One of the great delights of autumn is the abundance of fresh, ripe, local and delicious apples. Of course, they're available year-round these days, but they're at their best right now, not least because there are more varieties to choose from in the fall, especially if you take advantage of your neighborhood farmers market or visit one of those pick-your-own orchards.
Everyone in my family has their favorite. My daughter Ruthie loves Ginger Gold. My son Sam is a fan of Honey Crisp. And the husband prefers a Granny Smith. Me, I go with Golden Delicious. I know, not a very exotic choice. Golden Delicious is second only to Red Delicious as the most popular kind of apple. All I can say is that it's a winner for a reason. When the Golden Delicious is baked, its flavor intensifies and becomes honey-like.
Then again, I've never met an apple I didn't like. They all have their strong points. Some, like the Honey Crisp, are perfect right off the tree — juicy, with a snappy texture. Others don't really begin to shine until they are cooked. Granny Smith and Rome apples hold their shape perfectly in the oven, while Macintosh fall completely apart (which, happily, make them great candidates for applesauce).
Which kind of apple should you use for my apple cranberry brulee? In this recipe it doesn't matter. Just pick the one or two kinds you like best.
Preparing this recipe is surprisingly easy. I peel the apples, halve them by cutting down through the stem end, remove the core with a melon baller (a good little trick to remember), then thinly slice them to speed up the baking time. Baking the apples, rather than sauteing them, allows me to avoid adding any extra fat (aside from the egg yolk).
I flavor the apples with maple syrup and brandy. I recommend Grade B maple syrup, if you can find it. It is harvested at the end of the season and is much darker in color than Grade A. It also is more flavorful and, usually, cheaper. I don't just use Grade B in baking, I put it on everything. As for the brandy, if you want to lose it, feel free. This dish is plenty tasty without it.
This treat is a cross between a baked pancake, a souffle and a creme brulee. It has an eggy topping, reminiscent of a pancake, but the egg white in the topping has been beaten to soft peaks, which makes it lighter and airier. In the end, it is sprinkled with sieved brown sugar and popped back in the oven until it gets a dark brown crust that tastes like the burnt sugar on the famous custard. The finished product embodies the best of three great recipes, though nothing outshines the apples.
APPLE CRANBERRY BRULEE
Start to finish: 1 hour 10 minutes (30 minutes active)
2 medium apples (about 1 pound), peeled, cored, quartered and thinly sliced
1/3 cup dried cranberries, cherries or raisins
5 tablespoons maple syrup (preferably Grade B), divided
3 tablespoons brandy, bourbon or rum, divided (optional)
1 large egg yolk
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch table salt
2 large egg whites, room temperature
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
Heat the oven to 450 F.
In a 9-inch round shallow baking dish, combine the apples, cranberries, 2 tablespoons of the maple syrup and 2 tablespoons of the brandy, if using. Cover the baking dish with foil and bake in the middle of the oven for 35 to 40 minutes, or until a paring knife goes through the apples very easily. Remove the apples from the oven and increase the oven heat to 500 F.
While the apples are baking, in a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolk, remaining 3 tablespoons maple syrup, remaining tablespoon of brandy, the cornstarch, vanilla and salt. Set aside.
Once the apples are tender, in another medium bowl, beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Stir one half of the whites into the yolk mixture, then gently but thoroughly fold in the remaining whites. Spread the mixture evenly over the top of the apples.
Place the brown sugar in a mesh sieve. Hold the sieve above the egg topping and press the sugar through it to evenly sprinkle it over the topping. Bake the dessert in the top third of the oven until nicely browned, about 2 minutes. Serve right away.
Nutrition information per serving: 150 calories; 10 calories from fat (7 percent of total calories); 1 g fat (0 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 30 mg cholesterol; 31 g carbohydrate; 2 g fiber; 25 g sugar; 2 g protein; 50 mg sodium.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Sara Moulton was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years, and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows. She currently stars in public television's "Sara's Weeknight Meals" and has written three cookbooks, including "Sara Moulton's Everyday Family Dinners."