Published September 1, 2010.
Apple crisp invites a devil-may-care attitude: Slice up any old fruit, sprinkle on a topping, and bake. Perhaps that’s why it’s never on anyone’s A-list.
A thrown-together apple crisp is an appealing choice when you’re tight on time and apples are in abundance. But while this dish is usually good, it’s rarely great, and results can vary from rock-hard slices to applesauce.
We wanted a more disciplined recipe that would guarantee a lush sweet-tart apple filling and crisp morsels of buttery, sugary topping.
Because of their ability to maintain their texture and shape, Golden Delicious apples won our preliminary baking tests. But while their firmness avoided any complete blowouts, the apples still cooked unevenly in the baking dish, with the slices in the middle of the pan cooking up less than al dente and the fruit around the perimeter turning to mush. The obvious solution was stirring the fruit as it cooked. But who wants to repeatedly don oven mitts, reach into a hot oven, and take a spoon to bubbling fruit? To avoid this, we decided to move the cooking to the stovetop, where the apples could easily be stirred periodically. Plus, the pan’s shallow, flared shape encouraged evaporation, and the stovetop’s heat drove away extra moisture, allowing the fruit and butter to caramelize and lend a sweet richness to the filling.
We then worked on fine-tuning our filling’s flavors. We tempered the apples’ sweetness and gave them more depth, by reducing the amount of sugar and adding some lemon juice. And for full-fledged apple flavor, we went straight for the essence itself: cider. Before sautéing the fruit, we reduced some cider, then added it to the parcooked apples for a super-potent reduction that contributed the intense fruity flavor we were after.
Next, we focused on creating a topping that did our filling justice. We combined white and brown sugars, added cinnamon, salt, and chopped pecans, and replaced some of the flour with chewy rolled oats. We then cranked up the oven’s temperature and sprinkled the topping over the filling. After a few minutes in the oven, the “crisp” was just that: crunchy and golden, an ideal contrast to the luscious, flavorful fruit that lay beneath.
We finally had a fail-safe recipe for apple crisp, and though it was by no means glamorous, it was definitely company-worthy, especially when dressed up with raspberries and almonds, or cardamom and pistachios.list of recipes