Falling for Apples
by: Diane Bastarache
Fall is, hands down, my favorite season. All the leaves from the trees and plants change into multi-colored works of art as they fall away, creating bare and vulnerable branches, revealing the true scenery underneath.
It also represents a beautiful cycle of loss, regeneration and regrowth once the spring season comes around again. With cooler temperatures rolling in, saying goodbye to summer and hello to fall is not a hard thing to do.
It's also the perfect time to start baking, making soups and comfort foods and lighting a fire in the fireplace. This season creates a sense of comfort and warmth, where you can spend quality time with family and friends, get ready to watch some football and eat good food.
With the official start of autumn around the corner, it's just about time for the season's best fruit to arrive in farmers’ markets: apples. I think we can agree that the real fun is getting those crisp apples back to the kitchen, then cooking and baking them up every which way.
One of our favorite family outings when my kids were growing up was going apple-picking. Each year we would wait as close to Halloween as possible so we could also pick out pumpkins. There were several orchards in the area and we would go and spend the afternoon picking apples and pumpkins and watching doughnuts being made while enjoying fresh apple cider. Nothing quite speaks of autumn to me like the smell of cider and doughnuts in the air and pumpkins on the ground. Maybe it’s just the energy that the crisp air fuels, or simply that all things apple and pumpkin bring me joy.
There was always the challenge of what to make with the apples we picked. The first thing I always bake is apple pie. I can’t quite remember where I got the original recipe from, and I have certainly tweaked it over the years, but everyone still loves it and we always fight over the last piece.
The biggest debate is whether to bake a two-crust pie or Dutch style with a crumb topping. I happen to prefer the crumb topping and sometimes go ahead and make a Dutch crumb and a doublecrust pie just to please everyone.
Another favorite in our family is monkey bread. I change it up a bit with apples and cinnamon and bake it in muffin tins for a great grab-and-go breakfast treat or snack.
While I’m all for pies and cakes, I do sometimes like a little more sophisticated dessert for guests and found this delicious honey custard with caramelized apples, which I think is a perfect ending to a special meal.
Dessert and breakfast are certainly the first things you would think of for using apples, but let’s not forget the savory side as well. Adding apples to soups, meat dishes and even on a pizza are a wonderful way to bring sweetness and depth to a dish.
A hearty soup on a chilly evening is just the ticket and starting it in the slow cooker, if you have one, will make life easier. This butternut squash with apple soup will make a wonderful meal on those days when you need something nourishing and filling.
If you’re a fan of pork, I think this comforting dish of apple pork ragu with a unique savory tomato sauce that includes apples and green olives over soft polenta is just delicious. For sports fans, a pizza featuring chicken sausage, apples and cheddar will be a hit at your next kickoff party.
These are just a few ideas to get you started on your way to cooking with apples. Feel free to substitute ingredients and add your own ideas. After all, a recipe is just a guideline.
CAT’S APPLE PIE
Apple pie is a favorite in our house. My daughter has taken over the duties of pie baking and made her version of the original recipe. She assured me it was as delicious as it looks. She used a premade pie crust, but you can use any recipe for your favorite crust and have fun decorating the top crust.
- Two 9-inch pie crusts
- 6-8 cups Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and sliced thin
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar 3 tablespoons flour
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 beaten egg for egg wash Additional sugar for dusting
- Preheat oven to 375 F.
- In a small bowl combine sugars, flour and cinnamon. Set aside.
- Toss apple slices with lemon juice and add sugar mixture. Toss to coat.
- Place bottom crust into pie pan and flute edges. Dot butter on bottom and put apple mixture in. Top with remaining crust, adjusting to cover apples.
- Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with sugar. Loosely cover edges with foil and bake for 30-40 minutes until golden brown and apples are tender.
- Remove foil after the first 20 minutes. Let cool and serve.
APPLE CINNAMON MINI MONKEY BREADS
Oh, monkey bread, those little pull-apart nuggets of buttery, gooey cinnamon goodness. I've been thinking about how easy monkey bread is when I’ve been making pizza. How are they related? Leftover pizza dough is a perfect base for monkey bread. Even if you haven't been making pizza lately, store-bought, readymade pizza dough is also a way to get these into the oven that much quicker.
