Two Years Ago: Spicy Homemade Peanut Butter
As I write, the kitchen is filled with the heady aromas of apples and cinnamon - one of the most heavenly smells there are, right up there with fresh bread - the type of smell that reminds you of childhood, of Sunday dinners at Grandma's house, of holidays with a big family gathering. Why don't we make those kinds of foods more often? The ones that not only taste delicious, but are so evocative that just one whiff instantly reminds you of other times, places, and beloved people.
I knew I wanted to make a classic apple recipe this fall, and apple crisp seemed the most appropriate. Easier to make than an apple pie, I actually prefer it to pie because of the crisp, crunchy topping that contrasts so well with the tender apples. I went on a search to determine what makes the best apple crisp, and found to no one's great surprise that it's all about the apples. There's a general consensus out there in expert apple-crisp land that you should use firm apples so they don't fall apart and become apple sauce while cooking, and further more you should use a combination of sweet and tart apples for the best flavor.
Rome Beauty, Honey Crisp and Crispin are all easy to find and are good firm sweet apples. The ever-popular Granny Smith or Jonathan are good firm tart apples. I used a combination of Honey Crisp and Granny Smith for my apple crisp.
After baking, the apple slices were tender but held together without breaking at all.
There are two other important components to this recipe - cinnamon and nuts. Use the best quality cinnamon you can find; throw it away and buy a fresh bottle if it's been open on your shelf longer than 6 months. I always buy my spices at Penzeys for the best selection, freshest spices, and lowest prices. Don't ever skimp on your spices.
The second point is to put nuts in the crumb topping - this recipe calls for sliced almonds but I think a combination of almonds and pecans would be just as good. They add a depth of flavor and additional crunch to the topping that puts it over the top.
It's a fun recipe to make with someone else because two pairs of hands make light work of peeling, coring and slicing the apples. After that, you simply mix the topping and bake. Apple crisp is wonderful when slightly warm, but if you want to make it in advance you can always warm up the individual serving in the microwave before serving (all the better to melt the ice cream!).
The apple crisp was sweet without being too sweet, and had a light cinnamon note that let the apples be the star (along with that great crunchy topping). It was truly the perfect recipe in terms of balance and taste. You can serve it plain, with cream or ice cream, or my latest inspiration - served cold for breakfast with a little Greek yogurt on top. When was the last time you had homemade apple crisp?
Perfect Apple Crisp
Note: Use a combination of sweet and tart apples that stay firm when baked. Rome Beauty, Honey Crisp, or Crispin are good sweet choices; Granny Smith or Jonathan are good tart choices.
6 apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced (see note above)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon table salt
2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup old-fashioned rolled oats (not quick-cooking)
½ cup sliced almonds (or combination of almonds and chopped pecans)
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
1/3 cup butter, melted
Heavy cream or vanilla ice cream for serving, optional
Preheat oven to 375d. Spray a 9x9-inch or comparable baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.
In a large bowl or plastic zip-top bag, combine granulated sugar, cornstarch, ¼ teaspoon cinnamon, and ¼ teaspoon salt. Add apples and lemon juice and toss to coat. Pile into prepared dish and even out the top with a spoon.
In a large bowl combine all topping ingredients and mix with a fork or your hands until the mixture is fully combined. Sprinkle mixture evenly over the apples.
Place the baking dish on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until the apples are tender and the topping is golden brown, 45-55 minutes. Let rest 10 minutes before serving.
Serve warm or at room temperature, topped with cream or ice cream if desired.