More Apples

With the bonanza of apples resting in the basement right now, Junior and I have been busy perfecting apple crisp. I have often thought of apple crisp as the lazy baker’s apple pie, and while that may be partly true, apple crisp is a delicious, soul-warming comfort food all on its own. Rather than the incomparable buttery flake of pâte brisée, the topping of a crisp has several different pleasing elements. The crisp topping I enjoy has the nuttiness of Emmer, a depth of sweet brought by coconut palm sugar, paired with a smidge of dark brown sugar, only a bit of rolled oats, and very cold butter, chopped in, luxuriously coated by the flour and sugars.

Another factor contributing to apple crisp’s lazy reputation is that the apples don’t have to be peeled. Since this dessert is already homey and rustic, left-on peel adds fiber and increased nutrition to the dish. Baked apple peel may take getting used to, so I generally go partial peel, using my apple peeling device to remove most of the skin, but not obsessing with any bits not captured.

Peeler extrodanaire.
Peeler extraordinaire.

Apple crisp can also be made in individual baking dishes, assembled then frozen to be baked later. I love the look of, and indulgence felt by, my own, just-for-me dessert dish. If you keep the added sugars low, this can make a lovely winter morning warming breakfast.

Ready for oven.
Ready for oven.

Here’s our latest version, but experiment with other flours such as Emmer or spelt or Einkorn. Toss the apples with honey instead of granulated sugar. Increase the oats or eliminate entirely. Try adding nutmeg or cardamom or use a mix of different apple varieties. Have fun!

Apple Crisp

Serves 4-5

15 minutes to assemble/45-55 minutes to bake

 Ingredients

1/2 cup all-purpose or whole wheat pastry flour

2 tablespoons packed light-brown sugar

1 tablespoons granulated sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cold, cut into small pieces

1/3 cup rolled oats

1 1/2 pounds apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2-inch chunks

(or use about 1 1/4 pounds frozen, cut-up apples)

1 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 tablespoons granulated sugar (or a little more if your apples are tart)

1 tablespoon butter for greasing baking dish

Method

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Rub 1 tablespoon of butter all over the inside of a 8-x 8-inch baking dish or 4-5 4 1/2-inch ramekins. Set aside.

Prepare the apples: peel then cut into quarters and remove the core. Cut each quarter into 3 or 4 pieces so they are about ½-inch chunks.

Place the apples into a large bowl and toss with the fresh lemon juice, cinnamon, and the 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar. Pour the apple mixture into the baking dish. Set aside.

In a medium-sized bowl, mix together flour, brown sugar, salt, and the 1 tablespoon granulated sugar.

Cut butter into flour, using a pastry blender until the butter looks like small peas.Add oats, mixing with the pastry blender until combined.

Sprinkle the flour mixture on top of the apples.

Place baking dish on a rimmed baking sheet, and bake until golden and bubbling, 45 to 55 minutes, or until bubbling. If using individual ramekins, check for doneness at 40 minutes.

Let cool 10 minutes before serving.

When Life Gives You Apples

Growing up, we had three apple trees in the front yard: 1 Gravenstein and 2 Kings.Well before this pest moved into Western Washington, these three trees provided loads of applesauce, apple crisps, apple pies, apples for fresh-eating, and limbs for climbing. My parents weren’t champion arbor- or orchardists, but they watered, pruned, and picked, giving me a general sense of what it meant to have fruit trees. The Gravenstein, always the smallest of the three, survived several years with crutches after my aged grandfather backed the Imperial into it, finally succumbing to all manner of problems, while the Kings live on.

These days, I buy boxes of apples from Columbia Valley farmers, transactions orchestrated by some very diligent farm-to-consumer advocates. I feel Christmas as I haul the 40-pound boxes of Honeycrisp or Braeburn or Elstar into the house. Early in this growing season, orchards were hit with hail, causing cosmetic damage to much of the fruit. The organic fruit while scarred, is delicious and pest-free, but as it is ugly, is barred from selling through normal market avenues, so comes to me as a bargain.

Braeburn seconds.
Braeburn seconds.

Applesauce is easily made in two ways. First, the apples can be peeled, cored, and roughly chopped before hitting the pan, or second, they can be quartered, then food-milled after cooking to remove seeds and peel. Today I chose to do all the work at the beginning of the process, when I still felt inspired and motivated. Life can change rapidly in the course of cooking down a pot of apples!

Apple Ally.
Apple ally.
One-woman assembly line.
One-woman assembly line, terribly lighted.

Once the pan is full, I add only a bit of water to keep the apples from scorching until they start to let go of their own juice. Lidded, the cooking process doesn’t take too long, maybe 30 minutes. It is important to stir the mass, especially if using a large pot, as the natural sugars will burn.

Stir often.
Stir often.

After cooking, the sauce can be frozen or water-bath processed in canning jars. Water-bath canning is a great way to store applesauce when the freezer is full. The peels and cores can be cooked to make apple jelly, but today the chickens had an apple feast!