- 1-1/2 pounds prepared pizza dough 8 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 small or 1 large apples, about 1/2 pound 1 lemon, zested
- 2/3 cup dark brown sugar
- Flour, for dusting the dough
- For the glaze:
- 1 tablespoon cream or milk
- 2 teaspoons honey
- Juice of 1 lemon, about 3 tablespoons 3/4 to 1 cup powdered sugar
- Prepare a 12-cup muffin pan by lightly greasing the wells or lining with paper muffin cups.
- Lightly mist a large piece of parchment paper or baking sheet with baking spray. Lay the dough out on it and pat into a roughly 2-inch-thick rectangle. Use a knife to cut it into 4 roughly equal pieces. Cut each of these into 12 pieces, for a total of about 48 pieces of dough about the size of your thumb. Sprinkle flour over top of the dough pieces, cover with a towel, and set aside while you prepare the monkey bread filling.
- To make the filling, melt the butter in a saucepan or the microwave. Stir in the vanilla, cinnamon and salt and set aside to cool completely.
- Peel and core the apples and grate them into a bowl. Stir in the lemon zest and the brown sugar. Sprinkle the dough pieces again lightly with flour, to help keep them from sticking to each other, then toss them with the apples and brown sugar. Pour the completely cooled melted butter into the bowl and stir to coat the pieces of dough.
- Scoop up handfuls of the dough and fruit mixture and place them in muffin cups (about 4 pieces to each cup). If there is any leftover butter in the bowl, pour this evenly over the monkey breads.
- At this point the monkey breads can be covered lightly and refrigerated overnight. When ready to bake, take out of the refrigerator and let them rise in a warm place for 1 hour before baking.
- Heat the oven to 400 F. and bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until browned on top and the insides register about 190 F. on an instant-read thermometer.
- While the breads are baking, make the glaze. Warm the cream and honey in the microwave or in a small saucepan until the honey is dissolved. Whisk together with the lemon juice and powdered sugar until it forms a thick, creamy glaze.
- Remove the monkey breads from the oven and drizzle the glaze over the tops. Serve warm.
Makes 12 mini monkey breads.
HONEY CUSTARDS WITH CARAMELIZED APPLES
Enjoy this easy baked custard, sweetened with honey and topped with caramelized apples. It makes an elegant dessert to serve to guests and they’ll be asking for the recipe. Use a firm crisp apple for the best results for the caramelized apples.
For the Honey Custards:
- 3 cups whole milk
- 3 large eggs
- 1/2 cup honey
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
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For the Caramelized Apples:
- 2 medium apples, any firm variety
- 1 generous tablespoon butter or margarine 2 to 4 tablespoons honey
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon or nutmeg
To make the custards:
- Preheat the oven to 350 F. Arrange 6 to 8 ramekins or oven-safe custard cups inside a 9-by-13-inch baking dish (or other similar-sized dish that will hold a few inches of water).
- Pour the milk into a saucepan over low to medium heat and gently bring it just barely to a boil. Immediately remove from the heat.
- Whisk the eggs together in a medium to large bowl. Add the honey and salt, and whisk briskly until well-blended. Pour the warm milk into the egg and honey mixture in a slow stream while whisking constantly. Once all of the milk has been whisked in, stir in the vanilla.
- Divide the custard evenly between the ramekins. I find it easiest to pour the liquid into a large measuring cup with a spout, which allows you to pour cleanly into the cups without making a mess. Dust the top of each custard with just a tiny pinch of nutmeg and place the baking pan in the preheated oven. Very carefully pour very hot water (hot tap water is fine) in the baking pan, around the custard cups, being careful not to splash any water into the custards.
- Bake the custards for 40 to 50 minutes. The exact baking time depends on the size and depth of the custard dishes as well as the oven. The custards are done when set in the center. Test by very gently touching the top of the custard or gently jiggling the pan. The custards will continue to firm up a bit when chilling.
- Remove the pan from the oven and place on a cooling rack. Allow to cool for about 10 minutes. Carefully lift each custard cup from the water and place on a rack until cool enough to refrigerate. Cover each in plastic wrap and chill for 3 or 4 hours, or overnight.
For the caramelized apples:
- Peel, core and chop the apples into small cubes. Heat the butter or margarine in a skillet and toss in the apple cubes. Cook, tossing often, until the apples are tender.
