To celebrate the finale of the harvest holiday season I prepare sweets that showcase fruit. Now there are delicious apples and pears in season. Both are versatile and perfect for a variety of festive desserts, from blintzes to cakes to pies. If you're making a pie, consider embellishing it with crumbs. A sprinkling of crumbs may not sound like a special-occasion garnish, but it certainly is when you are talking about the buttery bits of the sweet pastry known as streusel. A pie enhanced with streusel is fit for a feast. Streusel bakes to a golden, light-textured, melt-in-your-mouth crumble topping that is wonderful with fruit. Popular in Jewish bakeries in the US and in German, Hungarian and Polish pastry-making, the term "streusel" comes from a German word meaning something that is strewn. Sweet, buttery streusel is much easier to make than a pastry lattice or a top crust for a double-crusted pie. For the apple pie recipe below, you can customize the preparation to your own taste and pace. Consider the recipe's three components - the streusel, the French style pastry shell and the apple filling - as basic elements, to be used together in the pie or for other desserts. Make the pie from all three parts, including the rich, slightly sweet pastry shell, to get the most luscious dessert. For shortcuts, use purchased pie dough, or omit the pastry crust completely and simply bake the vanilla and lemon-flavored apple filling with the streusel topping. You can even make a super-quick recipe from the filling itself, topped with granola if you wish. If you'd like to honor Simhat Torah by including biblical ingredients in your dessert, stir 1â„4 cup raisins or chopped dates into the apple filling or substitute honey for 1 or 2 tablespoons of the filling's sugar. For a dairy dinner, you can introduce the milk-and-honey theme by serving the pie with whipped cream, sour cream or vanilla yogurt sweetened with a drizzle of honey. STREUSEL APPLE PIE Streusel makes a delightful topping for fruit pies with moist fillings, such as this one - of vanilla and lemon-flavored apples. The contrast of textures, with the delicately crisp crust, the smooth filling and the buttery crumble topping, is the key to its charm. Bake the dessert as a tart using dessert tart pastry as a base and a fluted tart pan, or make it as an American-style pie with your favorite homemade or purchased pie shell. Makes 8 servings
Pastry for Dessert Tarts (see recipe
below), refrigerated, or a 23-cm. pie
1 kg. Golden Delicious or other
3 Tbsp. butter or margarine
1â„2 tsp. lemon juice
Grated zest of 1â„2 lemon
1 vanilla bean
4 to 5 Tbsp. sugar
Streusel Topping (see recipe
Powdered sugar (optional)
If making your own tart pastry, grease a 20-23 cm. round tart pan. Let dough soften 1 minute at room temperature. Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface until about 6 mm thick. Roll up dough loosely around rolling pin and unroll it over pan. Gently ease dough into pan. Using your thumb, gently push dough slightly at edge of pan, making top edge of dough thicker than remaining dough. Roll rolling pin across tart pan to cut off dough. With your finger and thumb, press to push up edge of dough all around pan, so it is slighter higher than rim of pan. Prick dough all over with a fork. Refrigerate for 1 hour or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
Peel, core and thinly slice apples. Melt butter in a large saute pan. Add apples, lemon juice, lemon zest and vanilla bean. Cover and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally for about 20 minutes or until apples are very tender. Uncover and cook, stirring often, for about 5 minutes or until any excess liquid has evaporated. Remove vanilla bean. Add 4 tablespoons sugar. Cook over high heat, stirring, until sugar dissolves and apple mixture is very thick. Taste and add more sugar if you like. Let cool completely.
Prepare Streusel Topping. Preheat oven to 200ÂºC and put a baking sheet in oven to heat. Spread cool apple mixture in tart pan. Sprinkle with streusel in an even layer.
Bake tart on hot baking sheet for 30 minutes. Reduce heat to 175ÂºC and bake for 20 more minutes. Let tart cool for a few minutes. If tart pan has a movable bottom, remove tart from pan. Cool tart on a rack. Serve warm or at room temperature, sprinkled with powdered sugar.
PASTRY FOR DESSERT TARTS
This pastry is only lightly sweetened and thus is great with sweet fruit fillings. I like to make the dough in the food processor. It's very quick and easy and the results are terrific. You can make the pastry and shape it as a tart shell in advance and keep it well wrapped in the freezer.
Makes enough for a 20-25 cm. tart shell
2 large egg yolks
2 Tbsp. cold water
11â„2 cups all-purpose flour
3â„8 tsp. salt
3 Tbsp. powdered sugar
1â„2 cup cold unsalted butter or margarine,
cut into bits
Beat egg yolks with cold water in a small bowl. Combine flour, salt, and powdered sugar in a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Process briefly to blend.
Scatter butter pieces over mixture. Process with on/off turns until mixture resembles coarse meal.
Pour egg yolk mixture evenly over mixture in processor. Process with on/off turns, scraping down occasionally, until dough forms sticky crumbs that can easily be pressed together but does not come together in a ball.
If crumbs are dry, sprinkle 1â„2 teaspoon water and process with on/off turns until dough forms sticky crumbs. Add more water by half teaspoons if crumbs are still dry, and process briefly each time.
With a rubber spatula, transfer dough to a sheet of plastic wrap. Wrap it and push it together. Shape dough in a flat disc. Refrigerate dough for 1 hour or up to 2 days in refrigerator. To shape it in a shell, see pie recipe above.
Rich sweet crumbs of dough known as streusel are delicious on pies, or as a crumble topping for sliced or diced baked fruit. If you like, replace one third to one half the flour with whole wheat flour.
Makes enough for a 23-cm. pie
1â„3 cup brown sugar
1â„3 cup white sugar
2â„3 cup all-purpose flour
3â„4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1â„4 cup (55 grams) unsalted butter or
margarine, chilled, cut into bits
Mix brown sugar, white sugar, flour and cinnamon in a small bowl. With 2 knives, cut butter into sugar mixture until coarse crumbs form. If not ready to use, cover bowl and refrigerate streusel up to 2 days or freeze for longer.
Faye Levy is the author of 1,000 Jewish Recipes.