While many moods are affected by November’s gray skies, I enjoy the opportunity to stay in, light a fire in the chimney and cook anything comforting. Yep, comfort food isn’t out of trend in my book, it’s what I want to make every year come fall. And fresh apple season isn’t over yet, I still have plenty in my fridge so I cook with them a lot.
One obvious way to use up a large quantity of apple is making applesauce, but I am not particularly fond of this concoction. Somehow, boiled apples aren’t appealing to me. And I don’t like the grainy stuff I can buy at the store.
While browsing my books to find new ways to cook with apples, I was surprisingly attracted by an applesauce recipe in The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook. Ina Garten is probably the icon of comfort food so I should have guessed that she would manage to change my mind about applesauce. The big differences in her recipe are that the applesauce is baked, not boiled, and added liquid come from citrus fruits, not water. I decided to try it and it’s so good that I’ve already made it twice since then. Baking the apples renders a deep, almost caramelized taste that reminds me of Tarte Tatin. The citrus juice and zest prevents the flavors from going to sleep and the slow cooking means that the apples are so tender when they come out of the oven that you can just whisk them and voilà, you have your applesauce.
The applesauce as it comes out of the oven, after being whisked. You can see on the left that I deliberately left some peels in the Dutch oven through the baking process because Ina Garten suggested it would give a rosy color to my applesauce. My sauce didn’t strike me as particularly rosy, so the second time I omitted it and the color was the same. It saved me the step of having to fish the peels out.
Although it was good enough to be eaten by the spoonful, I immediately hunted for an apple pancake recipe to serve the sauce with it. I love homemade pancakes, especially with fruits like bananas, blueberries or apples added to it. I turned to Deborah Madison because her books are my ultimate reference for recipes featuring fresh fruits and vegetables. I find her recipes always have an interesting twist and I love the fact that they just work. I picked a very appealing recipe (Apple-Oat Pancakes with Cheddar Cheese from her book Local Flavors), but for the first time, I was very disappointed. The pancakes were made the fussy way (separating the egg yolks from the whites, beating the whites, folding everything together) and they turned out soggy and flat. Few things are more disappointing in my book than soggy pancakes! While I like to cook a nice special breakfast on the weekends, I don’t want to bring out all kinds of appliances and dirty a mountain of dishes while I’m still in my pajamas. I think the recipe contained too much grated apples and the wet/dry ratio was off. Anyhow, the recipe was disappointing enough that I didn’t want to experiment more with it and turned back to an adaptation of my tried and true, easy pancakes.
My pancake recipe comes from Jamie Oliver (I have previously made a blueberry & banana version of it). It cannot be simpler to make and it produces the fluffiest, most satisfying pancakes ever. Honestly, I don’t see why one would want to complicate things and make pancakes otherwise. I know for sure that I won’t ever steer away from this recipe again and I’m sure that once you try it, you’ll never want to let go either.
Although we ate the disappointing pancakes, the next weekend I really wanted to make things right so I made applesauce again (because we gobbled the first batch in a flash) and I served it with my own Apple & Aged Cheddar Wholewheat Pancakes – and a lot of 100 % pure maple syrup. We were in heaven.
Adapted from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook by Ina Garten.
The recipe suggests that the more different apple varieties you use, the deeper the flavor. I have personally made this recipe with mixed kinds of apples or with one single variety and I found it equally satisfying.
It’s a known fact that Ina Garten isn’t shy with butter and she adds a whopping ¼ pound of it to her applesauce. I cut it in half first, and then even more and the sauce’s flavor was rich just the same.
Makes about 2 ½ quarts
Juice of 2 large navel oranges + finely grated zest of 1 of the two oranges
Juice of 1 lemon
6 pounds of sweet red apples (12 to 16 apples) such as McIntosh, Honeycrisp, Cortland, or Empire (mix and match varieties if you wish)
½ cup light brown sugar, packed
2-3 tablespoons (25 to 40 g) of butter, diced
½ teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional, I don’t use it, I find it a bit too overpowering)
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).
Place the zest and juice of the oranges and the lemon juice in a large bowl. Peel, quarter and core the apples and toss them in the juice. Pour the apples and juice into a nonreactive Dutch oven or enameled iron pot. Add the brown sugar, butter and spices and cover the pot. Bake for 1 ½ hours or until all the apples are soft. Mix with a whisk until smooth to your liking. I like when it’s still chunky but if you want it perfectly smooth, you could even puree it in a blender. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Apple & Cheddar Whole Wheat Pancakes
Based on Jamie Oliver’s One Cup Pancakes
As you cook the pancakes, place them flat on a baking sheet in a warm oven while you cook the rest. They will hold very well and remain fluffy and crisp. I even keep the leftover pancakes and reheat them in a 300°F (150°C) the oven the day after and they’re just as delicious.
Makes about 8 4-inch pancakes
½ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
½ cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup milk
1 egg, lightly beaten
½ cup grated apple (about 1 small apple)
½ cup grated aged cheddar cheese
Butter, for cooking
Preheat oven to 250°F (125°C).
Mix both flours and baking soda in a medium bowl. Add the milk and lightly beaten egg at once and stir with a fork until blended but lumps remain. Add the apple and cheddar cheese and mix together.
Heat a nonstick pan on medium heat. Melt a knob of butter and then pour ½ cup portions of batter into the pan. Do not overcrowd your pan; in a medium one you can usually fit just two pancakes at once. Cook until the edges are dried and bubbles come to the surface (3 to 4 minutes). Turn and cook until the pancake is plump and the underside is golden (about 2 minutes more). Put these pancakes flat, side-by-side, on a baking sheet and into your warm oven. Repeat until you’ve used all the batter.
Serve the pancakes with a dollop of warm applesauce and drizzle (or drench) with maple syrup.
Note: I like to reduce the heat to medium-low after cooking the first two pancakes to make sure the remaining ones won’t cook too quickly and burn.