From Ambrosias To Elstars: An Apple Lover's Guide To Apples

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Right before our interview with her, Amy Traverso bought a few heirloom apples at a farmer's market in Boston.

She picked up some Elstars and a variety she had never tasted before, Swiss Gourmet. You may have guessed that Amy's favorite fruit is the apple, and she features more than a dozen varieties in her new book, "The Apple Lover's Cookbook."

The book features recipes for pies and cobblers, and for main courses like pork and apple pie or curried apple hash.

Find those recipes, plus others for Dutch Baby, a.k.a the German pancake, Free-Form Apple-Pear-Cranberry Tart, Apple and Mustard Grilled Cheese Sandwiches, Vermont Apple Cider Donuts and Pork and Apple Pie with Cheddar-Sage Crust, below.

Bacon-Wrapped Dates with Curried Apple Hash (pdf/printer friendly)

[sidebar title="Amy's Note" width="600" align="center"]Chef Will Gilson serves these delectable hors d’oeuvres at his Cambridge, Massachusetts, restaurant, Garden at the Cellar. He created them for his fall menu, but found that any attempts to take them off the roster during the warm weather months were met with howls of outrage. And so they remain. The genius lies in combining dates and bacon—one of the best of all food pairings—with a sweet-savory mix of grated apples, onion, and curry.[/sidebar]

Apple Notes: The hash calls for a very tart green apple, such as Granny Smith, Rhode Island Greening, or Roxbury Russet. (See page 30 for more firm-tart apple varieties.)

Notes: Applewood-smoked bacon is ideal for this dish, but any thick-cut bacon will work well. Medjool dates are available at most supermarkets and Whole Foods stores.

Equipment: 12-inch heavy-bottomed skillet or sauté pan; 12 toothpicks; mandoline (optional)
Makes: 6 servings • Active time: 35 minutes • Total time: 50 minutes

For the dates
12 slices thick-cut bacon (see Notes)
¼ cup (55 g) fresh goat cheese
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
12 Medjool dates, pitted (see Notes)

For the hash
¼ cup (60 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup (70 g) finely chopped white onion
4 large firm-tart apples (about 2 pounds total; see Apple Notes) peeled, cored, and cut into matchsticks using a knife or mandoline
1 tablespoon curry powder
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh chives
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1• Prep the dates: In the skillet, cook the bacon over medium heat until just beginning to brown around the edges but still pink and soft, 6 to 8 minutes. Set aside. In a small bowl, stir together the goat cheese and rosemary.

2• Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Stuff a bit of cheese mixture into each date, then wrap each one with a bacon slice and secure with a toothpick. Set aside.

3• Make the hash: Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium heat, then add the onion and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the apples to the pan and cook until they are limp, about 5 minutes. Add the curry powder, chives, salt, and pepper, then stir and let sit over low heat.

4• Bake the dates until the bacon is fully cooked, 6 to 8 minutes. Remove the toothpicks. Divide the hash among six plates, then top with dates, two per plate.

Dutch Baby (pdf/printer friendly)

[sidebar title="Amy's Note" width="600" align="center"]Also called a German pancake, this egg-leavened breakfast dish is like a sweeter version of Yorkshire pudding and a close cousin of the popover. I love it because it solves my eternal breakfast dilemma, providing the sweetness of pancakes, without the sleepiness that follows an all-carb feast. It also takes very little time to make, but looks so impressive, all golden and puffed up, when you bring it to the table.[/sidebar]
Apple Notes: A sweeter apple pleases my morning taste buds better than an acidic one. Favorite firm-sweet varieties include Baldwin, Ginger Gold, Gravenstein, Honeycrisp, Jazz, and Piñata.

12-inch cast iron or other heavy-bottomed skillet

Makes: 4 servings • Active time: 20 minutes • Total time: 35 minutes

¾ cup (110 g) all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons (43 g) unsalted butter
1½ large firm-sweet apples (about 12 ounces total; see Apple Notes) peeled, cored, and cut into ⅛-inch-thick rings
5 large eggs
1 cup (240 ml) whole or 2% milk
Confectioners’ sugar for sprinkling
Lemon wedges

1• Sift the flour into a medium bowl, then stir in the sugar, cinnamon, and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs and milk for about 1 minute; the mixture should be frothy and drizzle from the whisk in a thin stream. Set aside.

2• Preheat the oven to 425ºF and set a rack in the middle position. Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Lay the apple slices in the butter and cook, without stirring, for 2 minutes. Gently flip the slices and cook until tender, about 2 more minutes.

