By FAYE LEVY
Israelis eat plenty of apples - according to the Ministry of Agriculture, the average Israeli eats 125 apples a year. We have apples all year round, but now is the time to enjoy fresh-picked apples at their best, as well as a broad selection. Today there are many more kinds of apples to choose from at the shuk and the supermarket than there were when I moved to Israel four decades ago. In addition to the standard Red and Golden Delicious and Jonathan, there are Fuji, Gala, Granny Smith and others.
During the years I lived in France I tasted dozens of flavorful varieties, but I do not remember such a cornucopia of apples as I find in the United States. Recently at a medium-size Los Angeles supermarket I saw 14 kinds of apples featured in the fruit department. Perhaps this should not be surprising since the Americans are second only to the Chinese as apple producers, followed by Turkey and France.
Apples are good in countless desserts, though some varieties are better for cooking than others. Golden Delicious was the top choice of our chefs at cooking school where I studied in Paris. This sweet, rather soft apple cooks quickly and bakes to tender, succulent pieces in cakes and tarts. American cooks generally prefer tart or semi-tart firm apples for pies and other baked desserts.
Both approaches have their merits. Often it's just a question of adjusting the amount of sugar and the baking time. If I'm using firm apples like Granny Smith or tart-sweet Jonathan, I make sure they bake long enough to become tender. If I'm using such an apple in a kugel, I either saute the chunks or I grate the apple so it will quickly soften.
From growing three kinds of apples, including Israeli varieties Anna and Ein Shemer, I learned not to be too picky. I use whichever apple I have, often mixing all three types. Generally I reserve sweet, crisp varieties like Fuji and Gala for eating as is, but if they start to look tired, I use them in baking and chunky applesauce.
Even when time is short, apples can easily be turned into tempting treats. For a tasty start to our day, we like our oatmeal embellished with cinnamon apple dice that I cook in the microwave. This can be made with any apples.
For a fast and festive dessert, a slim apple tart made with puff pastry is a great choice. In Paris of the 1970s the French considered this pastry, which was much thinner than traditional tarts, as a new style of apple tart and called it tarte legere aux pommes, or light apple tart. Following the classic French taste, we baked the tart at school with butter and sugar in a very hot oven so the sugar lightly caramelized. Our chefs laughed when we wanted to add cinnamon, saying that's a peculiar American preference.
Many people put their apples in a bowl on the counter but I find they last much longer when stored in the refrigerator. I keep them unwrapped in the crisper bin and try to arrange them in one layer; they often get brown spots if piled one on top of the other.
ALMOST INSTANT APPLE COMPOTE
Use these apples to dress up oatmeal, or top them with yogurt and granola for a quick brunch dish or dessert. I generally leave the peel on because it has much of the apple's pectin and other beneficial nutrients. However, if the skin is bitter or tough, you might prefer to peel it. Adjust the amount of water according to the apples' moistness, and depending on whether you want the apples as individual dice for sprinkling or as an applesauce-like mixture.
You can cook the apples in a small saucepan instead of microwaving them; double the amount of water and allow about 8 to 10 minutes.
Ken Haedrich, author of Feeding the Healthy Vegetarian Family, suggests a variation made by cooking the apples in apple-apricot juice with raisins, sliced fresh ginger and a cinnamon stick, then flavoring them with lemon juice. He uses no sugar, as there is enough sweetness from the apple juice and raisins and, of course, the natural sweetness of the apples.
Makes 2 to 4 servings
4 2 large apples of any kind, with or without peel
4 3 to 5 Tbsp. water or apple juice
4 1â„4 to 1â„2 tsp. ground cinnamon or 1 tsp.
grated ginger, or to taste
4 2 to 3 tsp. sugar or sugar substitute
Cut apples in small dice, discarding cores. Put in a 4-cup microwave-safe dish with the water. Cover and microwave on high for 3 minutes. Stir and microwave for 2 more minutes. Add cinnamon and sugar (but not sugar substitute), cover and microwave for 1 or 2 more minutes or until tender. If using sugar substitute, add it now.
QUICK APPLE TART WITH PUFF PASTRY
This is a free-form tart, with no need for a tart pan; simply bake it on a baking sheet. Make it with Golden Delicious, Jonathan, Fuji or any apple you like for baking. If your market carries puff pastry rolled out in sheets, this is the easiest form of puff pastry to use. You can make the circles any size you like.
Unlike my Parisian chef-instructors, I like the tart flavored generously with cinnamon. When I was discussing apple desserts with my friend Nancy Eisman of Melissa's World Variety Produce, she suggested some creative variations. One was to add crystallized ginger or rehydrated dried fruit such as currants. To prevent these sweet ingredients from burning, it's best to scatter them over the pastry first and cover them with the apples.
Instead of the classic apricot jam for tarts, Nancy brushes the tart with orange marmalade or other jams or jellies.
Serve the tart at room temperature or warm it very slightly in a medium oven for just a few minutes. Great on its own, it's even better with vanilla ice cream.
Makes 2 servings
4 A 225-gr. puff pastry sheet or 280 to
350 gr. puff pastry, thawed if frozen
4 1 large or 2 small apples
4 2 Tbsp. sugar, or to taste
4 1â„2 tsp. ground cinnamon, or to taste
4 Pinch of ground cloves (optional)
4 1 to 2 Tbsp. cold butter, cut into small
4 2 to 3 Tbsp. apricot jam
Preheat oven to 190ÂºC to 200ÂºC.
Roll the pastry 3 mm. thick on a lightly floured surface; even if you are buying rolled sheets, you need to roll them thinner. Cut out two 18-cm. rounds and transfer them to a baking sheet. Peel, halve and core the apple, and cut it in thin slices. Leaving a rim of about 1 cm. at the edge, arrange the apple slices overlapping slightly in the center of the pastry rounds. Prick the rim with a fork. Combine sugar, cinnamon and cloves, and sprinkle mixture evenly over apples. Dot with butter.
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until apples are tender and pastry is golden brown. Transfer tarts to a rack to cool slightly. Heat jam in a very small saucepan over low heat, or microwave it in a cup; brush it over the tarts.n
Faye Levy is the author of Fresh from France: Dessert Sensations and, in Hebrew, of Sefer Hakinuhim (the Book of Desserts).
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