Photo by Judith Hausman
Making plans for Thanksgiving triggers thoughts of apple and pumpkin pies. And I love them. Now, I wouldn’t kick a chocolate ganache frosting or a Sachertorte out of bed, but I’m just not a chocoholic. Believe it or not, I can pass on brownies and Jacques Torres’ bonbons. But I’d walk a mile for a good fruit pie. Apple crisp, almond-pear strudel, plum tart? Wait, I’ll just get my boots on.
And because I’m on the defensive about all those juicy, zingy, seasonal, easy, sweet-tart, beyond-pie desserts, I’m a real curmudgeon about calling them by the right name. Let’s call a betty a betty and a cobbler a cobbler.
Puff pastry sheets make the fastest tarts (or turnovers) ever. Defrost one according to the package directions. Roll it out a little so it will make a thinner crust. Then transfer it to a baking sheet, brush it with a little beaten egg white and line up rows of sliced fruit on top of it. Sprinkle the fruit with some sugar and maybe ginger, cinnamon and slivered almonds. For turnovers, cut the sheet into four squares, fill and fold over each square to make a triangle, sealing the edges. Bake at 400 to 425 degrees F until golden and bubbling .
Betty: No, I don’t know why it’s betty and not Joyce. It’s usually apple brown betty and the topping is thrifty, sweetened breadcrumbs.
Buckle: For this one, the fruit and a muffin-like, baking-powder batter are mixed together and then sprinkled with a sugar-cinnamon topping. Nice with rhubarb.
Cobbler: Spoonfuls of baking powder biscuit dough are dropped on top of hot, sweetened fruit and then baked until the biscuits are done. Dried fruit cobblers are great for a winter dessert.
Crisp, crumble or crunch: Crisps (my favorite) are topped with a flour or oatmeal-sugar-butter combination, similar to a streusel (see recipe below). Plums, pears and peaches work as well as apples. A crumble is essentially a crisp with a British accent.
Duff, grunts and slumps: A grunt is a Colonial dessert traditionally made with berries mixed into dough and steamed in a heavy pot, but you can make one with almost any cut-up fruit. (Guava? Mango? Quince?) Grunt is synonymous with the Pennsylvania Dutch duff or with “slump,” which refers to its lumpy shape on a plate.
Dutch baby, German pancake and clafouti: All these are made with a light, pancake-like batter, which puffs up over cooked fruit. Best idea for precious raspberries or cherries.
Galette: A circle of pie dough or puff pastry is folded back over the sweetened fruit to create a “rustic,” free-form tart, which is baked as is, rather than in a dish. This is a really easy way to make an apple or blueberry pie. Try seedless grapes too.
Tart: Technically a tart should be open-faced: one low, buttery, filled crust. Some are brushed with a clear, jelly-like glaze and some are filled first with a layer of custard. Berry tarts are often made with uncooked fruit.
Turnover: Fill folded triangles of pie crust, puff pastry or filo with a spoonful of fruit, jam or savory ingredients, such as cheese and spinach.
Recipe: Apple Crisp
This apple crisp is as easy as pie. (Easier, actually.)
- 5 to 7 large, preferably tart apples, such as Greening or Pippin, but any apple will work.
- 1/2 to 3/4 cup brown sugar
- 1/3 cup old-fashioned oatmeal (OK, yes, quick oats will work, too.)
- 1/3 cup white or whole-wheat flour, or some of each
- Cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, ginger to taste (Maybe 1/2 tsp. each?)
- 1/2 to 2/3 cup butter, cold but slightly softened
- 1/3 to 1/2 cup raisins, walnuts, dried cranberries to taste
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Core and slice the apples thinly (no need to peel them), and fill a greased 8- to 9-inch baking pan or 2-quart casserole.
Mix the spices, sugar, flour and oatmeal, and cut the butter into the mix with two knives until the chunks are about 1/2 inch. You can also use a food processor here. Spoon the topping onto the apples, but do not mix.
Bake until the apples bubble from underneath and the topping is browned somewhat, about 35 to 45 minutes.
Serves 6 to 8 or so.
As a long-time freelance food writer, Judith Hausman has written about every aspect of food, but local producers and artisanal traditions remain closest to her heart. Eating close to home takes this seasonal eater through a journey of delights and dilemmas, one tiny deck garden, farmers’ market discovery and easy-as-pie recipe at a time. She writes from a still-bucolic but ever-more-suburban town in the New York City ‘burbs.