Category Archives: Crisps, Cobblers and Crumbles

Best Apples for Baking

headerOn the weekend we went apple picking. To clarify, we didn’t actually pick the apples off the trees, but we did pick them off the shelf at Farm Boy, so that sort of counts as apple picking, doesn’t it?

I have been wanting to write a post about the best type of apples to use in baking for some time now. With so many varieties of apples to choose from, it can be a little overwhelming to know which kind to use for which recipe. Although I don’t find choosing apples nearly as confusing as buying a pair of pantyhose. The breadth of choice there is mind boggling.

The perfect apple for pie, crisp or crumble (or any of those other baked apple desserts, such as grunts, slumps and pan dowdies) must be capable of holding its shape after cooking but still melt in your mouth. Equally important is that elusive perfect balance of tart and sweet.

We bought 7 varieties of apples.apple varieties 5
I took a scientific approach to testing, just like they do over at Cook’s Illustrated, which, by the way, just might be my dream job. I got out my scale and measuring spoons and peeled, cored and cut into wedges, exactly 9.5 ounces of each apple variety. I didn’t want to overwhelm the apples with too many flavours so I kept it basic. Each variety was mixed with 1 tablespoon sugar, 1 teaspoon lemon juice, 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon and a tiny pinch of salt. Initially I planned to bake the apples naked.sugar lemon and cinnamon3 varieties4 varietiesWhen I explained my methodology to my husband he said, “You mean you’re just going to bake plain apples, with nothing covering them??” I explained that I didn’t want to have too many other flavours muddying up my experiment. I took one look at his crestfallen face and abandoned my “pure” approach and agreed to cover the apples with crisp topping. It doesn’t take much to make that man happy.crisp toppingInto the oven they went, dressed with their almond-oat crisp topping. baked 1baked 2Here are the findings of our very scientific testing!

Highly Recommended :

Honeycrisp: Undeniably, these are my favourite apple for eating out of hand. They are shatteringly crisp, juicy and slightly sweet.

When we baked them they held their shape, but just barely. They literally melted in the mouth. The apple flavour was complex. My husband declared the crisp baked with honeycrisp apples to be his favourite. I liked it but found the flavour to be a bit too sweet.

Russet Apples: I just learned that these are not actually a single variety of apple. “Russetting” naturally happens to some varieties of apples. The skin becomes discoloured and somewhat leathery. As an eating apple, I find the skin to be tough, but the flesh, while not as juicy as honeycrisp, can best be described as powerfully “apple-y”. Russetts are an under appreciated apple. 

When baked, the russet apples were not as meltingly tender as the honeycrisp, but I really enjoyed their more gently yielding texture. The flavour of the russet was the most complex and balanced of all the apples I tasted. Slightly sweet but with a bit of tartness. Russets were my number one pick.

Recommended:

Granny Smith: Eaten out of hand, Granny Smiths are crunchy and quite tart, with a bright tangy apple flavour.

Once baked, they held their shape but the texture was quite soft. The flavour of these was more tart, not as “apple-y” as our 2 winners, but still, I wouldn’t object if someone served me a pie made with Granny Smiths.

Don’t Bother:

Pink Lady: Secretly I was hoping this varietal would be the winner. I mean, Pink Lady is an awesome name for an apple. As the name suggest, these have a lovely pink blush which turns into a deeper red with sun exposure. They are delicious to eat out of hand. They have great crunch and start off tasting slightly tart but end with a sweet finish. These apples have a surprisingly concentrated burst of flavour. 

My Pink Lady crush was over once we baked these. They were the firmest of the bunch, almost to the point of chewy. The apples barely gave off any juice, making for a dry apple crisp, never a good thing. The flavour was more sweet than tart and seemed to have lost it’s apple-y nuances once baked.

Empire: This varietal is a cross between McIntosh and Red Delicious apples. Eaten out of hand, this varietal shows off the best of both its parents- crunch from the Red Delicious and tartness from the Macintosh.

Once baked, the Empire apple failed miserably. They became quite mushy, almost to the point of apple sauce. The heat of the oven caused the sugar level to soar and any signs of tartness were gone.

Lobo: Lobos are an Eastern Ontario apples. I had never heard of them until I net my husband and moved to Ottawa. These are the apples of his childhood. An offspring of Macintosh, early Lobos are crisp and tart, but they sweeten considerably as they are stored.

When my husband tasted the baked crisp, he immediately identified it as the one made with Lobo apples. The texture was quite soft, almost mushy. The flavour was pleasant but far too sweet.

Gala: A New Zealand creation, Gala apples are known for their mild sweet flavor and crunch. They are thin skinned and the flesh has a grainy texture.

Once baked, gala apples go quite mushy. They lose their distinct apple taste and the grainy texture is quite unpleasant.tasting 1Tasting all these crisps was hard work, but we were happy to do it for you. The dynamic combo of Russett and Honeycrisp apples are about to become my go to pair for all baked apple desserts.

Click here for my favourite Apple Crisp recipe.

lobo baked

 

 

Roasted Peaches with Ricotta Buttercream

five roasted peachesMy Instagram feed is starting to fill up with everything pumpkin. It won’t be long before the pumpkin spice fairies start sprinkling that crap on everything. Come on guys, it’s only early September. There are still amazing local peaches at my market. Let’s take our time and go slowly into fall. peachesThis was my “Summer of Ricotta.” Arguably, not quite as much fun as the Summer of George, but still pretty great. I taught my friends how to make homemade ricotta. I felt like a science teacher. There is something quite magical about watching the curds separating from the whey. I ended up making it almost every week. We ate it on toast with peaches and honey, with garlic roasted tomatoes and with strawberries and almonds. We ate it stirred into hot pasta and then we whipped it with feta and cream cheese for a dip.

