We're just days away from the beginning of autumn on the calendar. (Even though the warm days of Indian summer that arrive with it and often stay through October can sometimes make us feel like the season hasn't changed yet.) Still, I don't usually rely on the calendar or the weather to tell me what season it is. One stroll through the farmers' market, and I know that fall is here.
Apples are beginning to fill the stalls. And that means my chefs and I start thinking about all the many delicious ways we're going to use the signature fruit of the season.
I like to feature apples in every course of the meal. They're delicious in salads, whether shredded with cabbage in a slaw or cut into bite-sized pieces and tossed with spinach and crumbled blue cheese. I also like to saute apples as an enhancement to other savory dishes, using them to garnish butternut squash soup, for example, or serving them alongside pork chops.
Of course, I can never resist using apples in desserts. I love baked apples, and I also include the fruit in all kinds of cobblers, crisps, cakes and bread puddings.
My favorite recipe of all, however, is apple pie. To me, that dessert captures the very essence of autumn apples: sweet and tart, crisp and tender, earthy and deliciously perfumed.
My chefs and I will be making all sorts of pies over the next three months, culminating with my traditional Christmas apple pies abounding in dried fruits and sweet spices. At the start of the season, however, I like something simpler; a recipe that captures the essence of the fruit at its finest. My individual apple pies, as we served them for many years at my flagship Spago restaurant in Beverly Hills.
As you'll see from the recipe, the apples themselves are definitely the stars here, highlighted in the filling only by butter, caramelized sugar, and the smallest splash (just 1/2 tablespoon per serving) of Calvados or cognac. (If you can't resist, you could also add a touch of ground cinnamon.)
For the crust that lines individual tartlet tins or flan rings (which you can find in any well-stocked kitchenware shop), I use my easy sugar dough recipe, a version of a classic pie crust. But, to top each pie, I prefer lighter, flakier puff pastry, easily found in the freezer case of supermarkets, which lets the flavor and texture of the apples beneath really shine.
SPAGO'S INDIVIDUAL APPLE PIES
Makes 8 single-serving pies
Sugar dough (recipe follows)
8 small cooking apples, such as Pippin, Granny Smith or Golden Delicious
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup (125 mL) granulated sugar
4 tablespoons Calvados or cognac
1/2 pound (250 g) store-bought frozen puff pastry, thawed following package instructions
1 cage-free egg beaten lightly with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash
Vanilla ice cream, for serving
Prepare the sugar dough. Divide it into 2 equal pieces and, on a lightly floured surface, use a rolling pin to roll each piece into an 11-inch (27.5-cm) square. Place on a parchment paper-lined tray and refrigerate for 20 minutes.
On 1 or 2 baking sheets, place 8 individual tartlet tins or flan rings measuring 4 inches (10 cm) in diameter by 1/2 inch (12 mm) high. Using a 5-inch (12.5-cm) diameter plate as a guide, cut out 8 circles of the dough and fit them into the tins or rings, trimming away any excess dough. Place the baking sheets in the refrigerator to chill the pastry.
Core and peel the apples, and cut into slices 1/4-inch (6-mm) thick.
In a skillet over medium-high heat, melt 4 tablespoons of the butter. Add the apples and sprinkle with the sugar. Cook, stirring frequently, until the sugar caramelizes slightly but the apples remain slightly crisp, 2 to 3 minutes. Very carefully pour the Calvados or cognac over the apples, and let the alcohol cook off for a few seconds. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 350 F (175 C).
On a lightly floured surface, use a rolling pin to roll out the puff pastry to a 1/8-inch (3-mm) thickness. With a 4-inch (10-cm) cookie cutter, cut out 8 circles, gathering and rerolling the scraps if necessary. With the tip of a small, sharp knife, score a design in the centers of the puff pastry circles, taking care not to cut all the way through. Refrigerate until needed.
Divide the cooled cooked apples among the tart shells. Divide the remaining butter among the centers of the tarts. Top with puff pastry circles, leaving the sides unsealed. Brush the top of each pie with a bit of egg wash before putting the pies in the oven.
Bake in the preheated oven until the pastry is golden brown, 40 to 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and leave at room temperature for about 10 minutes before serving.
With a spatula, transfer each pie to an individual serving plate. Remove the tins or rings, if necessary using the tip of a small, sharp knife to separate the pastry. Place a scoop of ice cream on the side. Serve immediately.
Makes about 1 1/2 pounds (750 g)
2 1/3 cups (585 mL) cake flour or pastry flour
1/3 cup (85 mL) granulated sugar
1/2 pound (250 g) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
2 large cage-free egg yolks
1 or 2 tablespoons heavy cream
In a food processor fitted with the stainless-steel blade, combine the flour and sugar. Add the butter and process until the mixture resembles fine meal.
In a small bowl, whisk together the yolks and 1 tablespoon of the cream. Scrape into the machine and process until a ball begins to form, adding the additional cream if necessary to help the dough come together.
Remove the dough from the processor bowl, handling the blade carefully, and transfer to a lightly floured surface. With clean hands, press the dough down into a circle. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before use.(c) 2017 WOLFGANG PUCK WORLDWIDE, INC. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.