  1. Melt butter in large stockpot. Add chopped onion and curry powder and cook covered over low heat until onions are soft, about 25 minutes.
  2. While onions are cooking, peel squash, scoop out seeds and chop into chunks.
  3. Add stock, squash and apples to onions and curry powder and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, until squash and apples are tender, about 25 minutes.
  4. Pour soup through as strainer, reserving liquid, and transfer solids to food processor. Add one cup of cooking stock and purée until smooth.
  5. Return purée to pot and add apple cider and additional cooking liquid, equally, about two cups liquid total, or until soup is of desired consistency.
  6. Season to taste with salt and pepper and heat through. Can garnish with shredded apple, sour cream, croutons, fried sage leaves or toasted pumpkin seeds.

Serves 4-6.

Spiced Applesauce with Cranberries

This is great with latkes or pork chops that appeared in Bon Appetit last year. We have substituted brown sugar for granulated sugar, which gives this dish more flavor.

8 golden delicious apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1-inch pieces

1-1/2 cups fresh cranberries

1/3 cup brown sugar

1 (3-inch) cinnamon stick

Cook apples, cranberries, sugar and cinnamon stick in a large heavy saucepan, covered, over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until fruit is very tender and broken down into a sauce, about 45 minutes. Discard cinnamon stick. (For a smoother texture, force applesauce through a medium-mesh sieve or a food mill fitted with fine disk into a bowl). Cool to room temperature or chill before serving.

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