Sunday, May 20, 2012

An Autumn Dessert in Spring?

We have one grower at the St. Lawrence North Market from whom we buy all our apples and pears. Last year, Clement Orchards seems to have had a bumper crop of fantastic Cortland apples, most of which they kept in cold storage. We’ve been eating about a quart a week for the past few months because you can seldom get really good apples at this time of year. These have been perfect: still crisp, flavorful and tangy. Most evenings, we cut up a couple for our dessert.

Last evening, we had some good friends in town, Paul Musselman and Violette Malan (you should read her novels!), who came to town to pick up some San Marzano tomatoes I started for them. They both understand what eating real food is all about, so we made our paella outside the traditional way (Violette is of Spanish extraction and they have a wonderful Paella Party every November). I will share this amazing, but rather tricky to cook recipe someday soon.

The thing that stumped us was what to make for dessert. Evenings still can be cold here in Toronto (it wasn’t last night, though, as it turned out), and those good apples stuck in my mind. We have a fantastic recipe for a French-based rustic apple tart that is superb, but a good deal of its preparation is last-minute and with the paella to concentrate on (it takes a lot of tending when cooked outside), I knew the tart just wouldn’t be the dessert to make (next time, Violette and Paul!). Then I thought of our apple crisp.

It was a huge favorite in the early years of our family. Even though our kids have long since flown the coop, we still make this a fair bit in the fall and winter when the local apples are at their best, but I don’t think we’ve ever made it in spring. Anyway, it was perfect for the situation: you can prepare the whole thing hours in advance and just throw it into the oven as soon as you sit down for dinner. We had great apples, so I thought, Why not?

Here’s the recipe. It’s pretty easy, with only the peeling and slicing of the apples being a bit tedious. The results are wonderful, especially served with ice cream or whipped cream. If you can’t find really good apples now, just put this recipe aside until the fall when stores should be flooded with great fruit.

A word on apples: You want to make this using a good crisp apple with lots of flavor. As mentioned, Cortlands are terrific. Northern Spies are also a favorite around here (you may need to add a bit more sugar of honey, though) as are Winesaps. My favorite is Russets which are good for only a few weeks in late September/October. They’re hard to find, but worth it with a very surprising sort of non-applelike flavor. Make sure you get real russets and not golden russets – which are a clone of golden delicious and russets. They’re just not as good.

Apple Crisp
Serves 8-10

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup rolled oats
¾ cup dark brown sugar
½ cup walnut pieces
½ tsp salt
½ tsp baking soda
½ cup sweet butter
8 cups apples
¼ cup sugar (or 3 Tbs honey)
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp allspice
½ tsp cloves
a generous grating of fresh nutmeg
1 tsp lemon juice

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Butter a 9"x12" baking dish.

2. Peel, core and slice the apples. As you work, place them in a bowl of water with a good squeeze of lemon juice or apple cider vinegar to keep them from discoloring.

3. Toast walnut pieces on a baking sheet placed in the oven until nicely browned and fragrant. It usually takes 10-12 minutes.

4. In a large bowl, put in the flour, oats, sugar, salt and baking soda. First using a pastry blender and then your fingers, work the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture is uniform and well-blended.

5. In another bowl, mix together apples, sugar or honey, spices and lemon juice.

6. Place apple mixture in bottom of baking dish, sprinkle over the walnuts, then cover with the oats mixture.

7. Bake for 50 minutes or until top is nicely browned and the apples soft and bubbling. Serve it while still warm. A scoop of good vanilla ice cream is just perfect on top.

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