Monday, October 26, 2015

Brown Butter Caramelized Apple Crisp

After an unusually humid, gray October Saturday in the midwest, Sunday was sunny and crisp. One of those perfect fall days. The leaves on the trees are almost at peak. The rich tapestry of colors in the landscape are so beautiful I could almost cry. If it weren't for the running path's autumnal views on Saturday morning, the short three mile run would have felt more like a marathon, one with rolling hills and steep elevations. In just two weeks, I will be running my second 5k race this year. It has been five months since I ran the first one, the amount of time it has taken me to recover from a stress fracture in my leg. Ten weeks ago when I returned to my running group I was walking as much as I was running. Gradually, my running time increased while my walking time decreased. While I may never run at the same speed (which wasn't really fast) or the same distances (not sure I have another marathon left in me) as I did years ago, I am getting closer to again considering myself a 'runner'. Of the many decisions I have regretted over the years, giving up running ranks pretty high up on the list. Fortunately though, I have been able to reverse that 'bad' decision.

My plan this week was to post the recipes for a Sweet and Spicy Ragu and a Brown Butter Pumpkin Spice Cake. But after making this Brown Butter Caramelized Apple Crisp (twice in the past week), I changed my plan. Decided it would be a much better decision to make this pre-Halloween week a 'dessert' and 'brown butter' blog posting one. As excited as I am to share this crisp recipe with you (and I am pretty gosh darn excited), I can hardly wait to share the pumpkin spice cake recipe. 

The first time the Brown Butter Caramelized Apple Crisp I added oatmeal to the topping, the second time I had inadvertently left it out. As much as I really liked both versions, going forward I will definitely leave out the oatmeal as it was a distraction to the flavors of the toasted walnuts and english toffee bits in the topping. In the words of my apple crisp aficionado friend, the crisp without the oatmeal was declared 'crisp perfection'. After hearing such high praise, I secretly hoped the taste of the crisp would be enough to override or at least help to minimize the memory of the crisp making chaos I had caused in her kitchen a couple hours earlier.

I will go out on a limb and say there doesn't seem to be one apple unanimously declared as perfect for a crisp. Flavor, texture, and personal preference seem to influence which apple is recommended. I love using an apple having an intense sweet-tart flavor and the ability to hold its' shape when baked. In other words I am not big fan of apples that turn to mush. At the moment, my current hands down favorite is the Granny Smith.

The rich, nutty taste of brown butter significantly enhances the flavor of pretty much everything. It's transformational, almost magical quality begins when you start melting the butter over medium heat. To ensure the butter browns evenly, swirl the pan often. The butter will begin to foam as it melts while its' color will progress from a 'lemony-yellow to golden-tan to a toasty brown'. Once you begin to smell a nutty aroma, remove the pan from the heat and/or transfer to a heat-proof bowl. 

The thickly cut apple slices are first tossed with the brown butter and fresh lemon juice your baking pan/dish. The coated apples are then tossed with a cinnamon-sugar-flour mixture before being covered in the toasted walnut-english toffee bit topping.

The Brown Butter Caramelized Apple Crisp is placed in a preheated 350 degree (F) oven. Baking time ranges from 45-55 minutes. Baking time is affected by where you place the crisp in the oven (longer baking time if baked in the center of the oven, shorter if baked in the bottom) as well as how your oven bakes.

The crisp is done when the topping is a deep golden brown, the apples are tender when pierced with a knife, and the cooking liquid is thickened and bubbling. If serving immediately, allow the crisp to set for 10-20 minutes. If serving within 2-3 hours of baking, lightly cover with aluminum foil and a heavy towel. 

Slightly softened vanilla ice cream is the proverbial 'icing on the cake'. In other words, it is not optional.  However, lightly dusting the baked crisp with confectionary sugar is. If you have not yet made a baked apple dessert this season, make this one. It really is 'crisp perfection'. It's definitely my new favorite way to eat a baked apple. Another reason to keep running. And for those of you with pie making phobias, the Brown Butter Caramelized Apple Crisp may keep you from ever having to deal with them.

Brown Butter Caramelized Apple Crisp (more than a slight change to the Caramelized Apple Toffee Crisp recipe printed in the Chicago Tribune, December 2005)

Base of Crisp
3 - 3 1/2 pounds Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and cut into 3/8"-1/2" slices (approximately 6 to 7 large apples)
5 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, browned and cooled slightly
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch of sea salt

1 cup walnut halves, toasted in oven, then chopped
8 Tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
1 cup english toffee bits (recommend Heath Bits'O Brickle Toffee Bits)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch of sea salt

Vanilla Ice Cream
Optional Garnish: Sifted confectionary sugar

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F).
2. In a medium sized bowl, mix together chopped walnuts, butter, flour, light brown sugar, toffee bits, cinnamon and salt until mixture resembles coarse meal. Set aside.
2. Mix apple slices, browned butter and lemon juice in a deep 9"x12" baking dish or cast iron pan until apples are coated. In a small bowl, mix together sugar, all-purpose flour, cinnamon and sea sat until blended. Add sugar mixture and toss to coat apples.
3. Top buttered/sugared apples with walnut/toffee bit mixture.
4. Bake for 45-55 minutes until apples are tender, topping has browned, and juices are thickened/bubbling. 
5. Remove from oven. Allow to set 10-20 minutes before serving with vanilla ice cream.
Optional finish: Sprinkle with sifted confectionary sugar.

Notes: Crisp can be prepared 2 hours ahead. Cover loosely with aluminum foil and a heavy towel to keep warm. If crisp sits out longer than 2 hours, can rewarm in a 350 degree (F) preheated oven for 15 minutes.

Horses grazing in a northern Illinois pasture.

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