Everybody seems to take apples for granted. They're always there in supermarkets and farmers market stalls, parents are packing them in kids' lunches, and some fast-food places now offer sliced apples as a healthy alternative to french fries (not that many guests necessarily go for that option). The fruit is also featured in some of the most often-repeated, time-honored sayings:
"An apple a day keeps the doctor away."
"American as apple pie."
"An apple for the teacher."
"You're the apple of my eye."
And yet, the ubiquity of apples sometimes leads to them being taken for granted. A great apple pie or apple tart is a wonderful thing -- but they aren't always the first desserts to fly off the menu.
So, with the peak of autumn apple-picking season coming soon, when the most abundant crops and widest varieties are available, I thought I'd invite you to join me in a little experiment. Its goal is to help anyone who tries it achieve a new, richer appreciation of the apple's goodness.
It's about the mixture of sweet, tart and spicy flavors that marry so well with other ingredients both sweet and savory; the way the texture of certain apple varieties, when cooked, turn wonderfully tender while still retaining a hint of crispness; and simply the pristine beauty of the apple's spherical form.
What kind of miraculous experiment could accomplish all those things? It's a recipe, of course, and one that may at first seem quite ordinary. For baked apples.
Cored whole apples, baked with sugar and spices in a sweetened liquid, seem to many people like the most basic of culinary preparations. It's something parents cook for little children. Nursery food.
That's why the following recipe for baked Granny Smith apples with toasted streusel may come as such a surprise. With very little preparation work, and a few simple ingredients, it transforms one of the most widely available apple varieties into a dessert that distills the very essence of apple goodness. One taste, and you might not be able to stop eating it.
Little more is needed to highlight those qualities. But the easy-to-make streusel sprinkled over each serving adds a delightful, complementary bit of crunch and sweet spice. (The name comes from the German "streuen," meaning "sprinkle," and the mixture is also good sprinkled over other desserts like cobblers, coffee cakes or even ice cream.) You could also, if you like, drizzle a little homemade custard sauce, or even a touch of heavy cream, in the bottom of each bowl before adding the apple -- or serve a small scoop of vanilla ice cream alongside the dessert.
Once you give this simple recipe a try, it may well become a standby for you throughout apple season.
BAKED GRANNY SMITH APPLES WITH TOASTED STREUSEL
8 medium Granny Smith apples, about 3 pounds (1.5 kg), or Jonagold or Winesap varieties
8 small cinnamon sticks
1 1/2 cups (375 mL) packed golden brown sugar
1 cup (250 mL) Calvados or applejack brandy
1 cup (250 mL) water
1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds scraped out, seeds and pod reserved
1/2 cup (125 mL) streusel (recipe follows)
8 small sprigs fresh mint
Position an oven rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 325 F (160 C).
With an apple corer, remove the core of each apple, from the top through to the bottom.
Arrange the apples upright in a heavy-duty 10- or 12-inch (25- or 30-cm) nonreactive pot with 4-inch (10-cm) sides. Place 1 cinnamon stick inside the hollowed-out center of each apple.
In a small bowl, stir together the sugar, Calvados or applejack, water, lemon zest, nutmeg and vanilla seeds and pod. Pour the mixture all around the apples. With a sheet of heavy-duty aluminum foil, partially cover the pot. Bring to a boil over high heat on the stovetop.
Carefully seal the pot tightly with foil. Transfer the pot to the oven, and bake until the apples are tender when pierced with a thin skewer, 30 to 35 minutes. Remove the foil very carefully when testing to avoid the steam in the pot. (It's OK if the skin has split on some of the apples).
Remove and discard the vanilla bean pod. Set the apples and their cooking liquid aside to cool until warm or room temperature before serving. Keep the oven set to 325 F (160 C).
Meanwhile, to toast the streusel, spread it on a baking sheet, and bake in the oven until crispy and darkened slightly in color, 5 to 10 minutes, checking carefully to make sure the streusel doesn't burn. Set aside.
To serve, use a large spoon to carefully transfer each apple, with its cinnamon stick still in the center, to an individual serving bowl. Spoon the reserved liquid around the apples. Sprinkle each apple with toasted streusel, and garnish with a mint sprig. Serve immediately.
Makes 1 3/4 cups (435 mL)
1/4 cup (60 mL) unblanched whole almonds
1/3 cup (80 mL) all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Pinch of ground cardamom
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
1/3 cup (80 mL) quick-cooking oats
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 F (175 C).
Spread the almonds on a baking tray, and toast until fragrant and nicely browned, 15 to 18 minutes, turning occasionally with a metal spoon. Set aside to cool. Transfer to a food process with the stainless-steel blade and pulse briefly just until coarsely chopped. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
Put the flour, brown and granulated sugars, cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamom in the food processor. Pulse on and off a few times to combine. Add the butter, and process just until the mixture reaches a uniform coarse, crumbly texture. Transfer to a medium-sized bowl.
Add the oats and almonds to the mixture, and stir just until thoroughly combined. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until ready to use, up to three weeks; or transfer to a freezer container and freeze for up to three months.(c) 2019 WOLFGANG PUCK WORLDWIDE, INC. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.