Apples are star performers in old-fashioned desserts

September 18, 1994|By Richard Sax | Richard Sax,Eating Well Magazine

Most family traditions go back a few generations, but it's always possible to start a new one. That's what I seem to have done. After working for two years in England, I returned to the States in the fall of 1981. Tucked in my notebook was an old formula for a fruit crumble, which I had often Americanized with cranberries.

That recipe was among the first of what gradually grew into an entire cookbook of old-fashioned desserts, most of them collected from friends and their families. Curiously, almost every time I mentioned the words "old-fashioned desserts," people responded with a variation of "Oh, my grandmother used to bake something with cut-up apples . . ." It's true that wherever apples grow, apple desserts are a cornerstone of home baking. The apple classics below have been streamlined for fat content without losing their essential homespun goodness.

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Dried-Apple Gingerbread Stack Cake offers a homey mix of warm spices and apple flavor.

Dried-Apple Gingerbread Stack Cake

Serves 16

DRIED-APPLE FILLING:

3 cups dried apples (about 6 1/2 ounces)

3 cups apple cider, or more if needed

1/4 cup sugar, or to taste

GINGERBREAD:

1 2/3 cups lightly packed brown sugar

2 tablespoons ground ginger

1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons finely chopped crystallized ginger

1 tablespoon grated lemon zest (1 lemon)

pinch of ground allspice

pinch of ground cinnamon

pinch of freshly ground black pepper

2 large eggs

3 large egg whites

3/4 cup unsulfured molasses

2 cups sifted all-purpose white flour (sift before measuring)

1/3 cup vegetable oil, preferably canola oil

3/4 cup buttermilk

1 teaspoon baking soda

confectioners' sugar for dusting

To make filling: In a large saucepan, combine dried apples and cider; cook, covered, over medium-low heat, mashing occasionally, until the apples are very tender and form a chunky puree, 20 to 30 minutes. Check apples occasionally as they cook; if they become too dry, add a little more cider or water.

Sweeten the apples with sugar to taste and set aside to cool. (The apple filling can be made up to 3 days ahead and stored, covered, in the refrigerator.)

To make gingerbread: Heat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil a 12-cup bundt pan or spray it with nonstick cooking spray.

In a small bowl, stir together brown sugar, ground and crystallized gingers, lemon zest, allspice, cinnamon and black pepper; set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, beat eggs and egg whites with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until light and frothy, about 5 minutes. Beat in molasses. Gradually add the sugar-and-spice mixture until well blended.

Lower the mixer speed slightly. Add about a third of the flour, then the oil, then another third of the flour. Quickly stir together the buttermilk and baking soda and add to the batter, mixing gently. Add the remaining flour, mixing just until evenly blended. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake the gingerbread for 45 to 55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the cake comes out clean. If the gingerbread is browning too quickly, cover it loosely with aluminum foil halfway through the baking time. Cool the gingerbread in the pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes; then invert onto a rack and cool completely.

To assemble cake: With a long, serrated knife, split the gingerbread into 3 even layers. Place the bottom layer on a serving platter. Spread half the dried-apple filling on the cake and place the middle layer over the filling. Spread the remaining filling over the cake and top with the third layer. Cover the cake with plastic wrap and let it stand for 30 to 60 minutes to allow flavors to blend. Dust with confectioners' sugar before serving.

295 calories per serving; 4 grams protein; 6 grams fat; 60 grams carbohydrate; 110 milligrams sodium; 27 milligrams cholesterol.

Apple, Quince

and Cranberry Crumble

Serves 8

FRUIT FILLING:

3 1/2 cups fresh cranberries (12 ounces) rinsed, drained and picked over

3/4 cup sugar, or to taste

3 tablespoons fresh orange juice

1 tablespoon grated orange zest (1 orange)

2 pounds Golden Delicious or other sweet apples (about 5), peeled, quartered, cored and cut into thick slices

2 quinces (10-12 ounce), peeled, halved, cored and cut into 1/4 -inch-thick slices

OAT CRUMBLE TOPPING:

3/4 cup old-fashioned or quick-cooking rolled oats (not instant)

3/4 cup all-purpose white flour

3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar

2 tablespoons vegetable oil, preferably canola oil

1 tablespoon butter, softened

2 tablespoons apple cider

1 quart nonfat vanilla frozen yogurt (optional)

To prepare filling: Heat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly oil a shallow 3-quart baking dish, such as a 10-by-14-inch oval gratin dish, or spray it with nonstick cooking spray.

In a large heavy saucepan, combine 1 3/4 cups of the cranberries and sugar; bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally.

Remove from the heat and stir in orange juice and zest and the remaining 1 3/4 cups cranberries. Add apples and quinces. Spoon the fruit mixture into the prepared baking dish; set aside.

To make topping and bake crumble: In a large mixing bowl, combine oats, flour and brown sugar. With a pastry cutter or your fingertips, blend in oil and butter until crumbly. Pour in apple cider and stir with a fork until the mixture is evenly moistened. Scatter the topping evenly over the fruit.

Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the fruit is bubbly and the topping has browned. If you prefer to brown the top further, place it under the broiler very briefly. Cool the crumble on a wire rack for 20 to 30 minutes. Serve in bowls, topping each portion with a scoop of nonfat vanilla frozen yogurt, if you like.

364 calories per serving; 3 grams protein; 6 grams fat; 80 grams carbohydrate; 24 milligrams sodium; 4 milligrams cholesterol.

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