Food & Drink

Apple of our eye: 5 desserts using fall’s go-to fruit

Dorie Greenspan’s Custardy Apple Squares
Dorie Greenspan’s Custardy Apple Squares

In the kitchen, apples are easy. They come in a vast array of flavors and grow abundantly in the metro-east. They store almost forever in cool circumstances and it’s no sweat to peel and chop and bake and eat ’em.

And boy, when it comes to dessert, they’re the go-to fruit of fall. Just choose the right ones for the right sweet result.

For best results, keep both texture and taste in mind.

Baking a cake? Fruit that stays firm when baked is essential, since you want your cake topped with apples, not applesauce, says cookbook author and baking expert Dorie Greenspan. An apple with a balance of sweet and tart flavors will give your cake some complexity. Jonagold, Granny Smith, Honeycrisp and Empire apples all have a nice sweet-tart taste and will hold their shape in the oven.

For turnovers, it’s all about sweetness and a softer cooked apple, such as Delicious.

Pie recipes often mix sweet and tart apples for a blended taste and texture. Crispin, a firm-fleshed, less tart apple, is similar in flavor to a Golden Delicious. It’s great for pies or other recipes that call for gentle cooking, says Bon Appetit.

Pink Lady apples are balanced between sweet, tart and tannic notes. They will retain a distinct shape when diced and added to coffeecake or a morning muffin.

The five recipes here lean heavily toward the easy side. Beginners or less-practiced bakers will have no trouble with Easy French Apple Cake, Custardy Apple Squares and the crisp. You’ll need more expertise and patience to create the turnovers, but the free-form apple pie called a crostada falls in middling territory for home bakers.

See more recipes on Page C2.

3 easy ways to snack on apples

Apple sandwiches — Use round slices of apple in place of bread. You can slather on peanut butter and jelly or go the turkey and cheese route. For something more adult and desk-lunch appropriate, try brie and fig jam, or slices of Parmesan and prosciutto. Or make it open-face, and use like a slice of toast.

Apple “doughnuts” — For a healthy-ish twist on this classic sweet treat, cut and core apples into thick, round doughnut shapes. Then drizzle them with melted white or dark chocolate, and finish with a downpour of sprinkles, bright pomegranate seeds, or candied ginger and lime zest.

Baked apples — Don’t be afraid to play around with the concept of baked apples. Start by coring out the center (but not the bottom) and chopping up the leftover apple parts. Then mix the chopped apple with cinnamon and spice, or oatmeal and nuts. For a savory twist, mix the chopped apples with cooked and diced chicken, thyme and brie, or eggs and Canadian bacon. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes in shallow pan.

Break a few apple pie rules

Apple pie recipes are as common as falling leaves this time of year. Success may have less to do with what apples you use than with ignoring some common instructions. Here are some new thoughts on how to have a great pie.

Recipes invariably tell you to slice your apples thinly, then toss them in a bowl with sugar and spices. But the instant the sugar goes in, the juice starts to leave the apples. By the time you're spooning the filling into the crust, you’re awash in liquid. And while most recipes compensate with the addition of corn starch or even flour, the thickeners blunt the apples’ bright flavor.

Food writer John Thorne offered his way: Cut your fruit into nice, big chunks. Just slice off each side, then make eight sort-of-equal slabs. This sharply reduced the surface area of the apples that could come into contact with the sugar, thus reducing the amount of liquid that would leak into the pie.

Martha Stewart steps in: Instead of doing the mixing bowl thing with the apples and sugar, in a TV demonstration, she piled her sliced fruit directly into the crust. Only then did she sprinkle the sugar (with spices mixed in) on top, assuring her viewers that the sweeteners and spices would disperse during the baking process.

Veronique de Turenne, Special to the Los Angeles Times

Easy French Apple Cake

You don’t need an electric mixer for this recipe. In fact, it’s better to mix the batter by hand, so you don’t overmix it, leading to a gummy result.

2 large eggs

1/3 cup milk

3/4 cup unbleached, all-purpose flour

6 tablespoons packed light brown sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1/4-inch slices

1/3 cup apricot preserves, strained, or apple jelly for a sweeter taste

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray an 8-inch-square or 9-inch round baking pan with nonstick cooking spray.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs and milk. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the flour, brown sugar, baking powder and salt. Stir the flour mixture into the egg mixture. Stir the butter and vanilla into the batter. Scrape into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a spatula.