Carnage.
Carnage.

Applesauce is easy to make, can be made anytime, with most of the apple varieties commonly available. If you don’t have a nifty peeler like mine, use the standard hand-held version. If you don’t want to peel but don’t own a food mill, push the cooked apples through a fine mesh sieve. Allowing time for a unrushed experience, something as mundane as peeling apples or sievering the cooked fruit is quite meditative, bringing comfort to your soul, as well as your belly.

Mmmm Pie

Pie. Double crust chicken pot pie. Greg Atkinson’s Excellent Apple Pie. Pumpkin pie for morning-after breakfasts. Hand Pie. I love pie. My mom has always been a pie-maker. The patina on her rolling-pin is a testament to pie. Her pie dough was, and is, oil-based, rolled between layers of waxed paper to prevent sticking. The beauty of the thin dough, clinging for life to a single piece of waxed paper, hovering over the waiting pie dish, only to be lowered and released from its paper captor, soon to be filled with apples or berries or peaches, still lives in my memory.

The pie I love now owes its greatness to butter. France’s Pate Brisee sounds much more elegant than its English relation, Pie Dough. Pronouncing bree-zay is like speaking of the breeze, fresh air, being at the coast; all life and joy and light. Pie Dough sounds pedantic, plodding, heavy. Done right, however, pie dough is anything but heavy, regardless of what pronunciation you choose.

The pie I chose to make this day were little apple hand pies. The dough was a standard butter pastry. I will show you the filling first, then walk through the recipe for the dough. The filling consists of 2 apples, peeled, cored, and cut into a small dice, tossed with 1/4 cup of sugar, 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon, and a pinch of salt. Here’s the method:

Peeling the apples in September!
I diced apples from the freezer which I peeled & cored in September!
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I tossed the apple with a little coconut palm sugar and cinnamon,
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cooked until apples softened, which if using fresh apples might take 7-8 minutes,
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and let the excess juice drain off.

Next came rolling and cutting the dough. For the hand pies, roll out one disc of dough to about 1/8-inch thick. Cut circles using anything with a 4 1/2- to 5-inch diameter. I used a mini tart pan.

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Gather scraps re-roll/cut. I cut 9 circles using a 4 1/2-inch cutter.

Each circle received 1 generous tablespoon of apple filling. Then one side folded over the other and the edges crimped with a fork. You can use some egg wash around the edge to make sure the crimped edge stays closed.

Pies in transition.
Pies in transition.

At this stage, the pies should be chilled for another 30 minutes while the oven heats to 425F. Ziploc’d, the pies can be frozen now for baking at a later date. When you are ready to bake, the pies should be pricked with a fork or sharp knife and then brushed with an egg wash.

Ready for the oven.
Ready for the oven.

The oven should start at 425F for 5-7 minutes. This high heat helps to set the bottom crust, avoiding any sogginess. For the remaining bake, reduce heat to 375F, checking on the pies after 15 minutes. Total baking time depends on the thickness of the dough. Bake the pies until golden brown and sort of cracked-looking on the surface.

These little pies were quick and easy, and oh so very tasty!

Yum!
Yum!

Pie Dough

enough for 1 double crust pie/16 or more hand pies

Ingredients

2 1/2 cups flour (1 used ½ white unbleached, ¼ emmer, ¼ whole wheat)

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup (2 sticks) cold butter

5 to 6 tablespoons very cold water

How to:

1. Cut the butter into small pieces. Keep cold in the refrigerator.

2. Place the flour and salt into the food processor. Whiz to mix.

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3. Place cold butter into processor. Pulse the machine 5 times for 1 ½ seconds each time, until the butter is the size of green peas. Don’t over process!

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4. Add most of the water while quickly pulsing the machine so that the water can mix throughout the flour.

5. Turn off the machine. Remove the lid and test the dough by pinching some between your fingers. If it sticks together really well you are done. If it still wants to fall apart, add the rest of the water while quickly pulsing again. Don’t over mix or the dough will be tough.

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6. Dump contents onto work surface. Quickly push the bits together into a mound. Cut mound in half. Quickly form each part into a flat but thick disc, about 1-inch thick.

7. Wrap each disc in plastic wrap. Chill for 30 minutes or up to 24 hours.

8. Remove one disc from the fridge, unwrap on a lightly-floured work surface.

The dough is cold so may need to sit out for a few minutes before rolling.
The dough is cold so may need to sit out for a few minutes before rolling.

9. Start rolling from the center of the disc moving away from yourself. Pick up the dough, rotate a quarter turn, roll again from the center away from you. Repeat this until you reach the desired thickness.

If the dough the cracks or becomes grossly misshapen, take bits of dough from other areas and patch where needed. Roll the dough to press it together.

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10. Place the dough onto pie plate, ready to fill or use cutter to make hand pies.

11. Repeat process with the additional disc of dough.