By any name, apple dessert is a treat

October 08, 2006|By Sandra Pinckney

It is autumn. The days are shorter, the light is less intense and the air feels crisp and cool.

This is when I love to get back in the kitchen, with my cookbooks and clippings, and think about all the new dishes I want to try.

But more often than not I am inspired to re-create the comfort foods of the past - like my mother's Apple Brown Betty.

That's what she called the delicious baked apple dessert that would become one of my all-time favorites.

I can see her buzzing around the kitchen, a linen dish towel tucked around her neck (she hated aprons) and humming a tune no one could recognize, gathering ingredients for this family favorite.

Fresh fall apples, sugars, butter and spices. That's it.

And that's what I love about this dish: its simplicity. It's easier and quicker than baking a pie, a cake or cookies and is just as tasty.

My brother and I would help by peeling the apples - making a game out of who could peel the longest piece of curly skin.

Mother then sliced, seasoned and piled a mountain of apples into a baking dish. The brown sugar topping was sprinkled on, and the whole thing was then popped in the oven.

Apple Brown Betty has an interesting history. It can be traced to Colonial times - probably brought from England by the early settlers.

But according to the fourth edition of The Professional Pastry Chef - Fundamentals of Baking and Pastry by chef Bo Friberg, the name Apple Brown Betty has its origins in slavery.

Apparently some plantations celebrated Christmas with minstrel shows in which the slaves played all the roles.

The two main characters were Father Christmas, who passed out presents at the end of the play, and Old Beth, who served everyone a treat - a dish of baked apples covered with biscuits or a cake batter, the book says.

Later Old Beth's dessert became known as Apple Brown Betty.

But there are no hard and fast rules for what you put in it or what you call it.

I have discovered that the dessert my mother called her Apple Brown Betty is closer to an Apple Crisp - a tasty variation on the theme.

Whatever name you choose, this is the perfect time to bake one.

Sandra Pinckney, a former Baltimore TV journalist, is host of "Food Finds" on the Food Network. Send comments to


Serves 8

9 large baking apples -- Granny Smith or Winesap

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

juice of half a lemon

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 cup granulated sugar

2 tablespoons dark-brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 stick unsalted butter, cold, cut into 1/2 -inch pieces

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Peel and core the apples, then cut into slices 1/3 -inch thick.

Put them into a mixing bowl and sprinkle 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, 1/4 teaspoon salt and the lemon juice over the apples. Toss well so that slices are evenly sugared. Set aside.

Grease a 9-by-9-inch baking dish using about a tablespoon of butter. Turn the sugared apple slices into the dish. It will be full, but apples cook down considerably during baking. Cut the remaining 3 tablespoons butter into small pieces and scatter over the top of the apples.

For the topping, put the 1 cup granulated sugar and 2 tablespoons dark-brown sugar, flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt and cinnamon into a mixing bowl. Blend well using a wire whisk.

Add the butter pieces and, using your fingers or a pie-crust cutter, work the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles coarse oatmeal.

Sprinkle the topping over the apples and bake in the center of the oven for about 45 minutes until the apples bubble in the corners of the dish and the topping is crisp.

Serve with whipped cream, ice cream, custard sauce or plain.

Waist-saver tip: If you are watching your calories, reduce the amount of sugar to taste, substitute the topping with fat-free Cool Whip or cut Apple Crisp into smaller slices.

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