Archive for November, 2011

Apple Crunch

November 12, 2011

Whether you call it a crunch, crumble or crisp, it’s the perfect autumn dessert.  This particular recipe is the one Mom has always used, and now it’s the one I use as well.  If it’s put together right and bakes up well, the ingredient ratios yield just the right balance of apple and topping.  It’s delicious home-style comfort food.  I’ve eaten many variations on apple crisp in restaurants, but they’re never as good as homemade, and as easy as it is to make, there’s no reason not to do it yourself.

The original recipe comes from the cookbook What’s Cooking in Kentucky by Irene Hayes, and the recipe was contributed by Elva Holcomb of Ulvah, Kentucky.  Salem ladies can also find this recipe on page 99 of the church cookbook.  The original instructions are pretty sparse, but mom and I have learned a few things about making this turn out well over the years, so I’ll include our notes after the original.

Apple Crunch

Peel and slice 3 large apples.  Place in a well-greased pan.

Combine:

3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine
1/2 cup flour
3/4 cup quick oats

Sprinkle over apples.  Bake 35 minutes in a 350° oven.

For starters, I would prepare the topping before you peel and slice the apples so they won’t turn brown.  An 8×8 baking dish is a good size for this recipe. 

When you combine the ingredients for the topping, it is important not to overmix them.  You just want to combine them until the butter is in small pieces and the mixture is crumbly.  A fork is good for this, or a pastry blender if you have one.  If it is overmixed, it all just sticks together in wads like dough, and it does not bake up right, as I know from past experience.  I find it easiest to combine the sugar, flour and oats first, then cut the butter into it. 

Regarding the apples, I usually use four or five, partly because they are usually fairly small, and partly because I’m not adept at peeling and coring, and I tend to pare off a decent amount of fruit.  Slice them thinly so they’ll cook up well.  Tart varieties of apple are best for baking.  Granny Smiths are good, but they are not as juicy as some varieties, so you might consider mixing them with another type.  Braeburns are good, and most supermarkets carry that variety.  When I baked this particular crisp, I used two Granny Smiths and two of a softer, juicier variety called Empire that I picked up at Doud’s Orchard.  They complemented each other nicely.  The Granny Smiths were more firm and kept a bit of bite to them when cooked, and the Empires cooked down a bit more and kept it moist.

Be sure to spread the topping evenly over the apples so the butter will distribute throughout as it melts, and cover the apples thoroughly so they won’t stick up and dry out or burn.  Bake as directed above, and enjoy!  Cool Whip or vanilla ice cream go nicely on top!

Apple Crunch

Working hard, or hardly working?

November 4, 2011

Today was a good day at work.  And let’s face it:  we all need one of those now and then, don’t we?  For starters I got paid today, which is always a plus.  But the highlight of my afternoon was one of my tiny customers, as is often the case.  Two young women came in, each with a little girl in tow.  One of the girls was a one-year-old named Patience, and the other was a little girl named Morgan who looked to be four or so.  I asked the mothers if they needed a shopping bag to hold their products, and one of them jokingly said “No, but do you have a stroller?”  I replied “No, but I’ve got auntie arms.  I’ll hold her while you shop, if you’d like.”  Fortunately we weren’t busy at the time.

I came around the counter and held my hands out to the baby, and she leaned into my arms without hesitation.  The mother said she’d take her back if I wanted, but I told her I was perfectly happy to hold her if she didn’t mind, and she said that if I was sure, she’d be glad of the break.  So I settled the baby on my hip and started swaying, as all women seem to instinctively do when they’re holding a baby.  She stared at me for a moment, then started playing with my name tag.  After a while, she started squirming to get down, so I set her on her feet and offered her my hand.  She grabbed my index finger in a tight grip, and took off like a shot through the store.  I let her tug me around until she took a tumble, then I scooped her back up and danced with her a little bit, singing along with the Christmas music that was playing in the store.  She stared at me fixedly for a few moments when I was singing, then Morgan, who I think might have been her cousin, started dancing too, and when the baby caught sight of her, she let out the most adorable series of excited squeaks and giggles.  Eventually the mothers finished their shopping and left, taking the girls with them.  But they sure brightened my day.  That’s the kind of customer service I best love to do.