3. Arrange the apple slices in three rows, overlapping them slightly, on top of the cake. Bake until golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out dry, 25 to 30 minutes. Gently spread the preserves over the apples, then continue to bake 5 minutes longer. Let cake cool in pan on a wire rack before cutting into squares; serve warm or at room temperature. Makes 6 to 9 servings.


Dorie Greenspan’s Custardy Apple Squares

Although most things we bake have to wait to cool before they really come into their own — the texture of most sweets doesn’t set until they’ve rested at room temperature for a while — these squares are an impatient baker’s dream. You can dig in about 15 minutes after you remove the pan from the oven.

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled, plus more for the pan

3 medium juicy, sweet apples, such as Gala or Fuji, peeled

1/2 cup flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

2 large eggs, at room temperature

1/3 cup sugar

Pinch fine sea salt

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

6 tablespoons whole milk, at room temperature

Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Grease an 8-inch square baking pan with a little butter.

Slice the apples from top to bottom using a mandoline or sharp knife, turning the fruit 90 degrees each time you reach the core. The slices should be about 1/16 inch thick: elegantly thin, but not so thin that they’re transparent and fragile. If they’re a little thicker, that will be fine, too. Discard the cores.

Whisk together the flour and baking powder in a small bowl.

Use a whisk to combine the eggs, sugar and salt in a large bowl for about 2 minutes, until the sugar has just about dissolved and, more important, until the eggs are pale. Whisk in the vanilla extract, then the milk and the melted, cooled butter. Add the flour mixture into the bowl; use the whisk to form a smooth batter.

Add the apples to the bowl; switch to a flexible spatula and gently fold in the apples, turning the mixture until each thin slice is coated in batter. Scrape the mixture into the pan, smoothing the top as evenly as you can. It will be bumpy; that’s its nature.

Bake (middle rack) for 40 to 50 minutes, or until golden brown and puffed — make sure the middle of the cake has risen — and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer to a rack and allow to cool for at least 15 minutes.

Carefully cut into 9 equal squares in the pan (being careful not to damage the pan); or unmold the slab onto a rack, flip it onto a plate so it is right side up and then cut it into 9 squares. Either way, give the squares a dusting of confectioners’ sugar before serving, if you’d like.

Variations: You can add a couple of tablespoons of dark rum, Calvados, applejack or Armagnac or a drop (really just a drop) of pure almond extract to the batter. If you have an orange or a lemon handy, you can grate the zest over the sugar and rub the ingredients together until they’re fragrant. You can also change the fruit. Pears are perfect, and a combination of apples and pears is even better.

Finally, if you want to make this look a little dressier, you can warm some apple jelly in a microwave and use a pastry brush to spread a thin layer of it over the top.

Make ahead: The squares, which are good a few minutes out of the oven or at room temperature the day they are made, can also be covered and refrigerated for up to 2 days and served chilled.

Makes 9 servings, each with 130 calories, 3 grams protein, 20 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 85 mg sodium, 14 g sugar.

Dorie Greenspan, award-winning author of 11 cookbooks, including “Baking Chez Moi;” and @doriegreenspan

Apple-Ginger Phyllo Turnovers

4 Golden Delicious apples (about 1 1/2 pounds total), unpeeled, cored and cut into 1/4-inch pieces

1/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Pinch freshly grated nutmeg

Pinch salt

1 teaspoon cornstarch

1 tablespoon cold water

1 tablespoon finely chopped crystallized ginger

8 large sheets frozen phyllo dough, defrosted

3 tablespoons canola oil

8 small gingersnap cookies, crushed into a fine crumb (1 3 / 4ounces, about 1 / 2cup)

1/2 tablespoon Demerara sugar or raw sugar such as turbinado

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil or parchment paper.

Combine the apples, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat; cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the fruit is just tender.

Whisk together the cornstarch and water in a small bowl until smooth; stir this slurry into the skillet and cook until the juices in the skillet thicken, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat to cool to room temperature, then stir in the crystallized ginger.

