Tag Archives: Apples

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

 

 

Apple Beehive

buzzing with anticipation 4I’m not sure what Elisabeth Prueitt had in mind when she created the Apple Beehive, but my mind immediately went to Rosh Hashanah. For the Jewish New Year, it is customary to dip apples in honey to symbolize our wishes for a sweet year for family, friends and all the Jewish people. There are quite a few sweet options available for us to choose from. Why specifically apples and honey?look at those layers

In researching this question, the interpretation I discovered on the website torah.org, resonated quite strongly with me. Their insight regarding the apple part of the equation, is explained this way:
“On most fruit trees the leaves appear before the fruit, thus providing a protective cover for the young fruit. The apple, however, makes a preemptive move by appearing before the leaves. The Jewish people are compared to an apple because we are willing to live out our Jewish lives even if this seems to leave us unprotected. “

The choice of honey was brilliantly explained with this insight:
“A bee can inflict pain by its sting, yet it also produces delicious honey. Life has this same duality of potential. We pray that our choices will result in a sweet year.”

This dessert is gorgeous in its purity. Gossamer thin slices of apples are shingled with butter, cinnamon and sugar. That’s it. Nothing else. When baked, the apple slices fuse together into a sweet-tart conglomeration that belie its simplicity. This is one of those cases where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The flavours are surprisingly complex for so few ingredients.

A mandoline makes slicing the apples easy. If you have stellar knife skills, you can just use a sharp knife. Granny Smith apples are the perfect choice for this as they are tart and hold their shape when baked.slicing applesBrushing with melted butterIt really looks like a beehive before it goes into the oven.before bakingDuring baking, the apples shrink and caramelize, losing the lofty height it once had. It doesn’t quite resemble a beehive as much after baking, but this is so delicious, no one will complain. Just remember to take a before picture to show everyone!after bakingOnce the beehive comes out of the oven, brush it with some melted apricot jam to give it a glossy coat. glossy from apricot jamDelicious warm or at room temperature, it can be served plain.a naked sliceOr gild the lily and add some vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.with some whipped creamOr do as I did and drizzle it with salted caramel sauce.everything's better with salted caramelWishing you all a happy, healthy and very sweet new year.

Click here to print recipe for Apple Beehive.

 

Multi-Grain Salted Caramel Apple Cake

slice of multi-grain salted caramel apple cake 2 625 sqIt’s time to stop the pumpkin spice insanity! Is it just me or have have you also noticed the proliferation of pumpkin spiced products at this time of year? People are out of their ever loving gourds with pumpkin excitement. I blame Starbucks. They started the trend in 2008 with their Pumpkin Spiced Latte. Breaking news kids, Starbucks has added real pumpkin to their latte this year. Which begs the question, what exactly was in it before? Tim Hortons jumped on the band wagon with a pumpkin spice bagel and latte to guzzle it down with it.

Pumpkin spice m&m’s (just weird), Pumpkin spice Pringles (just plain wrong – cloves and cinnamon have no business sticking their nose into salty chips!), Pumpkin spice doggie treats (no comment!), and Pumpkin Spice scented motor oil (ok, now I’m just messing with you!).

My blogger friend Wendy, over at The Monday Box, loves all things pumpkin, but I don’t hold that against her. Check out her adorable 3-2-1 Pumpkin Spice Chai Latte Cake. She alerted me to the fact that Trader Joe’s has over 40 pumpkin related items this year. If you happen to be a pumpkin lover, head on over and check them out. spooning on salted caramel sauceLet’s celebrate fall the correct way, with apples. This gorgeous multi-grain apple cake was inspired by whole-grains maven Kim Boyce’s Apple Graham Coffee Cake. With three kinds of flour, the texture of this cake is outstanding. Graham flour adds flavour and a pleasant sandy texture, all-purpose flour helps to lighten the graham flour and whole wheat pastry flour adds a tender crumb and nuttiness. getting ready to bakeKim sautéed sliced apples in butter, sugar and cinnamon and added them as a topping to the cake before baking. I decided to dice the apples and toss them, raw, in sugar-cinnamon and mix them into the batter.dicing applesadding apples to batterI used my fancy Bundt pan, because really, who couldn’t use a bit more fancy in their life?

The final change I made to Kim’s coffee cake recipe was to add salted caramel. Everything is better with salted caramel, right? I made a quick sauce with brown sugar, butter, whipping cream and salt. I drizzled some of the sauce right into the raw cake batter and saved the rest to serve on the side. adding cream to caramel sauce This is a very cozy cake, tailor-made for a cool fall day. The graham and whole-wheat pastry flours add a nutty grain-like flavour. Super moist, thanks to the apples and drizzled caramel sauce, this cake is made for snacking. Take that, Pumpkin Pie Pop Tarts!.spooning on salted caramel sauce 3

Click here to print recipe for Multi Grain Salted Caramel Apple Cake.

Winter Farro Salad

in bowl fAlthough I have posted about farro herehere, here, here and here, I am of the opinion that you can never have enough good farro recipes. I just adore this nutty versatile grain. I discovered this winter version in the November 2014 issue of Bon Appetit. Associate Food Editor Claire Saffitz had a similar version at the NYC restaurant Charlie Bird. They simmered the farro in apple cider to infuse it with a lovely tart-sweet essence.apple cidercooked farroThe cooled farro is tossed with crunchy julienned apples and celeriac.celeriacYou have to believe that the first guy to come across one of these gnarly roots was in an extremely weakened and ravenous state. It would have taken quite a leap of faith for someone to come across this in the wild and decide that eating it was a sound idea. 