And the icing on the cake was an older woman I waited on just before I left.  She had some questions about different fragrances.  She was trying to find a substitute for a favorite of hers that had been discontinued.  I showed her some other options, and let her know of another outlet store where she could try to find her old favorite, and we got to talking about various things:  our favorite scents, the different notes in them, how much we disliked change, etc.  When I had to break away to answer another customer’s question, she thanked me, and said I’d been very helpful.  She said it was a relief to talk to someone who actually wanted to help, and wasn’t just trying to get her to spend more money.

It was equally nice for me to wait on someone who actually recognized what I was trying to do.  When you’re in sales, customers tend to make assumptions about your motives, but my goal is to help people find what they actually want, and to get them the best deal I possibly can.  I know the coupons and the sales, and I know how to combine them so you get more for less.  It’s always a pleasure to help someone who is genuinely grateful for that.  I need more days like this.

Baking Challenge: Apricot Foldovers

November 3, 2011

Well, given that my stated goal was to bake once a week, I suppose I’ve failed my baking challenge.  But in my defense, mom came home.  It’s a lot harder to bake when I’m not in control of the kitchen.  But then she left and came back again, so I managed to get one baking project in while she was gone.  My baking will likely be more sporadic now, but I’ll still post recipes from time to time, along with anything else I feel like writing about, so stay tuned.  I enjoy baking (almost as much as I enjoy eating baked goods), and I’ve discovered a lot of very good recipes while doing this, so I won’t be quitting completely any time soon.

This week’s recipe is an old favorite of mine, although I’d never actually made these myself until last weekend.  Mom has made them once or twice, and I beg her to make them again all the time, but she never does.  And now I know why.  They require an enormous amount of time and effort, so I recommend either having a free day to make them, or making your dough and filling one day, refrigerating it overnight, and baking them the next day.  Doubling the batch is also advisable since you’re going to all this trouble anyway.

The recipe is originally from mom’s old edition of the Better Homes & Gardens New Cookbook.  I don’t know what edition it is; I couldn’t find a publication date anywhere in it, but by the looks of it, it’s very old.  Whenever it was, home cooks must have had a lot more time on their hands back then, because this recipe is a doozy.  It’s worth the effort though.  These are extremely tasty.  In fact, my usually unenthusiastic mother, who answers every query as to the quality of her sensory experiences with the faint praise “Oh, it’s all right” has declared my apricot foldovers to be better than hers, so I am feeling inordinately pleased with myself.  The pastry is light and crisp, and since all the sugar is in the filling rather than the pastry, they are not overly sweet.  The flavor is very balanced and rich.  Salem ladies can also find this recipe on page 146 of the church cookbook.  Mom included it at my request.

Apricot Foldovers

1/2 cup butter or margarine
4 oz sharp cheddar cheese, grated (1 cup)
1 1/3 cups sifted all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons water
◊     ◊     ◊
1 cup dried apricots
1 cup granulated sugar
water

Cream butter and cheese until light.  Blend sifted flour into creamed mixture.  Add 2 tablespoons water and mix well.  Chill 4 to 5 hours.

Meanwhile, cook apricots according to package directions.  These are ridiculous instructions.  As far as I can see, apricot packages have no directions.  Fortunately mothers do.  Put the dried apricots in a saucepan with enough water to cover them.  Bring them to a boil and reduce the heat to simmer.  Cook them, stirring often, until they soften and fall apart, breaking them up with your spoon as they cook.  Once they’ve cooked down, drain off excess water.  Stir sugar into hot fruit; cook and stir over medium heat until mixture boils and becomes smooth; cool.  You want the filling to have a rather thick consistency.  Otherwise it will run everywhere and make a mess.  You won’t be able to work with it.

Divide chilled dough in half.  I doubled my recipe, and I ended up dividing my dough into eighths.  Smaller pieces were easier to work with.  The dough will be very stiff when it comes out of the fridge.  Squeeze and press it between your hands and against a cutting board, working it until it gets softer and more pliable.  Roll out each piece as thinly as you can without tearing the dough.  Cut in 2 1/2 inch squares or circles.  Place 1 teaspoon (you may even need to use less than that to seal them) apricot filling on each square or circle; fold over and seal.  You need to make sure you seal these very thoroughly.  Squeeze the edges together until you think there is no possible way they could separate, because they still will, and the filling will ooze out.  Bake on ungreased cookie sheet at 375 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes.

Apricot Foldovers

Enjoy!  You’ve earned it!