Lay a sheet of phyllo on a large cutting board lengthwise (with one of the shorter ends facing you); brush with some of the oil. (Cover the remaining stack of phyllo with damp paper towels between building the layers, so it doesn’t dry out.) Top the oiled sheet of phyllo with a second sheet and brush that one with the oil. Sprinkle half of the crushed cookies on top, distributing them evenly.

Add another 2 sheets of phyllo, brushing each with the oil. Cut the layered, oiled phyllo stack into 4 long strips of equal width. (It’s OK if some of the phyllo sheets get torn; use a little oil to mend the breaks.)

Spoon a small mound of the apple mixture (about an eighth of the total amount) about an inch from the near edge of one strip; fold the phyllo over the mixture into a triangle-shaped pocket. Continue to fold the strip up to maintain the triangle shape, as you would fold a flag or paper football, to form a triangular turnover. Repeat with the other 3 strips.

Repeat the whole process again with the remaining 4 sheets of phyllo and crushed cookies so that you wind up with 8 turnovers. (You might have leftover filling, which can be refrigerated for up to 5 days; see headnote.) Arrange the turnovers on a baking sheet, brush the top of each with oil and sprinkle with the Demerara or raw sugar.

Bake (middle rack) for 20 to 25 minutes or until lightly browned and crisped. Allow to cool slightly, then serve; or allow to cool completely and store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days, then reheat in a 300-degree oven until warm and re-crisped.

Makes 8 servings, each with 230 calories, 3 grams protein, 40 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 150 mg sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber, 19 grams sugar

Nutritionist and cookbook author Ellie Krieger

Sugar-Free Caramel Apple Crisp


6 apples (try McIntosh), peeled and sliced into small slices or cubes

1/2 cup Splenda granular

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

Pinch of salt

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into small cubes


1 cup flour

1 cup quick oats (not instant)

1/4 cup Splenda granular

3 tablespoons butter, melted

1/4 to 1/2 cup sugar-free caramel topping

Optional toppings: Sugar-free/no sugar added vanilla ice cream, additional caramel, nuts

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Add diced apples to a bowl. Add cinnamon, nutmeg, Splenda, lemon juice and salt. Mix well. Add mixture into a small baking dish. Evenly distribute the small butter cubes around the dish. Set aside.

2. In a separate bowl, combine flour, oats and Splenda. Add melted butter and stir well into the mixture. If mixture still seems really dry and powdery, you may want to add some butter.

3. Sprinkle the mixture evenly over the apples. Drizzle with the caramel topping on top.

4. Cover with foil and bake 35-40 minutes, or until the topping has browned and apple mixture begins to slightly bubble over the topping. Serve with ice cream and additional caramel. Serves 6.

Apple Crostata

This is an apple pie without the pie pan from Ina Garten, one of America’s leading cookbook authors. Note that she does not mix the sugar and the apples together. This will keep the free-form pie from becoming soggy.

1 refrigerator pie crust dough

1 1⁄2 pounds (or 3 large) McIntosh or Empire apples

1⁄4 teaspoon grated orange or lemon zest


1⁄4 cup flour

1⁄4 cup granulated sugar or 1⁄4 cup superfine sugar

1⁄4 teaspoon kosher salt

1⁄4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1⁄8 teaspoon ground allspice

4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, diced

1. Wrap dough in plastic and refrigerate for at least one hour. Meanwhile, preheat over to 450 degrees and make filling and topping.

2. For Filling: Peel, core and cut apples into eighths. Cut each wedge into 3 chunks. Toss with zest.

3. Make topping: Combine flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon and allspice in bowl of food processor. Add the butter and pulse until mixture is crumbly.

Pour into a bowl and rub it with your fingers until it starts holding together.

4. Remove dough from fridge and roll into an 11-inch circle and transfer to a baking or cookie sheet.

5. Spread apples over dough, leaving a 1 1/2-inch border.

6. Sprinkle topping evenly over apples.

7. Gently fold the border over the apples to enclose the apples, pleating it to make a circle. (There will be an opening.) Bake 20-25 minutes until the crust is golden and the apples are tender.

Allow to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.