What to Do With All Those Apples:
We are blessed here in Columbia County to have so many apple orchards near us so that we can spend part of a beautiful fall day apple-picking. Our family has made an annual ritual of going to the apple orchard for as long as I can remember. Even now, our teenagers may grumble all the way there and back, but they do enjoy the search for that perfect apple that is waiting just for them to pick (and eat on the spot). It is unavoidable that we will come home with way too many apples to eat out of hand. (See: 2004 Pick an Apple, Pick a Pumpkin for the latest advice on the local crop.)
Luckily there are dozens and dozens of wonderful apple recipes to choose from.
The following one, which uses a lot of apples, is actually a version of a Russian apple charlotte that I learned to make in my high school cooking class. The recipe uses the very common Macintosh apple because it cooks down quite quickly. It is a simple yet elegant dessert, but it must be served warm. If you decide to make it for company, put it in the oven about
an hour and a half before you serve it.
2 sticks unsalted butter
16 slices of homemade-type white bread (i.e. Arnold’s), crusts removed
15 Macintosh-type apples, peeled and thinly sliced
½ cup sugar
1/3 cup water
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 ½ cups apricot jam
2 Tbs. water
¼ cup apple jack or calvados, optional
Butter a 1 ½ quart round baking dish (such as a soufflé dish). Remove 4 Tbs. of the butter and melt the remaining butter in a pyrex cup in the microwave.
Cut three of the slices of bread in half diagonally and cut 7 slices in half lengthwise.
Dip the triangles into the melted butter and place them on the bottom of the dish.
Dip the halves into the butter and overlap them around the sides of the dish.
Melt the remaining butter in a large skillet over medium heat and add the apples water and cinnamon. Cook for about 30 minutes or until the apples are very soft and slightly browned.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Pour the apple mixture into the dish. Cut the remaining bread slices in half and dip them in the butter (it may need to be remelted) and cover the top of the apples completely. Bake for one hour or until golden brown. Place a cookie sheet under the casserole to catch any drips. Cool for half an hour and then invert onto a serving platter.
While the charlotte is cooling, melt the jam with the water in a saucepan over moderate heat for about ten minutes. Turn off the heat and add the apple jack or calvados.
Serve the charlotte warm with the sauce poured onto each serving.
My mother was a great baker. She dedicated her attention to a recipe, never swerving from the written word. This almost always resulted in a perfect product. While it was not in her make-up to be creative and let go, the results were always worth her efforts. In contrast, I am almost never content to follow a recipe, always feeling the need to create and improvise. I have taken her exacting recipe and played with it to make it my own. I have made this recipe for all my children's big events, Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, weddings, etc. and have even made it for other's big occasions.
So many people are unreasonably frightened by the prospect of making bread; the yeast, the time required, the kneading. And yet, this is why it is so rewarding! Unlike classic homemade breads, this challah recipe is quite forgiving; it uses a food processor, it gives ample time during the two risings to run errands, it allows children to come home from school in time to do the braiding. Best of all, it impresses even the most discriminating guest with its subtle sweetness and moist crumb.
1 Tbs. dry yeast
1 cup warm water
1 Tbs. white sugar
5 cups all-purpose flour
½ Tbs. Kosher salt
1/3 cup dark natural honey
2 extra-large eggs
¼ cup vegetable oil
Egg for glazing
Raisins and/or sesame or poppy seeds for sprinkling on top
Proof the yeast by mixing 1 cup of the warm water with the yeast and sugar in a glass measuring cup. Mix well with a wooden spoon until the yeast has dissolved. Put aside for 5 minutes to make sure that a foamy head has started to form on the top. (If it does not foam, you will need to start over with a different package of yeast.)
In a very large mixing bowl, pour in the flour mixed with the salt to form a mountain. Make a well in the center and pour in the yeast mixture. Using a wooden spoon, begin to mix the flour into the center. Add the honey, stir in some more of the flour. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing in the flour as you go. Now mix in the remaining flour and the oil. The flour should be sticky; if not, add a little more flour.
Divide the dough into four equal parts. Using the metal blade of a food processor, put ¼ of the dough into the machine and let it run for about a minute until a ball has been formed. Repeat with the other pieces of dough. Alternatively, knead the dough on a floured surface for 10 minutes, or until the dough is soft and pliable. If using raisins, knead a handful of raisins into each ball of dough.
Heat oven to 140 degrees and then turn the oven off.
Place the four balls of dough into a very large greased mixing bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Place in the oven and allow to rise until doubled in bulk, or for about an hour.
Divide each ball into four equal parts. Roll the pieces into balls and then into long ropes. Take the four ropes and press one side of the ends together tightly. Braid the four pieces together by starting with an outside rope and going over and under until you reach the end. Pull the pieces tightly as you go to form a higher loaf. Repeat with the remaining loaves. You can also divide the four pieces of dough into sixteen pieces each and form challah knots, by making long ropes and tying them into knots.
Place each challah onto a greased cookie sheet and cover with plastic. Allow to rise about 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Mix the egg with 1 Tbs. of water and brush the glaze all over the challahs. Sprinkle with the seeds. Bake for about 30 minutes or until golden. If making rolls, they bake for only about 15 minutes.
Yields 2 loaves. (Recipe can be doubled)