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I recently realized that after two months of blogging I have somehow have failed to post any recipes for a bona fide dessert (gasp). So I will do my best to remedy the situation before my pastry credentials are wrested away from me. All of the elements of this dish can be made well in advance, and combined and reused for other dishes. I think that they make a particularly delicious combination all together– lightly sweetened apples with a velvety smooth texture, simple, creamy-tangy labne and a luscious honey caramel sauce (caramel is actually quite easy to make). Mix and match with whatever you have in your kitchen as you see fit. I think that you won’t be disappointed. Yes, this recipe does require some of the rich (and more expensive) trappings of dessert, (cream and butter). But in a sauce these expensive ingredients go a long way. And the majority of the dish (apples and yogurt) is quite affordable indeed. And because each of the elements is so versatile, any leftover components will surely not go to waste.
I adapted this recipe from a Pierre Herme recipe– I am of the opinion that in cooking, almost everything is stolen, and you will do well to pick carefully who you steal from. As far as I’m concerned if you are a patient and particular pastry person, Mr. Herme is the person to steal from (My understanding is that he adapted/stole the recipe from a colonial cookbook.) Pierre’s recipe specifies cooking the apples for ten hours at a very low heat, all the while compressed by a weight. Because I have a gas oven which sometimes behaves erratically, I wasn’t about to leave it on all night. So I split the cooking into two shorter segments, and left the apples to cook in the remaining heat (a technique which I was familiar with from poaching pears and leaving them in the hot poaching liquid overnight). What you get from all of this fussing with the cooking temperature is a an unparalleled texture. The flavor will not be that different from a baked apple, but the texture is melt-in-your-mouth smooth, entirely avoiding the mealy and mushy texture of overcooked apples. I do feel compelled to say, though, that if all of this sounds like a bit too much, simply sauteed apples would be delicious with this dish as well. But if you’re up for a little kitchen experimenting, then this method puts an interesting spin on cooking something as everyday as apples.
two nesting 9×9″ baking pans (or some other improvised situation that will allow you to place weight on the contents of one 9×9 baking pan).
a cast iron skillet or dutch oven
4-5 Apples suitable for baking (I used some very tasty Mutsus, but there are many varieties that cook nicely)
3-4 Strips of Orange or Lemon Peel
2-3 Bay Leaves
Prepare the Apples:
Peel and core the apples. Reserve the trimmings in a freezer bag for another use. Slice the apple halves into 1/8″ thick sections. Once all of your apples are sliced, arrange them carefully in layers on the base of your baking pan. Start with the slices all stacked together, just as they were when they comprised a whole apple– then fan the slices out to achieve an evenly spaced covering. Sprinkle each layer with sugar (you make the judgment as to how much sugar the apples need depending on how sweet/tart your apples are). Arrange the next layer in the same manner, but rotate the pan 90 degrees, so the layers will be laying in different directions. Continue layering in this manner until you’ve used up all of your apples. On top of the last layer toss in a few bay leaves and strips of lemon or orange zest (you can fiddle with the seasonings, of course– but if you haven’t played around with apples without cinnamon, then I highly recommend giving it a try).
Preheat your oven to 225 F. Cut a sheet of parchment paper to precisely cover the surface of your apples. Place the second baking pan on top of the parchment and apples. Load the whole assembly into the oven and then place a dutch oven or cast iron skillet on top (the goal is to squish the apples slowly as they bake, I’m not sure exactly how it works, but I’m pretty certain this compression is what prevents them from just turning to mush). Bake at 225 F for one and a half hours. Turn the oven off. Leave the whole assembly in the oven overnight (the apples will continue cooking with the residual heat).
The next morning turn the oven on to 225 F. Let the oven heat for one hour. Turn the oven off and again, leave the apples in the oven to cook in the residual heat.
Serving & Storing:
After another six to eight hours the apples will be ready to serve (can you tell that I timed this recipe around my workday?). Remove the bay leaves and zest strips. Use a spoon to delicately scoop out the solid apple mass. Store the apples in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. The apples can be served cold, tepid or warm.
If you haven’t ever made a caramel before, then this is the right place to start. This recipe avoids a lot of the big scary things about candy making. You don’t need to make a big batch in order for it to cook properly, you don’t have to worry about your sugar crystallizing (cooking sugar together with a fat avoids this pitfall) and you don’t need a candy thermometer. It’s so easy and delicious, you’ll never want to buy a caramel again.
a generous pinch of Salt
Prepare your ingredients:
Toss your butter and sugar and pinch of salt in a saucepan (for one recipe use at least a 1 1/2 qt. saucepan, you’ll need a larger pan if you make a double recipe). Measure your cream and have it ready nearby– the key to cooking a caramel is to cook it to the stage that you want, and stop it. In this case, you will stop the cooking by dumping in your cream, so you need to have it within reach exactly when your caramel is ready.
Cook the Caramel:
Heat the butter and sugar over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon. Once the butter is melted stir vigilantly. As the mixture heats up it will look gritty, then start to come together, then it will separate and look a bit oily. Don’t worry about any of these textural changes, the texture will come together at the end. What you do want to look for is the color. After a few minutes, the color will start to darken (once it starts to change it goes quickly). When it reaches the color of peanut butter hold the pan away from you (to avoid dangerous spatters) and pour in all of the cream at once. When the bubbling has subsided enough for you to start stirring, return the pan to the heat and stir until the mixture is homogenous– you might have to bring it to a boil to incorporate some of the firmer caramel pieces. Once the sauce is smooth, remove from the heat. Stir in the honey.
Serve & Store:
Once your sauce has cooled, you can store it in a squeeze bottle in the fridge and reheat it in the microwave or in a bowl of hot water as needed.
2c. Yogurt Strained for 2 days will yield 4-6 servings as a dessert.
Scoop some warm apples into a bowl, add a scoop of labne, and drizzle liberally with warmed caramel honey sauce.