This Flavor-Enhanced Fall Classic Will Tickle Your Tongue
Here in the US, we’re now a week into autumn. And I’ve been noticing some seasonal changes. The weather is starting to turn cool. Apples (many locally grown) are piling up in neighborhood produce departments. And the abundant harvest is fueling an urge to make (and eat!) baked goods.
Mrs Kitchen Riffs has been spending lots of time in the kitchen lately — flour dotting the tip of her nose — baking up one scrumptious treat after another. This week, she’s making good use of all the apples we’ve been buying. And why not? They’re fresh, tasty, and nutritious. And there are so many things you can make with them. Like this Walnut Apple Crisp, a jazzier version of the traditional dish we all know and love.
It makes a great dessert, one you’ll want to serve to company. And the leftovers (as if you’ll have any) would be terrific for a weekend breakfast.
Recipe: Walnut Apple Crisp
A crisp (called a crumble in the UK and Australia) is similar to cobbler (like this great Easy Peach Cobbler). But while a cobbler is topped with biscuit dough, a crisp is covered in streusel — a crumbly mixture of butter, flour, and sugar (sometimes with other ingredients added). For apple crisp, uncooked oats are a common addition (see Notes). Today we’re using walnuts, which add terrific flavor and interesting texture to the dish.
This recipe makes a particularly rich and tasty crisp — the walnuts are joined by a hearty dose of cinnamon and a dollop of (optional) rum. Today’s dish is loosely based on a cinnamon-heavy recipe that appeared in the March 1993 issue of Bon Appétit (you can find that recipe online at Epicurious). The walnut idea came from Christopher Kimball, who suggests it in The Dessert Bible.
This dish serves 8 to 10. Preparation time is about 20 minutes. Baking adds another 40 minutes or so. Plus it’s best if you let the crisp stand for at least 15 minutes before cutting (to let it firm up). So figure on a good hour and a half from the time you start making this until you fork the first mouthful.
For the apple base:
- 1 tablespoon butter (for buttering the baking dish; unsalted is best)
- 3½ pounds Golden Delicious apples, peeled or not, cored, and sliced (you can substitute almost any apple, including the ubiquitous Granny Smith; see Notes about whether peeling is necessary)
- ¼ cup dark rum (optional)
- ¾ cup brown sugar (packed)
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
- ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces (see Notes)
- 2/3 cup all purpose flour
- ½ cup brown sugar (packed)
- ~ 1 cup walnuts, chopped
- ice cream, whipped cream, or sour cream garnish (optional)
(I separated the ingredients between the apple base and the streusel topping to make it clear which ingredient was used for what; I haven’t bothered to separate the steps in the Procedure because I think they’re pretty clear.)
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
- Butter a 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking dish, preferably glass (one of those Pyrex casserole dishes is perfect).
- Wash, core, and slice the apples. If you have one of those apple slicers, this is a good time to use it. (Peeling the apples is optional; see Notes.) Place sliced apples in a large bowl and add rum. Toss apples in rum until well coated, then set aside.
- In separate bowl, combine ¾ cup brown sugar and ground cinnamon. Whisk to mix thoroughly. Pour sugar and cinnamon mixture over apples and toss to coat.
- Spread the apple mixture in the buttered baking dish. Sprinkle the remaining sugar/cinnamon/rum mixture over the apples, and smooth the top.
- Cut the chilled stick of butter into small pieces. (I cut the butter stick in half lengthwise, then in half again, forming quarters. Then I cut across the width, maybe 6 or 8 times, resulting in pieces the size of smallish dice.)
- Add the butter to a medium-sized bowl, along with the flour and ½ cup brown sugar. Combine with a fork, pastry blender, or your hands until you form a coarse meal (i.e., streusel). Spread this mixture evenly over the apples in the baking pan.
- Chop the walnuts, then spread them evenly over the top of the streusel.
- Place the crisp in the oven and bake until the apples are tender (test with a fork or the tip of a paring knife) and their juices are bubbling — about 40 minutes.
- Let the crisp stand for at least 15 minutes before serving (this helps it firm up). Garnish, or not, with ice cream, whipped cream, sour cream — whatever you choose.
- It’s traditional to peel apples for this dish, but I usually don’t. I like the taste and texture of the peels, and the “rustic” look they give to the dish.
- Any kind of apple that retains its shape and texture when baked works well in this dish. Golden Delicious can be found everywhere, and they’re pretty good.
- When you’re cutting up the apples, you may want to begin by removing the stems (along with a bit of apple flesh) to form a nice little wedge: Using your paring knife, insert at a 45-degree angle about ½ inch from the stem, then turn the apple so the knife cuts out a circular wedge. You can save the stems in something acidic so they don’t brown (I use lemon juice). Then when you serve the Walnut Apple Crisp, you can put these on top as a garnish (the third picture – directly above the Notes section – illustrates this).
- If your apples are particularly tart, you may want to increase the quantity of brown sugar.
- Rum is optional in this recipe, but it adds a delectable note. I recommend using a dark rum, like Gosling’s Dark Seal or Meyer’s.
- If you don’t have dark rum, bourbon works.
- Note that when you bake the crisp, the alcohol bakes out — leaving only deliciousness behind.
- A traditional streusel topping contains nothing more than butter, flour, and sugar — plus maybe a bit of spice. It’s tasty, but doesn’t have enough structure to hold its shape on top of apples as they soften during baking.
- So apple crisp recipes often add oats to the streusel in a bid for texture. Unfortunately, oats are flavor-challenged — not to mention tough. So I don’t recommend them.
- Chopped nuts make a much better streusel extender, IMO. They’re tasty, they’re attractive, and they don’t dissolve in the oven.
- Walnuts pair perfectly with apples, but pecans would probably taste great too.
- Although the aforementioned Easy Peach Cobbler was developed by me, most of the desserts you see on this blog are made by Mrs K R. This Walnut Apple Crisp is hers.
I came downstairs from my office and walked into the kitchen. I found Mrs K R peering intently into the liquor cupboard. It was 10 AM.
“I need a little something,” she muttered. “It’s just so boring!”
“Uh, look, hold on,” I said. “Don’t you think it’s a little early? Even for, you know, us?”
“What do you mean?” she asked, pulling down a hefty bottle of rum. “This is just what I need!”
“Are you sure this is a good idea?”
“What? You think I should do bourbon, like last time?”
“Last time? How long has this been going on?”
“Well, for years — as you know. I make apple crisp every fall.”
“Oh, uh . . . .”
“What did you think?”
“Apple crisp . . . sounds, uh, great!”
“I’ve been using variations on the same old recipe for so long, I just wanted to punch it up a bit this time. Dark rum would be perfect, don’t you think?”
“Perfect, yes. Well — OK by me!”
“Rum thing, huh?” Mrs K R giggled.
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