- Add a small amount of water occasionally as the apples cook. The water will help cook the apples and keep them moist while preventing them from browning too much.
- Once the apples are fork-tender, drizzle in 2 tablespoons of honey. Taste and add more honey depending upon your preferred sweetness and the tanginess of the fruit.
- Continue to stir, adding more water as needed and desired. Continue cooking until it has simmered away. Scrape the apples into a bowl to cool slightly before serving over the chilled custards.
Top each custard with a generous spoonful of the apples, a very light dusting of ground cinnamon or nutmeg and a bit of whipped cream.
SLOW-COOKER BUTTERNUT APPLE SOUP
The addition of coconut milk makes this puréed soup very rich and satisfying. Butternut squash is a hearty starch and the coconut milk contains healthy fat, so this soup will keep you satisfied, even if you have it on its own. While this recipe may seem quite fancy, the ingredients and cooking process are last-minute friendly. Winter squashes like butternut keep for a long time. So, if you have a butternut squash that’s been sitting on the counter for a week or two, just peel, dice and toss it in. Serve this for dinner with a green salad. Top with crumbled bacon and sliced green onions.
- 1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded and diced 1 sweet potato, peeled and diced
- 1 apple, cored and diced
- 1 onion, diced
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 sprig fresh sage
- 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 2 cups vegetable or chicken stock
- 1/2 cup canned coconut milk
- 1/2 cup cooked bacon, chopped for garnish
- 1/2 cup sliced green onions for garnish
- Sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste
- Place all the ingredients in a slow cooker, except the coconut milk.
- Stir everything and cook on high for 3 to 4 hours, or on low for 6 to 8 hours. Remove the sage leaves, and pulse the butternut mixture using an immersion blender.
- Purée until smooth. Add in the coconut milk and pulse until well blended. Cook on high for another 20 minutes, season to taste and serve.
APPLE PORK RAGU WITH SOFT POLENTA
This hearty dish is one of my favorites and makes a nice dinner for company or an equally great weeknight meal. It can easily be doubled and is even better the next day.
- 12 ounces lean boneless pork, cut in 1-inch pieces 1 medium onion, halved and thinly sliced
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/4 cup apple cider
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 apples, such as honey crisp, cored and chopped 14-ounce can diced tomatoes
- 1 cup chicken broth
- 1/4 cup pimiento-stuffed green olives, coarsely chopped 1⁄4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley
- Cooked polenta
- Finely-shredded Parmesan cheese
- In a 4-quart Dutch oven cook pork, onion and garlic in hot oil over medium-high heat until browned, about 5 minutes.
- Add apple cider. Cook and stir, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the Dutch oven, until the cider is nearly evaporated. Stir in tomato paste. Cook and stir 1 minute more.
- Stir in apples, undrained tomatoes and broth. Bring to boiling. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in olives and parsley. Serve warm over soft cooked polenta and sprinkle with Parmesan.
APPLE AND CHICKEN-SAUSAGE PIZZA
Everyone loves pizza, and savory chicken sausage and sweet apples are the key to this autumn-inspired one. The additional cheddar cheese gives it a tangy flavor that complements the apples. Using a premade crust or dough makes it easy to put together in time to watch the game.
- 1 pizza crust or 12 ounces pizza dough, rolled thin 2 apples
- 2 chicken and apple sausages (fully cooked)
- 2 cups mozzarella cheese
- 1 cup cheddar cheese 1 large onion, sliced 2 cloves garlic
- 2 scallions
- 1 lemon
- Slice the onions and cook in a little butter or oil until well browned, about 30 minutes.
- Add in the garlic just as the onions are about done and cook an additional 2 minutes. Remove from heat and add a little more oil if it is dry.
- Preheat oven to 450 F. Slice the apples into thin halfmoons. Immediately toss them in the lemon juice so they don't brown. Cut the sausages into half-moons to reflect the apple slices.
- Prepare your pizza dough and spread or brush on the onion, garlic and oil mixture. Add 3/4 of the cheese and then add the apples and sausages. Top with the remaining mozzarella and cheddar cheese. Bake 12-15 minutes or until golden.
Diane Bastarache has spent her entire life in the food and beverage industry as a chef, restaurant owner, manager and pastry chef. She also writes the “Let’s Eat” column for The Inquirer and Mirror, Nantucket’s newspaper since 1821.