3• Working quickly, add the flour mixture to the egg mixture and whisk just to combine. Pour the batter into the hot skillet with the apples, then transfer the skillet to the oven. Bake until the pancake is puffed and golden, 10 to 14 minutes. Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar and serve immediately from the skillet, with lemon wedges to squirt over the top.

Pork and Apple Pie with Cheddar-Sage Crust (pdf/printer friendly)

[sidebar title="Amy's Note" width="600" align="center"]My editor, Maria Guarnaschelli, suggested this recipe, based on her memory of a savory pie served at a London pub. One half of the pie was filled with pork and the other with apples. As I later learned, that dish has its roots in an eighteenth-century workingman’s lunch called the Bedfordshire Clanger—a hand-held pie filled with meat on one end and jam on the other. It was a compact way to serve lunch and dessert in one package. In adapting this idea to my own taste, I decided to layer apples on top of a spiced ground pork filling, rather than setting the two ingredients side by side. The flavors are fantastic together, and this dish has been the hit of many parties. It makes an especially good buffet option, as it can be served warm or at room temperature.[/sidebar]

Apple Notes: As with all pie recipes, you want firm fruit here (see page 30). Some good examples: Granny Smith, Arkansas Black, and Northern Spy for tart apples; and Golden Delicious, Jazz, or Pink Lady for sweet ones.
Equipment: 10- to 12-inch skillet; food processor; 9-inch deep-dish pie plate, preferably glass; parchment paper or wax paper.

Makes: 8 to 10 servings • Active time: 1 hour • Total time: 2 hours

For the crust

2½ cups (350 g) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons dried sage, finely crumbled
½ teaspoon table salt
16 tablespoons (2 sticks; 255 g) chilled unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
3 ounces (85 g) sharp Cheddar cheese, finely grated
6 to 8 tablespoons (90 to 120 ml) ice water
1 egg blended with 1 tablespoon water
Fresh sage leaves for garnish (optional)

For the filling
1½ pounds (about 3 large) firm-sweet apples (see Apple Notes), unpeeled, cored, and cut into ¼-inch-thick wedges
1½ pounds (about 3 large) firm-tart apples, unpeeled, cored, and cut into ¼-inch-thick wedges
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 small onion, very finely chopped
2 pounds (900 g) ground pork (preferably 15 to 17% fat)
1 tablespoon firmly packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
3½ tablespoons plain breadcrumbs

1• First make the crust: In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, sage, and salt until well combined. Sprinkle the butter cubes over the flour mixture and use your fingers to work them in (you want to rub your thumb against your fingertips, smearing the butter as you do so). Do this until the mixture looks like cornmeal with some pea-sized bits of butter remaining. Stir in the cheese with a fork until evenly distributed. Sprinkle 6 tablespoons ice water over the mixture and stir with a fork until the dough begins to come together. If needed, add an additional tablespoon or two of ice water (you shouldn’t need much more). Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead three times. Gather the dough into a ball, then divide into two portions, making one slightly bigger than the other. Press each portion down into a disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

2• Make the filling: In a skillet over medium-low heat, cook the apples without any oil, stirring gently, until they just begin to soften, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer to a dish and set aside. Add oil to the pan and increase the heat to medium-high. Add the onion, pork, brown sugar, salt, and spices. Cook, using a wooden spoon to break up the meat, until it is lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Let the meat mixture cool for 10 minutes, then transfer to a food processor. Add the breadcrumbs and pulse five times until the mixture has the texture of coarse sand. Set aside.

3• Prepare the crust: Unwrap the larger disk of dough and put it in the center of a large sheet of parchment paper or wax paper. Cover the dough with a second piece of parchment. Roll out, working from the center, to a 13-inch circle. Peel off the top piece of parchment and transfer the dough to a pie plate, peeled side down. Peel off the remaining parchment and press the crust into the sides of the pie plate, draping any excess over the edge. Unwrap the smaller disk of dough and put it in the center of a large sheet of parchment paper. Cover the dough with a second piece of parchment. Roll out, working from the center, to an 11-inch circle. Set aside.

4• Preheat the oven to 425ºF and set a rack to the second-to-bottom position. Fill the pie: Pour the meat mixture into the bottom crust and gently smooth the top with a spatula. Arrange the cooked apple slices over the meat, pressing down to make the whole construction as smooth and neat as possible. Peel the top sheet of parchment off the top crust. Transfer, peeled side down, to the pie, then peel off the remaining parchment. Using a sharp knife, make two 3-inch slashes in the crust to allow steam to escape. Fold the edges of the bottom crust up over the top crust and crimp the edges to seal. Brush the crust with the egg wash and decorate with sage leaves, if desired. Bake at 425ºF for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 375ºF and bake until the crust is golden brown, 25 to 35 minutes more. Remove from oven and let cool 25 minutes before serving.

