The British apple season is a long one – spanning the earliest and latest ripening varieties, it runs from August to November – so there is no need to panic or speak of gluts. Stored under optimal conditions, apples also last a really long time, which is why we’re never without them. For the grower, apple season is a thing – for the rest of us, not so much.
But there’s nothing like year-round plenty to induce a failure of imagination, a failure that often starts at the supermarket. I’ll just buy apples, you think. I can always pile them in a bowl until inspiration strikes. Sometimes the fruit flies get there first.
Fortunately there is no shortage of apple recipes to warm up the cooling nights of early autumn. Here are 17 of the best.
If the words “peel, core and slice a kilo of apples” are enough to put you off any new recipe, you may want to think about purchasing a crank-handle peeling machine. While hardly necessary gadgets, peeler-corers are relatively inexpensive things of beauty, fun to use, and most claim to do pears as well. Even if you don’t want to risk the investment, you should still watch a YouTube video of someone demonstrating some antique models, which is reliably mesmerising.
An old-fashioned baked apple is as good a place to begin as any, since it requires a minimum of effort, skill or planning. Cored eating apples are stuffed with a mix of spices and dried fruit and then baked until soft – between 30 and 45 minutes, depending on size. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall uses a fruit butter that also includes muscovado sugar and cider brandy, while Nigel Slater offers the option of honey, brandy and crumbled ginger cake. A baked apple is, as you can see, a forgiving thing, so feel free to use what you’ve got.
Apple charlotte is only marginally more complicated: browned apples are baked in a loaf tin lined with white bread, like an autumnal version of summer pudding. Apple crumble is another classic, and it’s also a handy way to use up any blackberries you may have picked. You should never pass up the opportunity because there simply aren’t 17 good ways to cook with blackberries. There are, by my count, four, and this is one of them.
Dan Lepard’s alehouse apple pie is as rough and ready as it sounds: the pastry even has beer in it. The apples, chopped, browned in butter and layered with spices, are loaded into the middle of a square of rolled pastry, which is then folded haphazardly over them by the corners, so the resulting pie looks as if it was made by a drunk.
For a more considered-looking pudding, Felicity Cloake’s perfect French apple tart has a slick, patisserie-style finish, but don’t worry – all that fussiness is confined to the top layer, with thinly sliced apples (peeling, she insists, is optional) laid out in a neat spiral. Below that are layers of frangipane and apple puree. This is not the same as a tarte tatin, which is baked upside down, with the pastry on top, and then inverted for serving. Here’s an easy recipe for that using shop-bought puff pastry.
Crisp eating apples are recommended for all of the above, by the way. As Lepard points out, sour cooking apples tend to turn to fluff when baked. His recipe for bramley and custard meringue pie actually makes a virtue of this – the fluffy apple mush is swirled into a custard and topped with stiff egg whites.
Toffee apples exert a powerful nostalgic pull, although thinking back they were probably more fun to make than they were to eat. This recipe is certainly simple enough, but it begins with an off-putting step: you have to drop your apples in boiling water first, because they’re coated in a preservative wax and if you don’t get it off the toffee won’t stick. To be fair, you’d probably need to do this even if your fruit came straight from the tree – apples produce their own natural wax, which is washed off during processing, and then replaced.
The classic combination of apple and toffee can be revisited in more genteel form in this toffee apple cake from James Rich, or in Liam Charles’ toffee apple buns. Granny smith is the preferred variety for both recipes, but don’t let an ageing bowl of cox’s stop you trying either.
Apart from puddings, apples work beautifully in any number of savoury dishes, and have a well-known affinity with pork – surely the least alarming of all the meat/fruit pairings. This is exploited to good effect in Yotam Ottolenghi’s roast pork belly, along with soy and ginger and again in this chorizo, apple and cider tapas from Rachel Kelly. Gizzi Erskine’s pork and apple stroganoff is a slow braise that can be left to gently bubble away until tender.
Apple is a familiar component of fruit salad, but here are two salads where apple is the only fruit, providing a sharp, sweet contrasting note – a tart variety would be ideal for this sort of thing. The first is a remoulade of apple and radish and the second a Thai-inspired tomato, apple and shallot salad with a lime and fish sauce dressing.
Finally, an apple cocktail – not the ubiquitous and deeply misguided appletini, but a drink from the Cutting Room Bar’s Yoann Carrot called Apple Crumble in a Glass. It’s a heady mix of bourbon, apple juice, amaretto, cannelle syrup and digestive biscuit. Unless you press your own apple juice – and I think you should – the only apple required here is for the fan-shaped garnish, which is probably also the most difficult part of the recipe. Skip that bit if you have to, and remember: do not operate apple-peeling machinery under the influence of alcohol.
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