As summer transitions into fall, that cool breeze signals the arrival of baking season. Unlike spring that tiptoes in after a cold winter, autumn roars out of the gate offering the finest dessert fruit front and center: the crisp and juicy apple.
For centuries the apple has reigned as America's favorite fruit. We like the diverse varieties and bakers understand that we enjoy the textures and flavors of baked apples as much as we enjoy the taste and crunch of just-picked apples. Few fruits boast that accomplishment.
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Walking through a local orchard, fruit weighing heavy on the branches, my culinary senses started tingling with the dessert possibilities. While my husband quizzed the owners for their best eating recommendations, I picked up a Honeycrip, the apple world's newest darling, and wondered "What can I bake with this apple?"
Honeycrisp apples burst with juicy sweet, yet mildly tart flavor, and boast that perfectly crisp apple texture. They're such a great eating apple that baking them usually doesn't come to mind. Cost became another consideration. Honeycrisp apples come to market with a pricey tag. Trees are expensive and the fruit grows only in selective areas of the country, with short availability.
Not one to back away from a challenge, I set out to create a Honeycrisp dessert that preserved the apple's integrity and did not bankrupt my baking budget.
Standard apple cake recipes call for dicing or grating the fruit, which causes the apple to disappear upon baking -- not an option for our precious Honeycrips. I also didn't want the fruit's luscious flavor take a back seat to cinnamon and other powerful spices.
Apple pie recipes came to mind, but then they require too much fruit and won't be budget friendly. Two other spins on the pie genre, turnovers and galettes, usually do fresh apples justice. However less fruit meant maximizing the Honeycrisps by putting apples front and center.
A German-style kuchen seemed a better fit. Kuchen means "cake" in German, but in the dessert world "kuchen" encompasses a wide range of sweets including yeast-raised coffee cakes, rolled pastries and cake-based fruit tarts. I pulled a peach kuchen recipe from my file and started to work.
The recipe seemed standard, but the presentation offered an appealing approach to showcase apples in a baked dessert. Sidelining the usual size cake pans, this kuchen baked in a low-profile tart pan. The wide diameter provided more surface area for displaying apple slices on top and the fluted removable side pan bakes a fancy finish, nice and easy to serve.
I wanted a lighter, open crumb for the cake base, so the batter comes together using a hybrid of biscuit and muffin mixing preparations. Butter cuts into the dry ingredients, then gets moistened with an egg liquid. Additional sugar keeps the texture muffin soft.
Honeycrisp apples bring loads of flavor to the recipe and don't need much of a boost from spices. Stirring ground cinnamon with the dry ingredients evenly distributes the powerful spice into the batter and creates nuanced background notes.
A mild brown sugar glaze, gently perfumed with honey and a hint of vanilla, tops the apples. Serve warm with a dusting of powdered sugar for a unique autumn dessert.
• Annie Overboe, a Culinary Institute of America graduate, lives in Villa Park. Write her at email@example.com.