Peter Meehan recently ranted about hectoring food snobs, the ones who make you feel bad for putting milk in your coffee (something he witnessed at an elite coffee shop) or who mock you for not knowing your various kinds of meat (hogget, anyone?) It’s with a sense of subtle restraint, then, that I gently prod you (I’m not hectoring, I swear) to make your way to a farmer’s market this autumn to buy some apples.
Not because it’ll make you a better person (it won’t) or because it’ll elevate your foodie status (whatever that might be), but because farmer’s market apples just taste better than supermarket apples. All you have to do to experience the difference is taste.
Taste them raw, and you’ll notice that a fresh farmer’s market apple is more nuanced–has more going on–than your typical supermarket apple. But the real way to taste the difference is to choose a variety of esoteric farmer’s market apples to bake into a dessert; as they combine in the oven, shades of apple flavor that you didn’t know existed before will combine to produce an apple dessert unlike any you’ve had before. Winesap merges with Macoun, Honeycrisp meets Northern Spy and Cortland enters an Empire State of Mind. This is apple nirvana.
Of course, as a non-hectoring food snob, I too get lazy. The previous paragraph is referring to the apple cobbler that comprises the third dessert in the trio of apple desserts I’m about to share; I made it for a dinner party and though I’d made it before using just supermarket Granny Smiths (see this old post), what made my guests swoon this time around was the wild array of farmer’s market apples that I used for the filling. (Winesap being the predominant apple force.)
In my lazy state, I did indeed use supermarket apples to make Dorie Greenspan’s apple cake from her glorious new book, “Around My French Table.” This book is so terrific, my problem isn’t “what do I cook from it next?” but “if I keep cooking from this book as often as I want to, at what point will Dorie get mad that I’m sharing all of her recipes on my blog!”
To prove that point, the baked apples also come from Dorie’s book. These apples did come from the farmer’s market; they too were Winesap:
Only, I’m not sure that Winesap was the best choice for a baked apple. It never really broke down the way I wanted it to (the texture, according to Dorie, should be soft enough that you can cut it with a spoon). But Dorie’s recipe is so winning (you stuff it with dried fruit and nuts and honey) that, at the end of the day, it didn’t really matter. With a dollop of yogurt (see lead photo) this was such a brilliant afternoon snack, Craig didn’t even want to eat dinner afterwards.
So use these next three recipes as a prompt to get yourself to the farmer’s market, to load up on apples and to bake your way through these apple-happy months. Even if you get lazy and end up with supermarket apples, there’s no need to feel bad about yourself: as long as you’re baking with apples in autumn, you’re a winner in my book.
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from Dorie Greenspan’s “Around My French Table”
4 apples, preferably Rome, Beauty or Cortland (or your favorite apple)
1 slice lemon
About 1/2 cup coarsely chopped dried assorted fruits, such as raisins, figs, prunes, dates, apricots and/or cherries [I used prunes and raisins]
About 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped nuts [I used pecans and almonds]
1 1/2 tablespoons honey, or to taste
Pinch of fleur de sel (optional)
Pinch of ground cinnamon, nutmeg, or ginger (optional)
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
2/3 cup apple cider or water
Plain or vanilla yogurt, heavy cream, creme fraiche or vanilla ice cream, for topping (optional)
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Have a baking dish at hand: you want a dish that can hold the apples comfortably but snugly (a 9- or 10-inch deep dish Pyrex pie pan works well.)
Core the apples, making sure not to cut through the bottoms. [I used a paring knife for this and did a lot of digging/gutting.] Peel the apples down to the halfway mark; don’t toss away the peels. Make a very shallow cut around each apple at the point where the peel begins [this prevents them from bursting.] Rub the cut parts of the apples with the slice of lemon.
In a small bowl, mix together the dried fruits, nuts, and honey; add the salt and spice, if you’re using them.
Cut 2 tablespoons of the butter into 8 pieces and put a piece of butter inside each apple. Divide the fruit-and-nut mixture among the apples, then top each with another piece of butter.
Arrange the apples in the baking dish and pour in the cider or water. Cut the remaining 2 tablespoons butter into bits and scatter the bits over the cider, then toss in the reserved peels [I’m not sure why Dorie has you do this? Are you supposed to eat the peels after?]