Vermont Apple Cider Donuts (pdf/printer friendly)

[sidebar title="Amy's Note" width="600" align="center"]It’s a cider-maker’s tradition to use some of the freshly pressed juice to make lightly tangy, apple-scented donuts like these. The cider adds more than flavor, though; its acidity makes donuts more tender. I have two favorite spots for buying these treats: Atkins Farm in Amherst, Massachusetts, and Cold Hollow Cider Mill in Waterbury, Vermont. And when I can’t be there, I make my own.[/sidebar]

Notes: Boiled apple cider gives these donuts a very rich, slightly tangy flavor. You can buy boiled cider in some gourmet and Whole Foods stores; from Wood’s Cider Mill in Springfield, Vermont (; or from the King Arthur Flour catalog. Alternatively, you can boil your own cider by simmering 1½ cups of fresh apple cider down to ⅓ cup in about 25 minutes—it just won’t be as concentrated as the commercial product.
Frying foods at the proper temperature guarantees crisp and light results. Use an instant-read thermometer to monitor the temperature during frying, and adjust the heat as needed.

Equipment: Hand-held or standing mixer; 2 large baking sheets; parchment paper or wax paper; 3-inch donut cutter or 2 biscuit cutters (one 3 inches and one 1 inch); 4- to 5-quart Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pot; instant-read thermometer (see Notes)

Makes: About eighteen 3-inch donuts • Active time: 1½ hours •
Total time: 1 hour, 45 minutes

1 cup (210 g) granulated sugar
5 tablespoons (70 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 large eggs, at room temperature
3½ cups (505 g) all-purpose flour, plus additional for work surface
1¼ teaspoons table salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
½ cup (120 ml) lowfat buttermilk
⅓ cup (80 ml) boiled apple cider (see Notes)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Canola or safflower oil for frying
Cinnamon-sugar (1½ cups sugar mixed with 3 tablespoons ground cinnamon) or confectioners’ sugar for sprinkling

1• In a large bowl using a hand-held or standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat together the sugar and butter until the mixture is pale and fluffy, 4 to 6 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating for a minute after each. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and nutmeg; set aside.

2• Pour the buttermilk, boiled cider, and vanilla into the sugar-butter-egg mixture. Mix well, and don’t worry if the mixture looks a bit curdled; it’ll smooth itself out. Add the flour mixture and gently mix just until fully moistened. The mixture may appear a bit lumpy, but the most important thing is not to overmix.

3• Line the baking sheets with wax paper or parchment paper and dust generously with flour. Turn the dough out onto one baking sheet and gently pat into a ¾-inch-thickness. Sprinkle dough with additional flour, cover with plastic wrap and put in the freezer for 10 minutes to firm up. Remove the dough from the freezer and use a lightly floured 3-inch donut cutter (or two concentric biscuit cutters) to cut out about 18 donuts with holes. You can gather the scraps and re-roll as needed, but you may need to chill the dough more to firm it up. Put the cut donuts on the other baking sheet as you go, then transfer to the freezer for 5 minutes to firm up again.

4• Preheat the oven to 200ºF and set a rack in the middle position. Set a plate lined with a few layers of paper towels nearby. In a Dutch oven or large pot, heat 3 inches of oil to 370ºF (test with a thermometer). Drop 3 or 4 donuts into the oil, being careful not to crowd the pan. Cook until browned on one side, about 1 minute, then flip over and cook until browned on that side, about one minute more. Transfer the donuts to the paper-towel-lined plate and keep warm in the oven as you cook the rest. Repeat with the remaining dough (if you find it getting too soft as you work your way through the batches, pop it in the freezer again for 10 minutes). When the donuts are cool enough to handle, but still warm, sprinkle all over with the cinnamon-sugar or confectioners’ sugar. Serve immediately.

Apple and Mustard Grilled Cheese Sandwiches (pdf/printer friendly)

[sidebar title="Amy's Note" width="600" align="center"]Pretty much anyone can make an acceptable grilled cheese sandwich. But with this technique, you’ll have a perfect crispy-melty sandwich without a panini press (though if you do have one, by all means, use it). A number of different cheeses work equally well here, so feel free to experiment and see which one you like best.[/sidebar]

Apple Notes: The point of this recipe is to be so easy that you can make it with whatever cheese and fruit you have on hand. However, a firm-tart apple (see page 30) goes best with the mustard and cheese in the sandwich.