Brooks Headley, former pastry chef at Del Posto in NYC, created this recipe. This is my take on it. He topped the peaches with a crispy panko breadcrumb topping. I went a little rogue and made a crumble topping with Biscoff (Speculoos) cookies, pistachios and butter. If you can’t find  Biscoff cookies, you could use graham wafers or gingersnap cookies.

The peaches are poached in the oven in a mixture of equal parts white wine vinegar and honey. This combination is brilliant. It coats the peaches and the residual liquid cooks down to a thick syrup that is ambrosial.

Check out the video I made to show you how to make these peaches.

 

two roasted peaches

Click here to print recipe for Roasted Peaches with Ricotta Buttercream.

one roasted peachtake a bite

 

Strawberry Raspberry Cobbler

Serving cobblerBaskets of local strawberries are overflowing at Farmers Markets all over Ontario this month. I usually exercise no restraint and buy way more than we can possibly eat. Then, I’m left with a fridge full of almost rotting fruit. I blame my mother for this. I grew up in a house where we had a storage room filled with bulging shelves because she never want to run out of anything. We had enough extra toilet paper, KD and canned white tuna (packed in water) to survive for a year without ever having to leave the house.
strawberries and raspberriesBut this week, I showed great self-control and deliberately bought just one quart, exactly what we need for our morning yogurt, berries and double coconut granola. However, my son’s room-mate Polly arrived for dinner on Friday night, with a 3-quart basket of plump local strawberries. So sweet! We ate strawberries with every meal that weekend, but still had a quart of soft berries left over on Sunday night.

I was about to freeze the extra berries when my husband asked, “why don’t you just bake me a fruit crisp instead?” Why not indeed? Since I have already blogged about my favourite crisp recipe, I wanted to try something new. Maybe a crumble, a pan-dowdy, a grunt, a slump, a buckle, a Betty, a sonker or a cobbler.

I decided to turn them into a cobbler. I had never made one before and it couldn’t be easier. While a crisp involves stopping of flour, butter, sugar, oats and sometimes nuts, a cobbler is basically a biscuit dough that gets dropped into clumps on top of the fruit and is then baked. Large cobblestone-like nuggets of crunchy dough to soak up all that warm sweet juicy fruit. Are you with me?

I decided on a mix of strawberries and raspberries. Mix the fruit with just a bit of sugar and some thickener. I like Minit Tapioca better than flour or cornstarch. Let the berries, sugar and tapioca sit for about 15 minutes so that the tapioca can dissolve. berries, sugar and tapiocaThe fruit gets a head start in the oven while you prepare the biscuit dough. The original recipe calls for buttermilk, but I never have buttermilk when I need it. I just mixed some milk with a bit of lemon juice to sour it and made my own buttermilk. Flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, melted butter and buttermilk are quickly mixed together for form a dough. The cornmeal adds a satisfying little crunch to the dough.
Ready to make cobbler doughDivide the dough into 8 pieces and drop the clumps onto the hot cobbler. Top with cinnamon sugar and bake for another 20 minutes.
topping fruit with cobbler doughShow some restraint and wait about 20 minutes before you dig in.Just baked 1No one will complain if you add a scoop of vanilla ice cream or some softly whipped cream on the side. Any leftover keeps very well for a second day. Keep cobbler uncovered on the counter so the biscuits stay crunchy. You can warm it up in a 350°F oven for a few minutes if you like.With whipped cream and tea 1 625 sq

Click here to print recipe for Strawberry Raspberry Cobbler.

half eaten

Peach Berry Crisp and the difference between sons and daughters

crisp for 1 625 sqWith summer fruit this perfect, it’s best to not mess with it too much. Keep it simple. I love summerThis has been my go-to crisp topping since scrunchies and shoulder pads were all the rage. I love it on apples in the fall, pears and cranberries in the winter and strawberry and rhubarb in the spring. I always have a bag of the topping stashed in the freezer for a quick dessert.  crisp toppingtopping in food processor 1topping in food processor 2To thicken the juices in the crisp I like to use Minit Tapioca. Depending on the sweetness of the fruit I add between 2-4 tablespoons of sugar. adding minit tapiocacovering with toppingI have made this crisp topping so many times I could practically prepare it in my sleep. But still, you need to pay attention. Here is my cautionary tale of what can happen when you go on auto-pilot in the kitchen.

A few years ago I made the crisp with fall apples and served it after dinner. My children dug in immediately. My daughter took one bite and said, “This is disgusting!!” I looked over at my oldest son. He was diligently shoveling in the apple crisp, but not at his usual alarming speed. With his mouth full he said, in a kind voice, “Well mom, it’s ok, but it’s not as good as usual.” I reached for his spoon and took a bite for myself. I almost choked. My daughter was right, it was horrible. I had been rushing around the kitchen that afternoon, trying to do too many things at once and I guess I wasn’t paying attention. I had mistakenly mixed the apples with salt instead of sugar. And therein lies the difference between sons and daughters. You can always count on your daughter to be brutally honest with you, while your son will soften the truth to protect your feelings!waiting for it to coolWarm from the oven or room temperature, this crisp is a wonderful way to pay homage to summer fruit. share with friends

Click here to print recipe for Peach Berry Crisp.

share with friends 3