Art is never far from hand here in the Valley. Park Hill Orchard, here in Easthampton, is currently hosting a sculpture exhibit, which I finally got around to checking out this weekend. It features a variety of sculpted pieces from mostly local artists, ranging from abstract collections of wood and metal to found-object metal insects to a tree studded with plaster lips. Also, they were handing out a tart Paula Red apple to everyone who showed up to walk the exhibit path. As one of the owners explained, “We're not so much farmers who go into art as artists who got into farming.” The exhibit's been up for almost a month now, but it's almost a more rewarding trip the farther into fall we go, as there's more apple opportunities to take advantage of at this point. The advertising of the free apple worked well enough for me to take a ¼-peck home, and they had cold, fresh cider for sale at the stand as well.
As much as I try to avoid snobbish attitudes around food, I haven't been able to completely avoid being a bit of a cider snob. I grew up with Vermont's largest contiguous apple orchard in my backyard, and spent falls in high school making fresh cider, many gallons at a time, to be served in the school dining hall. I'd take home a half-gallon from the cider house and drink it almost to the point of causing intestinal unrest. When you've drunk enough cider that way, bright, fresh and right off the press, it's almost impossible to tolerate the pasteurized apple juice that passes for cider in most supermarkets (which can make decent mulled cider, so I guess it's not a total waste of space). It even seems like a waste to heat it up with mulling spices or save it to make hard cider because that would mean not drinking it fresh. I can get good hard cider all year round and lesser ciders will do for mulling, but there's only a few months' window for good, fresh cider. It's my annual torrid fall love affair.
I'm not quite so passionate in my opinions where it comes to apples (except in my repudiation of so-called Red Delicious "apples," which is probably stronger than my opinion on cider, but doesn't come up as often). If I'm having a torrid seasonal love affair with cider, apples and I are like friends from summer camp: you hang out a lot more for a short part of the year, but you keep up on and off the rest of the year, too. You probably know them better than you know tall, dark and thirst-quenching. My favorite apples are still pretty bold and tart, varieties many consider to be pie apples: Northern Spy, Cortland and Empire are some favorites. The Paula Reds that I brought home are an evolved version of the McIntosh that have a bright sweetness when very fresh that mellows the more time they're off the tree. I mostly eat them fresh this time of year, sticking a few a day in my lunchbag.
However, we turned up with several people for brunch this Sunday, and turned some of the apples into an apple pancake baked in a cast iron skillet and dusted with cinnamon sugar. It tastes a little like a warm cider donut. This is a recipe we came up with a while ago, and is notable partially because it represents Maria and I equally contributing to a recipe without feeling the need to squash each other for territorial reasons. It has a delicate, spongy texture, different from the other baked pancakes and Pfannkuchen to which it's related, due to volume of whipped egg whites, which take on the whole leavening job. We also happened to have some bourbon caramel sauce lying around, like you do, which we drizzled over the top of each slice to dramatic effect. If you don't regularly happen to have bourbon caramel sauce lying around, but would like to, the recipe for that follows as well. Additionally, one of our brunch guests took some gorgeous photos of the finished dish while we were busy, putting our usual photo stylings to shame.
- ½ c. flour
- 3 Tblsp. sugar (+ 1 Tblsp. for dusting)
- ¼ tsp. salt
- ¼ tsp. nutmeg
- ½ tsp. cinnamon (+½ tsp. for dusting)
- ¾ med. apple (about 1/2 lb apple – I used a Paula Red), cut into ½” chunks (the last ¼ will be used for decorative slices on top) Wet Mix:
- 2 Tblsp apple cider (you can omit the yogurt/milk and use ¼ c. cider to make this dairy-free)
- 2 Tblsp plain or vanilla yogurt OR 2 Tblsp. milk plus about ¼ tsp. vinegar
- 1 whole egg* Whip to stiff peaks:
- 3 egg whites*
- 1 Tblsp. butter or margarine *We often have spare egg whites hanging around. You can get away with 3 whole eggs, separated. Mix the yolks in with the wet mix and whip the whites separately. You could even try it with just 2 eggs divided this way.
Baked Apple Pancakevegetarian, optionally dairy-free
serves 4-6, start to finish in 30 minutes or less
Put together dry mix ingredients in a 2 qt. bowl. Make sure apple pieces get well coated with dry mix, as it well help them from clumping in the final product. The wet mix ingredients (which do not include whipped egg whites) should fit in something 1-2 c. in size. Mixing them in a measuring cup with spout makes the whole deal very easy to add. Whip the egg whites to stiff peaks. Add wet mix to dry mix and stir to combine, then fold in the egg whites.
Melt 1 T butter in a 9” cast iron skillet, then pour in the batter and spread out evenly. Arrange apple slices on top, then put it in the oven for 15-20 minutes, until it gets toasty-brown on top and a toothpick comes out of the center clean.
Combine reserved tablespoon of sugar and ½ tsp. of cinnamon, then use to dust the top. Let sit for 5-10 minutes (or as long as you can stand it). It should slide out of the pan with minimal coaxing. Slice as you see fit and serve, with or without caramel sauce.
- ½ c. (1 stick) butter (salted or not, up to you), cut into pieces
- 1 c. sugar
- 1-2 Tblsp. water
- 1 c. heavy cream
- ¼ c. bourbon (a little more than a shot)
- ¼ tsp. salt, or to taste
Bourbon Caramel SauceRecipe adapted from David Lebovitz's Ready for Dessert
Lebovitz's blog, Living the Sweet Life in Paris is always a good read as well.