Slide the baking dish into the oven and bake the apples, basting them every 15 minutes, for 50 to 75 minutes, until they are tender. (I can’t give you a more precise estimate of the time because it will depend on the size and type of your apples–so check early and often.) Don’t go for al dente — the apples should be spoon-tender.
Transfer the apples to a serving platter or individual small bowls. If you’d like, pour the baking juices into a saucepan and boil for a few minutes to make a more concentrated sauce; set aside. Let the apples cool for about 10 minutes, or until they reach room temperature.
Serve the apples moistened with the pan sauce, and, if desired, topped with yogurt, cream, creme fraiche, or ice cream.
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Marie-Helene’s Apple Cake
also from Dorie Greenspan’s “Around My French Table”
[Note: that’s my friend and neighbor Rob consuming some cake.]
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
4 large apples (if you can, choose 4 different kinds) [these are 4 different kinds from the supermarket]
2 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons dark rum [I didn’t have rum so I used Bourbon, which worked great!]
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Generously butter an 8-inch springform pan. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper and put the springform on it.
Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a small bowl.
Peel the apples, cut them in half, and remove the cores. Cut the apples into 1- to 2-inch chunks.
In a medium bowl, beat the eggs with a whisk until they’re foamy. Pour in the sugar and whisk for a minute or so to blend. Whisk in the rum and vanilla. Whisk in half the flour and, when it is incorporated, add half the melted butter, followed by the rest of the flour and the remaining butter, mixing gently after each addition so that you have a smooth, rather thick batter. Switch to a rubber spatula and fold in the apples, turning the fruit so that it’s coated with batter.
Scrape the mix into the pan and poke it around a little with the spatula so that it’s evenish.
Slide the pan into the oven and bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the top of the cake is golden brown and a knife inserted deep into the center comes out clean; the cake may pull away from the sides of the pan. Transfer to a cooling rack and let rest for 5 minutes.
Carefully run a blunt knife around the edges of the cake and remove the sides of the springform pan. (Open the springform slowly, and before it’s fully opened, make sure there aren’t any apples stuck to it.) Allow the cake to cool until it is just slightly warm or at room temperature. If you want to remove the cake from the bottom of the springform pan, wait until the cake is almost cooled, then run a long spatula between the cake and the pan, cover the top of the cake with a piece of parchment or wax paper and invert it onto a rack. Carefully remove the bottom of the pan and turn the cake over onto a serving dish.
Note: I dusted it with powdered sugar. Here, I cut you a slice:
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Adam’s Favorite Apple Cobbler
from an old issue of Saveur
For the apples:
1/2-3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp freshly grated nuteg
2 pinches ground cloves
3 Tbsp. honey
1/4 cup apple cider
Juice of 1 lemon
12 cortland or other sweet tart cooking apples, peeled, cored and sliced [I used a combination of Winesap, Empire and Granny Smiths; here are the apples reporting for duty]
6 Tbs. butter, cut into small pieces
For the topping:
2 cups flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. baking powder
10 Tbsp. cold butter, cut into pieces
1/2 cup rolled oats
6 Tbs. heavy cream
Vanilla ice cream
1. For the apples: preheat oven to 325. Combine granulated sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, honey, cider, and lemon juice in a large bowl. [I just did it in the baking pan.]
Add apples and toss well. Put apple mixture into a large baking dish in an even layer, scatter with butter.
Bake, gently stirring once or twice, until apples begin to soften and release their juices, about 30 minutes. Set apples aside to cool for 30 minutes.
[Note: if you’re having a dinner party, do this part ahead, it’ll keep the apples from browning. Then, when you serve your entree, add the topping and finish baking. Your apartment will fill with a great apple smell and your guests will be like “Whoah!”]
2. For the topping: sift flour, sugar, salt and baking powder together into a medium bowl. Using a pastry cutter or 2 table knives, work butter into flour mixture until it resembles coarse meal flecked with pea-size pieces of butter. Stir in oats. Add cream, stirring until just combined.
3. Increase oven temperature to 375. Scatter topping over apples in a broad band around inside edge of dish, leaving apples in center of dish exposed. Bake until topping is golden brown, about 45 minutes.
Allow to cool at least 15 minutes before serving. Serve with ice cream.