Note: For best results, slice the apple on a mandoline to make the slices thin enough to soften in the time it takes to grill the sandwich.
Equipment: 10- to 12-inch, heavy-bottomed skillet; 8- to 10-inch heavy-bottomed skillet, preferably cast iron

Makes: 2 sandwiches • Active time: 20 minutes • Total time: 20 minutes

1½ tablespoons (21 g) salted butter, at room temperature
4 slices sourdough bread
2 teaspoons whole-grain mustard
About ⅓ of a large firm-tart apple (about 3 ounces; see Apple Notes), unpeeled, cored, and sliced very thin (see Note)
4 ounces (about 115 g) sharp Cheddar, aged Gouda, Gruyère, or Havarti cheese, thinly sliced

1• Set the empty skillets over two stovetop burners, both at medium heat. Let them get hot. If using a panini press, set to 350ºF (medium heat).

2• Meanwhile, butter one side of each bread slice, then lay the slices butter side down on your cutting board. Spread equal portions of mustard on two of the bread slices, then divide up the apple slices into two portions and lay on top of the mustard. Divide up the cheese slices and lay over the apples. Top the sandwiches with the remaining bread slices, buttered-side-up.

3• Lay the sandwiches in the large skillet. Cook until the bottom is browned, 3 to 4 minutes, then flip. Set the preheated medium-size skillet on top of the sandwiches so it functions as a press. If your skillet isn’t very heavy, weigh it down with a water-filled kettle, a few large cans of tomatoes, etc. Cook until both sides are evenly browned, about 2 minutes more. If using a panini press, lay the sandwiches in the press and bring down the cover. Cook the sandwiches until crisp and bubbling, 4 to 6 minutes.

Free-Form Apple-Pear-Cranberry Tart (pdf/printer friendly)

[sidebar title="Amy's Note" width="600" align="center"]I love the rustic look of this tart filled with sliced apples, pears, and cranberries. Rather than baking it in a pie plate, you simply roll out the crust into a circle, fill it with fruit, and fold the sides up around the filling. It’s sweet and tangy, doesn’t require any fussiness on your part, and makes an impressive Thanksgiving centerpiece. It’s best served with vanilla ice cream.[/sidebar]
Apple Notes: Consult the Cheat Sheet on page 30 for a list of firm-tart apple varieties. Any will work very well here.
Equipment: Parchment paper; large rimmed baking sheet
Makes: 8 medium servings, 6 large servings • Active time: 45 minutes •
Total time: 1 hour, 20 minutes, plus 30 minutes chilling time

For the crust
1¼ cups (180 g) all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
½ teaspoon kosher salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick; 113 g) chilled unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
1 large egg yolk mixed with 2 tablespoons ice water

For the filling
2 medium (or 1½ large) firm-tart apples (about 12 ounces total; see Apple Notes)
1 large ripe pear, such as d’Anjou or Bartlett
½ cup (103 g) plus 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest
⅛ teaspoon ground cloves
⅓ cup fresh or thawed frozen cranberries
1 large egg, beaten well

1• First, make the crust: In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and sugar until well combined. Sprinkle the butter cubes on top and use your fingers to work them in (you want to rub your thumb against your fingertips, smearing the butter as you do). Stop when the mixture looks like cornmeal with some pea-sized bits of butter remaining (try to work quickly so the butter doesn’t melt). Sprinkle the egg yolk–water mixture on top and stir with a fork until the dough begins to come together. If needed, add one more tablespoon water. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead three times. Gather into a ball, then press into a disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

2• Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400ºF and set a rack to the second-from-the bottom position. Peel, core, and cut the apples into ¼-inch-thick wedges. Peel and cut the pear into ½-inch-thick slices. Gently toss together in a bowl and set aside. In a small bowl, combine ½ cup of the sugar, the cornstarch, orange zest, and cloves; set aside.

3• On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into a circle about 16 inches wide and ⅛ inch thick. The circle doesn’t have to be perfect—this is a rustic dessert—but try to get it as round as possible, even if that means cutting a little dough off one side to add to the other. Transfer the dough to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

4• Arrange half the apple and pear slices over the dough, leaving a 2½-inch border all around. Sprinkle half the cranberries over the apples. Sprinkle half the sugar-cornstarch mixture over the fruit, then repeat with the fruit and then the sugar mixture. Fold the sides of the dough up and over the edge of the filling, allowing the dough to drape over itself at each fold. Brush the dough with the beaten egg, and sprinkle all with one teaspoon of sugar. Bake for 10 minutes; lower the temperature to 375ºF, and bake until golden brown, about 25 minutes more. Let cool on a rack for at least 30 minutes, then transfer to a serving platter and serve warm.

All recipes from “The Apple Lover’s Cookbook.” Copyright © 2011 by Amy Traverso.

This segment aired on October 11, 2011.


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