How ’bout them Apples! -Fall 2013
by: Marianne R. Stanton
The cool, crisp days of AUTUMN send us into the kitchen to BAKE. As the wind shifts around to the north and whitecaps form on the sound, we turn our attention to fall flavors and begin looking for recipes with squash, pumpkin and America’s favorite fruit, the APPLE.
With apples coming in to the farmers markets at the end of August, we’re ready to switch our flavor palates from the fruits we’ve been savoring all summer long – blueberries, blackberries and raspberries, and stone fruits like peaches, plums and nectarines – and bite into something crisp and crunchy with a texture that holds up under heat and lends itself to cooking with spices.
The first apples of the season are usually eating apples. One of the earliest, hitting the stands in August, is Ginger Gold. Stop & Shop traditionally has bags of these and Paula Reds in its produce section by the end of August. Ginger Golds are good eating apples, but I prefer them in salads rather than eating them out of hand.
A better eating apple is the Honeycrisp, a fairly new variety and one of the juiciest and crunchiest around. Incorporate these into a Waldorf salad, curried chicken salad or greens tossed with a hazelnut vinaigrette, toasted walnuts and blue cheese or goat cheese. Don’t try baking with Honeycrisps, however, as they will disappoint. The high water content means the apples will disintegrate into mush when they bake and make your pie-filling watery.
A little less sweet, with a lower water content, the Gala variety is another excellent early eating apple, either out of hand or sliced and tossed into a salad. You can also use these for baking, where they are especially good sliced into meat dishes that braise, such as chicken thighs or cooked with pork chops and sliced onions. The apples and onions create a fruity gravy that is wonderful for pork, a dish that can dry out easily.
Another excellent eating apple that harvests in the middle of September, and my personal favorite, is the Macoun. These apples are crisp, aromatic, juicy and flavorful, yet not overly sweet as some find the Honeycrisp. They’re not a baking apple, and really not a good keeper, so enjoy keeping a big bowl of them on the kitchen counter for handy snacking during the brief time they are in season, from mid-September through October. Consider them like the Cadbury chocolate eggs: in season for a short while each year, and when they’re gone, they’re gone.
The best early baking apple is the McIntosh, and some folks like it as an eating apple too, though it’s a bit soft for my preference. My grandmother used to bake all her pies with Macs, and my father was very fond of the flavor and how, under heat, the pie apples would disintegrate into a soft, cinnamony pulp that contrasted nicely with the flaky pie crust. If you like your apple pie with a bit more structure, but still like the taste and texture of Macs, consider doing a halfand-half combination of McIntosh and a firmer apple like a Granny Smith.
I use Granny Smiths for their tart flavor in pies and also in my butternut squash and apple soup (recipe featured in the Fall 2012 Nantucket Today).
By late September or early October, the big round Cortlands are ready to harvest. We took a trip to the Hudson Valley of New York two years ago in the fall and had great fun visiting a pick-your-own apple orchard, where we filled up a bushel with Cortlands. These are great for making baked apples, pies and especially good for sauce. If you want to make your house smell good some fall afternoon, whip up a batch of applesauce. As it simmers on the stove, the smell of the apples combined with spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamom will send you to nirvana. It’s easy too. Apples, sugar, a bit of water: Delicious, and tasting nothing like the jars of applesauce you buy in the store.
My favorite apple to use in a pie consists of a mix of Cortland and Golden Delicious. These apples hold their shape when sliced and baked in a pie, but also soften up and cook down nicely. I used to use Granny Smith apples, but found that they were just too firm, even after baking. Years ago I took a pie-baking class up at the King Arthur Flour Company in Norwich, Vt. and learned the adage, “Make it cold, bake it hot,” meaning that you wanted all your pastry ingredients, including the flour and the utensils, as cold as possible, and the oven at high heat to ensure a flaky crust. After this class, I decided my Granny Smith filling needed to be switched up and I was happier with the results the mix yielded.
I would use the Golden Delicious variety in the Dutch Apple Tart. When we were in Amsterdam last fall, we couldn’t resist this delicious pastry, available in some rendition in almost every café in Holland. The tart is baked in a very deep dish, so unlike the American version of a tart or pie where crust encases a modest filling of apples, this recipe features dense layers of apples and currants with a buttery crust. It was truly spectacular-looking as well as tasty.
The Italian Apple Cake recipe featured here also benefits from the use of Golden Delicious apples. Here the apples are more of an accent to the moist, buttery cake. It is one of the simplest cakes to make, and a favorite of mine to serve with a cup of tea in the afternoon. It’s also good with firm pear slices instead of apples and bits of candied ginger stirred into the batter.
A classic fall and winter dessert is apple crisp. Slice apples into a dish, toss them with a bit of honey, and cover with a crumble made of oats, flour, brown sugar, cinnamon and sliced almonds. I made a vegan, gluten-free version of this dish recently, substituting olive oil for the butter and coconut flour for the wheat flour. The topping didn’t have the crumble factor that butter gives, but the flavor was just as good. The testament to that were the repeated requests for seconds and thirds and an empty casserole dish at the end of dinner!
Marianne R. Stanton is the editor and publisher of Nantucket Today and The Inquirer and Mirror. She frequently writes about food and travel.