Tag Archives: Fall Desserts

Pear Fritters

on gold platter 1As if I really needed another reason to be grateful that I am a Canadian and not an American citizen, I found one. The mighty tonka bean!  Turns out they are illegal in America, but perfectly safe to purchase here in Canada.

Tonka beans are a major source of coumarin, a highly aromatic organic chemical compound naturally occurring in many plants, including cassia cinnamon, lavender, and bison grass. The fear and confusion stem from the fact that coumarin is used in the production of Coumadin®, a blood thinner. But the chemical structure of coumarin is changed when it is used in the production of Coumadin®. Coumarin, naturally occurring in tonka beans and other plants will not act as a blood thinner. Yet, the FDA has banned tonka beans. Interestingly enough, they have not put a ban on any other plant naturally containing coumarin. tonka beansI discovered tonka beans while I was in Charleston South Carolina last month. I attended a cooking class and the chef whipped out a vial of contraband tonka bean. When we asked him how he got his hands on them he just smiled and said, “I have a guy.”

They grow in South America. While tiny in size, only 1-inch long, they are huge in aroma and flavour. They are reminiscent of vanilla, cloves, and cinnamon with a hint of nuttiness reminding me of almonds. To use them, they must be grated, much like whole nutmeg. A microplane grater does a great job of this.

I like Bosc or red or green Anjou pears for this dessert. They have a denser flesh than other pear varieties. They become more tender when fried, but they don’t turn to mush. horizontal pearsI left the peel on and just sliced them vertically so that each slice retained its pear shape. A basic fritter batter contains flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, egg, butter or oil and usually water or milk. To bump up the pear flavour I used pear cider for my liquid. I added half a grated tonka bean to the batter. If you can’t get tonka beans, add a bit of vanilla and almond extract to the batter. The second half of the grated tonka bean gets mixed into the sugar-cinnamon for topping the fried fritters.

Heat the oil to about 375°F for optimal frying. You want a crispy golden crust and a tender interior. They only take 2-3 minutes per side to fry.

Have a baking sheet lined with paper towels as well as your grated tonka bean-cinnamon sugar mixture ready before you start frying. Make sure to sprinkle with the topping while the fritters are still hot. Even if you omit the tonka bean, these fritters are freaking delicious. A burnished golden brown outer crust gives way to the sweet and creamy pear encased in the center.Sifting cinnamon and sugar 1They would be delicious with a cold glass of pear cider.on gold platter bite takenCould be a fun substitute for sufganiyah this year at Chanukah!fritters for 2

Click here for the recipe for Pear fritters.

Cider Glazed Apple Bundt Cake

with whole and sliced applesI happen to have a surplus of apples, so we’re baking apple cake around here this week. I have my go-to my favourite apple cake recipe, but I was intrigued by this recipe from the September issue of Cook’s Illustrated magazine. In addition to the apples in the batter, they added apple cider to the batter and glaze. A full litre of apple cider is reduced down to one cup to really concentrate the flavour.

The recipe fills a large 12 cup bundt pan, but because I can’t resist anything mini, I used my bundlette pan. I also made a small loaf with the leftover batter. loaf and minissingle miniThe batter comes together quickly. You don’t even have to bust out the mixer.

The baked cake gets brushed with some of that reduced cider and the remaining cider is mixed with icing sugar to create a yummy glaze.drizzling glaze 1

Click here to print the recipe for Cider Glazed Apple Bundt Cake.

with tea

 

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.

 

Gingerbread Autumn Leaves (Gluten-Free)

drying-on-black-background-72-dpiWhile the leaves have already finished falling where I live, I couldn’t resist making these gorgeous edible ones. It’s just too soon to start making winter cookies. I refuse to get sucked into that vortex this early in the season.  I wanted to make the cookies gluten free since one of my sons follows a gluten- free diet and I was curious to try out Bob’s Red Mill 1 to 1 Gluten Free Baking Flour. It is a blend of white rice flour, brown rice flour, potato starch, sorghum flour, tapioca flour, and xanthan gum. You just substitute it cup for cup in your regular recipes.

I was inspired by Elizabeth over at  lizybakes and crouton crackerjacks on youtube.

Roll out dough between two sheets of parchment paper and freeze for about 30 minutes before trying to cut out shapes.rolling-out-doughI got some beautiful copper cutters from coppergiftscom. They have thousands of different shapes. If you are a cookie lover it is easy to spend lots of time (and money!) over at their site. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. cutting-out-leavesI mixed up 4 colours of royal icing for my leaves. The formula to get these colours is in the recipe at the end of this post. I like to place the piping bags in a tall drinking glass. I place a crumpled up dampened paper towel in the bottom of each glass too keep the icing from drying out and getting all crusty, once you cut a hole in the piping bag. autumn-coloursYou can only decorate one cookie at a time as the icing must be wet to create the marbling effect. You will need toothpicks and a paper towel to wipe the toothpick off after dragging it through the wet icing. ready-to-pipeI created a video to show the technique.

The cookies will need to dry overnight before you can package them up. They will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 weeks. drying-on-wire-rackPerfect with a glass of milk or an afternoon latte!cookies-and-latte-72-dpi

Click here to print recipe for gluten-free-gingerbread-autumn-leaves.

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