Critiques, Cravings and Conundrums From the Madison Food and Dining Scene
Oct 10, 2010
08:50 AMSmall Dishes
Apple of My Eye
Apples are probably the most common fruit of all. They’re always available at the grocery, but can come from as far away as New Zealand. Too often they’ve been held in cold storage way past their prime. In this country, most come from Washington—about 55%, but are commercially grown in 35 other states including Wisconsin which ranks 12th in production. Regardless, locally grown apples are best and now is the time to enjoy them!
The number of varieties is staggering—more than 7,500. In the United States, though, only about 50 are seriously marketed. They all start out green, but when ripe, their skin can turn red, pink, yellow, orange, brown or just remain green. Apples vary enormously in tartness, sweetness and flavor from one species to the next. Some like America’s favorite, the Red Delicious, are too tender for cooking so it’s important to choose the right apple for the right recipe. For example, the Red Rome is preferred for baking whole since its thick skin helps hold its shape.
Apple pie is thought of as quintessentially American. In reality, it’s not so. The English would argue that they invented it, which may or may not be true. There’s no arguing that it’s an enormously revered dish in all English-speaking countries. However, it’s also concocted in many variations in most European countries. The French have their upside down tarte tatin, the Dutch their lattice-crusted appelgebak, the Swedish version has no crust at all, and Austrian apple strudel is nothing more than a rolled up apple pie.
The apple most commonly recommended for pies is the Granny Smith. Originally from New Zealand but now widely grown here, it keeps it shape after cooking, but lacks flavor. Like the French, Julia Child’s prefers the Golden Delicious. I have result with Macintosh so long as they’re new crop—if stored too long, they tend to fall apart. My two favorites, though, are the Golden Russet which you can occasionally find and the Cox Orange Pippin—almost impossible to find here. It’s the most popular apple in England and intensely flavorful, but doesn’t cultivate well in North America. Fortunately, Weston’s Antique Apples who sell at the Dane County Farmer’s Market have them along with 100 other rare varieties!
There’s an urban myth—I first heard it as a kid and still hear it today—that Wisconsin restaurants are/were required by law to serve cheese with apple pie. Probably the root of this notion was that between 1935 and 1937 there was a law requiring restaurants to serve a small amount of butter or cheese with meals. However, in Vermont where apple pie is the official state pie, the legislature mandated in 1999 that it must be served with either a glass of milk, slice of cheddar cheese or scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Area Apple Appendix
There are many orchards in the area worth the scenic fall drive to visit. At some you can pick your own apples and many also sell homemade apple products. Door Creek Orchards in nearby Cottage Grove began as a dairy farm in the early 1800s and today has 34 different varieties of apples. Ski-Hi Fruit Farm located near Baraboo grows 30 varieties of apples, but the cider donuts are worth the trip alone. On the edge of the Horicon Marsh near Waupun is the Tom Dooley Apple Orchard, famous for its home bakery and what many claim are the best caramel apples anywhere. (They sell out quickly so call and order in advance.)
Real apple cider is never filtered or pasteurized and has to be kept refrigerated: best drunk shortly after it’s made. Increasingly, it can be difficult to find outside of farmer’s markets or specialty stores. A personal favorite is the cider made once a week in season by Ella’s Orchard in Rochester. It’s available at the Dane County Farmer’s Market and at the Willy Street Co-op.
Cider isn’t the only way to drink your apples. At The Old Fashioned not surprisingly they make an Applejack Old Fashioned. Bev’s Apple Martini is a specialty of Smoky’s Club. And, Furthermore Beer in Spring Green is rightly proud of their Fallen Apple Ale.
Apples show up on restaurant menus around town in sundry ways. Starting at breakfast,
Daisy Café & Cupcakery features an egg strata filled with apples, cinnamon, toasted croutons and oats that’s topped off with homemade applesauce. The baked apple pancake at Pancake Café comes in two sizes, large and even larger.
I’m always looking for salads that are something other than the usual profusion of field greens. On the fall menu at Sardine is just such a salad made from a classic combination of French ingredients: roasted beets, tart apples and toasted walnuts, dressed with course mustard and cider vinegar.
Honeycrisp apples were developed in Minnesota and since their appearance in 1991 have become wildly popular because of their sweet crunch. Liliana’s features a salad of locally grown Honeycrip apples, red onions, Montrachet cheese, and candied pecans dressed with apricot vinaigrette.
Apples pair well with pork—all cuts, including pork belly (what bacon and salt port are made from). At Brasserie V they roast it with apples and serve it with a sweet corn fritter and honey butter for a hearty fall entrée.
Of course, apple desserts proliferate at this time or year. Bluephie’s serves up a traditional and comfy apple crisp topped with a spiced oat and sugar topping. Included in its extensive cheesecake repertoire at Hubbard Avenue Diner is their autumn apple pecan cheesecake. Not your mother’s apple pie at Lombardino’s but rather an Italian-style apple tart glorified with salted caramel ice cream and a sauce made from reduced sweet cider. But if you’re looking for something really different, head to Restaurant Magnus for the “Veiled Norwegian Farm Girls:” thin almond pancakes layered with apple compote, strawberry preserves and vanilla-flavored cream.
The Elegant Farmer in Mukwanago makes a unique apple pie cooked and sold in a paper bag. For a commercially baked pie it’s remarkably good and available at several places around town including Metcalfe’s Market and Brennan’s Market. Speaking of Brennan’s, they make an unusual and scrumptious ice cream, their “Ultra Super Premium” autumn caramel apple.
Pastry for a double crust 9-inch pie
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 pounds baking apples
½ cup light brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar, plus more for sprinkling on the pie
¼ cup unsalted butter
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of ground nutmeg (optional)
1 tablespoon flour
1 large egg, separated
1 tablespoon milk or cream
Put the lemon juice in a large bowl. Core, peel, and halve, and the apples. Cut each half into 4 wedges. Toss the apples with the lemon juice. Add the brown and granulated sugar and toss so the apples are evenly coated.
In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the apple mixture, and cook, stirring, until the sugar dissolves and it comes to a simmer (about 2 minutes). Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook until the apples soften and release most of their juices (about 5 minutes).
Strain the apples in a colander set over a large bowl to catch all the juices. Shake the colander to drain as much liquid from the apples as possible. Return the liquid to the skillet; simmer over medium heat until thickened and lightly caramelized (about 10 minutes).
In a mixing bowl, toss the cooked apples with the reduced juice mixture, cinnamon, nutmeg and flour. Set aside to cool completely. This filling can be made up to 2 days ahead and refrigerated or frozen for up to 6 months.
Line the bottom of a 9-inch pie pan with pastry, and trim it so it extends about ½ inch beyond the rim of the pan. Beat the egg white and lightly brush the bottom and edge of the crust. Add the apple filling to the dough-lined pan, mounding it slightly in the center. Top with pie pastry and trim the edge so there is a ½-inch overhang. Fold the top layer of dough under the edge of the bottom layer and press the edges together to form a seal; then decoratively crimp the edge. Chill the pie for 1 hour.
Place the pie in the freezer compartment of the refrigerator for exactly 20 minutes.
Preheat oven 375 degrees.
Beat the egg yolk with the milk or cream. Brush the surface of the pie with the beaten egg mixture and sprinkle with granulated sugar. Make 3 or 4 decorative vents in the top of the dough. Bake the pie in the lower middle of the preheated oven (place a baking sheet on the rack below the pie to capture any juices) for about 50 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on a rack for at least 2 hours before serving. The pie is best if made and eaten the same day. Cover and refrigerate any leftovers.
Makes 1 9-inch pie.