I'm turning the heat on in my house and preheating my oven today. The heat is on because "baby it's cold outside", and, the oven is on because baby I'm using up the last of our apples. I'm making my version of perhaps the simplest of all Fall apple desserts: an apple crisp. In the event you don't know what it is, it's basically: apple pie filling (no bottom pie pastry) sprinkled with streusel (no top pie pastry) and baked until the apples are cooked and the top is crispy. It's usually served warm, spooned (not sliced) onto a plate, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream to the side of it (not on top of it), to insure the melting ice cream doesn't soften the crunchy topping!
Our forefathers' wives invented a lot of amusing words to define American heritage fruit desserts that do not fall under the category of pie. Here's a quick overview: A crisp is a fruit mixture topped with a crispy crumb or streusel mixture (a streusel contains oats, a crumb does not, which makes it crumbly). If a crisp has a bottom crust, it is called a crunch. If you want to turn a crisp or a crunch into a betty, the fruit gets layered between slices of buttered bread or bread crumbs and spices. To turn a crisp into a cobbler, mix up a rough, "cobbled up" biscuit-like topping and plop/drop it on top of the fruit. For a grunt or a slump (which is very similar to a cobbler), cook the berries on the stovetop and listen to them make an unusual grunting sound while they cook, then watch them slump under the weight of the biscuit topping. To bake a buckle, you need to stir fruit into a buttery-rich, coffeecake-type batter and top it with streusel, then, watch it buckle (sink) in the center as it cools due to the liquid in the fruit. Memorize them:
There might be a quiz at the end of this post!*
Mel's Six Troubleshooting Tips for Making a Top-Notch Crisp:
I'd love to tell you it's impossible to screw up an apple crisp, but, **it happens. To avoid "mushy, murky, watery, uncrisp and/or undercooked", allow me do a bit of trouble shooting for you.
#1) Use your favorite apples, ones you are certain are suited for baking -- for the best flavor, use a combination of tart and sweet apples. I like Granny Smith in combination with McIntosh.
#2) Of course the apples must be cored, but, don't think of leaving them unpeeled -- peel the apples. I think apple peels compromise consistency, texture, presentation and enjoyability.
#3) A little bit of thickener in the filling goes a long way -- use some. Remember, there is no bottom crust to sop up extra moisture. I like to use tapioca, others use flour and/or cornstarch.
#4) Use your favorite streusel topping, but, make sure to use enough of it -- this is the "crisp" part of making apple crisp. I like the added crunch that oats and nuts add so I use them both.
#5) Test for doneness -- if a knife inserted in the center says the apples aren't cooked through, bake it longer. I often cover the top loosely w/foil near the end to protect top from overbrowning.
#6) Serve warm or at room temperature the day apple crisp is made -- if serving it with ice cream, place the ice cream to the side, so as it melts it does not soften the crispy topping.
For the pecan-streusel topping: "Streusel" (STROO-zuhl) is the German word for "something scattered or sprinkled". In baking, it is a crumbly topping for pies, coffeecakes, muffins, and fruit crisps. It's made from a mixture of flour, butter and sugar, and usually a few aromatic spices too, but, it is not uncommon for nuts and/or oats to be added for extra crunch. This is my favorite blend, especially for tart fruit crisps and pies (like apple, cherry, peach or rhubarb).
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup old-fashioned, uncooked oats, not quick-cooking or instant
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup coarsely-chopped pecans or walnuts (Note: Do not use toasted nuts. They will toast in the oven while the crisp bakes.)
Note: If you want to add other spices, instead of just cinnamon, one of my favorite combinations is:
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
~ Step 2. Coarsely chop the nuts as directed. They should be about the same size as the pieces of butter.
Part Two: Preparing the Apple Filling
1 stick salted butter
1 large vanilla bean, split open, seeds removed
2 tablespoons bourbon
1/2 teaspoon apple extract, lemon extract may be substituted
2 pounds peeled, cored and thinly sliced baking apples, your favorite combination of tart and sweet apples (Note: I'm using 4 Granny Smith apples and 2 McIntosh apples. I always start with 4 Granny Smith's. After peeling, coring and slicing, if the weight of these six apples is less than 2 pounds, I make up the difference with an additional McIntosh apple.)
1/2 cup firmly-packed dark brown sugar
2 tablespoon quick-cooking tapioca
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
no-stick cooking spray, for preparing baking dish or casserole
~ Step 1. Using a paring knife, split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise. Open the two halves up, like you would a book, and, using a sharp paring knife, with one long firm motion, run the sharp flat edge of the knife down the center of the "open book" to scrape out all of the seeds. Note: I find it more manageable to cut each half in half to form four shorter lengths.
~ Step 2. Place the stick of butter in a microwave safe container along with the bourbon, the apple extract and all of the vanilla seeds. In microwave over low heat, melt the butter. Set aside to cool. While butter mixture is cooling:
~ Step 3. Prep the apples as directed, placing them in a large bowl as you work. Toss in the brown sugar and the tapioca. Give the mixture a good stir and then add the cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. Lastly, pour and stir in the cooled butter, bourbon, vanilla mixture.
~ Step 4. Spray an 8" x 8" x 2" baking dish or a 2-quart casserole with no-stick spray. Transfer all of the apple mixture to the prepared dish, doing your best to make sure apples are all laying flat in layers. Spoon the streusel topping evenly over the tops of the apples.
~ Step 5. Bake on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven for 55-60 minutes, or, until topping is golden brown, crisp is bubbling, and, a knife inserted into the center indicates the apples are cooked through. Loosely place a piece of aluminum foil over the top at any time after 45 minutes to keep the streusel from burning.
~ Step 6. Remove from oven and place on a cooling rack to cool 45-60 minutes prior to serving warm, or longer, 2-3 hours, prior to serving at room temperature. This crisp will remain remarkably crisp well into the next day if stored at room temperature, uncovered, overnight.
Special Equipment List: pastry blender; paring knife; cutting board; vegetable peeler; chef's knife; 8" x 8" x 2" baking dish or 2-quart oval casserole (au gratin); cooling rack
Cook's Note: For one of my classic recipes, that also uses the same great flavors of pecans, bourbon, vanilla and brown sugar, you can find my recipe for ~ A Holiday Tradition: My Bourbon Street Pecan Pie ~ in Categories 6, 11 or 18. Don't forget the ice cream!
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2014)
*To learn how to make Word Clouds, like the one in this post, check out http://worditout.com