This knobby root is Celeriac (also known as celery root). I have often come across them in the supermarket, but had no idea how and where to use it. However, in January, when fresh local stuffs is in short supply, you need to go outside your comfort zone and embrace the ugly! Celeriac has a mild delicate taste, rather like a cross between celery and parsley. Beneath that grody exterior lies a heart of snowy white goodness. 

Taming this beast is not difficult. Slice off the top and bottom so it sits flat on the cutting board. Slice around the sides and hack off the brown outer skin. Julienne it for raw salads or cube it for simmering in soup. If you are using it raw in a salad, store it in water with a splash of lemon juice after cutting to prevent it from oxidizing and turning brown.  Drain and mix into salad just before serving.peeling celeriac

cutting celeriac into julienneSalty black olives and shaved Pecorino Romano cheese are added as a welcome balance to the cider sweetened farro. Italian parsley leaves provide a verdant fresh punch. I added some pickled red onions because I love how pickling tames their bite. A final garnish of toasted pine nuts and this salad is ready for it’s closeup!serving bowl 3 625 sq

 Click here to print recipe for Winter Farro Salad.

Traditions and a Brown Butter Apple Tart

two tarts 2 625 sqTraditions. All families have them. Those little rituals passed down from generation to generation that help shape your family by creating a sense of interconnectedness, you know, that warm fuzzy feeling that makes you appreciate being a part of this clan. Traditions can help create memories that fill your mind with laughter, love and joy. Hopefully your family has multiple positive traditions and not too many of the negative ones, that sadly get passed from generation to generation, like the ancient family recipe for guilt and passive-aggressive bullying!

Almost every summer my siblings, their spouses and kids and my mom descend upon us at the cottage for the Labour Day weekend. About eight years ago my youngest sister and brother and I were swimming in the lake and the next thing we knew, we had swum from our cottage to a little island in the middle of our lake, and back again, about a 2 kilometer swim. No one can really remember how the decision to swim this little marathon came about, but we have repeated the swim every summer since then. Lest you think we are elite athletes or something like that, let me assure you we swim the entire way with head-up breaststroke. None of us likes putting our heads in the water. So we talk and laugh, and cough the entire way there and back. My husband insists I wear a waist belt that has a little swimmers safety flag attached to it so that boats can see me and not run me over. He loves me dearly, I guess!the swimmersOver the years, various other family members have joined us and in 2009, my then 9 year old niece did the swim for her very first time! She is part mermaid. Last year my brother’s new wife joined us for the first time and we almost had to boot her out of the club when she started doing a proper crawl stroke and actually got her head wet. This summer she is 7 months pregnant, so we excused her. My brother made up some baseball hamstring injury excuse so he did not join us either. My 14 year old nephew completed the swim for the first time this summer and we were all very thrilled about that.

I have one brother-in-law that is known for his competitive nature. The first year he joined us for the swim, he was upset that my sister and I were swimming faster than he was. He claimed that it was his swim trunks that were slowing him down. Apparently they were not very aerodynamic as they kept filling up with water. Being the keen competitor he is, he removed the swim trunks, and swam commando. We made him promise to never do that again! Every third year, my cousin Lewis joins us, and he has come to treasure this new tradition, as well as the Double Coconut Granola and yogurt breakfast that awaits him when he is done. In addition to my little safety flag, we always have a canoe alongside us just in case someone gets too tired. This year my brother-in-law Guy got coerced into the role of spotter.

Regular readers of this blog may already know that my drink of choice in the summer is a cold glass of Prosecco. While I have no problem drinking alone, (I find my own company very amusing!), cracking open a bottle and sharing it with my sisters is even more enjoyable and has become a tradition that we have all come to love. However, this past weekend we only drank one bottle of Prosecco. We discovered a new wine that we all fell in love with. My siblings and mom brought me a case of assorted wines as a little thank you gift.bottle and glassWe all became smitten with a California wine by Ironstone called “Obsession.”. Made from the Symphony grape (a hybrid of the muscat and grenache gris grape), this wine was luscious. My brother-in-law chilled it in the freezer an hour before we served it. It has floral and citrus notes, with peach and pear overtones. It is clean and balanced with a crisp and slightly acidic finish, which saves the wine from being too cloyingly sweet. It is the perfect aperitif wine. A new tradition has been born!

I decided to test a new Rosh Hashanah recipe over the weekend since I had my niece Kailey here with me. Although she is only 12, she is an extremely gifted baker. She did all the baking and I shot the pictures. We made a brown butter apple tart, a take on the traditional Rosh Hashanah Apple Cake. Browned butter is one of those magical culinary techniques that makes everything taste  and smell better.

kneadingrolling dough

lining tart panlining pie shellThe custard filling is enhanced with vanilla bean and brown butter. It doesn’t get much better than that.  Topped with thinly sliced apple rings, this tart is sure to become a new Rosh Hashanah or fall tradition at your house.apples 2

placing applesbrown butter fillingNot only did my niece bake the tarts, she also helped wash the dishes!washing dishesicing sugar

Click here to print recipe for Brown Butter Apple Tart.

a slice