Autumn brings an abundance of fresh, ripe, local and delicious apples.
Apples might be available year-round these days, but they're at their best right now, not least because there are more varieties to choose from in the fall, especially if you take advantage of your neighbourhood farmers market or visit one of those pickyour-own orchards.
Everyone has his favourite - Ginger Golds, Honey Crisps, Granny Smiths for instance. Me, I go with Golden Delicious - said to be the second most popular apple variety. When this apple is baked, its flavour intensifies and becomes honey-like.
All varieties have their strong points. Some, like the Honey Crisp, are perfect right off the tree - juicy, with a snappy texture. Others don't begin to shine until they are cooked. Granny Smith and Rome apples hold their shape perfectly in the oven, while Macintosh fall completely apart (which, happily, make them great candidates for applesauce).
You can use any type for my apple cranberry brulÃ©e. Just pick the one or two kinds you like best.
Preparing this recipe is surprisingly easy. I peel the apples, halve them by cutting down through the stem end, remove the core with a melon baller (a good little trick to remember), then thinly slice them to speed up the baking time. Baking the apples, rather than sautÃ©ing them, allows me to avoid adding any extra fat (aside from the egg yolk).
I flavour the apples with maple syrup and brandy. I recommend Grade B maple syrup, if you can find it. It is harvested at the end of the season and is much darker in colour than Grade A. It also is more flavourful and, usually, cheaper. I don't just use Grade B in baking, I put it on everything. As for the brandy, if you want to lose it, feel free. This dish is plenty tasty without it.
This treat is a cross between a baked pancake, a soufflÃ© and a creme brulÃ©e. It has an eggy topping, reminiscent of a pancake, but the egg white in the topping has been beaten to soft peaks, which makes it lighter and airier.
In the end, it is sprinkled with sieved brown sugar and popped back in the oven until it gets a dark brown crust that tastes like the burnt sugar on the famous custard. The finished product embodies the best of three great recipes, though nothing outshines the apples.
APPLE CRANBERRY BRULÃE
Start to finish: 1 hour 10 minutes (30 minutes active) Servings: 6
2 medium apples (about 1 pound), peeled, cored, quartered and thinly sliced
1/3 cup dried cranberries, cherries or raisins
5 Tbsp maple syrup (preferably Grade B), divided
3 Tbsp brandy, bourbon or rum, divided (optional)
1 large egg yolk
1 Tbsp cornstarch 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Pinch table salt 2 large egg whites, room temperature
2 Tbsp dark brown sugar
Heat the oven to 450 F.
In a 9-inch round shallow baking dish, combine the apples, cranberries, 2 Tbsp of the maple syrup and 2 Tbsp of the brandy, if using. Cover the baking dish with foil and bake in the middle of the oven for 35 to 40 minutes, or until a paring knife goes through the apples very easily.
Remove the apples from the oven and increase the oven heat to 500 F.
While the apples are baking, in a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolk, remaining 3 Tbsp maple syrup, remaining Tbsp of brandy, the cornstarch, vanilla and salt. Set aside.
Once the apples are tender, in another medium bowl, beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Stir one half of the whites into the yolk mixture, then gently but thoroughly fold in the remaining whites. Spread the mixture evenly over the top of the apples.
Place the brown sugar in a mesh sieve. Hold the sieve above the egg topping and press the sugar through it to evenly sprinkle it over the topping.
Bake the dessert in the top third of the oven until nicely browned, about 2 minutes. Serve right away.
Sara Moulton was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years, and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows. Her three cookbooks include Sara Moulton's Everyday Family Dinners.