Apple pastries for the holidays

“The true reason for so many apple-filled pastries is apple’s flavor affinity with butter [in the dough] – one of the most successful baking marriages ever made.”

Apple-studded brown butter streusel coffee cake. (photo credit: SQUIRE FOX)
Apple-studded brown butter streusel coffee cake.
(photo credit: SQUIRE FOX)
Pastries and cakes baked with fresh fruit are popular choices for the upcoming festivals, especially the harvest holiday, Succot. And among fruit, the top baking pick is the apple.
Celebrated pastry chef Nick Malgieri, author of the just-published book Nick Malgieri’s Pastry, finds apples easier to use in baked desserts than other fruits. When we discussed the properties of apples in desserts, he wrote: “Apples, depending on the variety you use, aren’t very watery, especially if you are baking uncooked apples in raw dough, as in a classic American apple pie.”
For pie, Malgieri recommends “old reliable Golden Delicious, or a mix of Golden Delicious and Granny Smith for added tartness.” Malgieri prefers to dice the apples for his pies rather than to cut them in wedges, as they bake through more quickly and evenly. For his “French” apple pie, he cooks diced apples with butter, sugar, cinnamon and raisins, and bakes this filling in a pastry crust. (See recipe.) Some of Malgieri’s other apple desserts include old Viennese apple strudel with walnuts and sour cream, individual apple tarts with almond crunch, and apple and cranberry granola crisp.
Cutting apples in very small pieces is important for cakes too, so that the apples will be tender by the time the batter is done. For her cakes, Amy Traverso, author of The Apple Lover’s Cookbook, cuts the apples into cubes of 1.25 cm or less, depending on the kind of cake. Her apple-studded streusel coffeecake has apple cubes inside and thin apple slices on top. (See recipe.)
Bakers have used apples in desserts for centuries. “The of the first fruits to have been cultivated, is now the most important fruit in Europe, North America and other temperate regions in both northern and southern hemispheres,” wrote Alan Davidson in Fruit: A Connoisseur’s Guide and Cookbook.
According to Frank Browning and Sharon Silva, authors of An Apple Harvest, apples originated in what is now Kazakhstan about 10,000 years ago. “The Persians seem to have been the first in recorded Western history to bring the apple both into the garden and onto the banquet table – apparently well before the ninth century BCE.
“The northern Europeans and the English had to wait until after the 16th century,” wrote Browning and Silva. “...Apples became the preserve of the pastry chef in both England and France. While the ancients seldom cooked apples as a dessert – indeed, desserts in the modern sense were rare except in Persia, French technique produced shimmering tarts and subtly seasoned compotes, while the English gave us hearty double-crusted pies and crumbles.”
Malgieri gives another explanation for the proliferation of apple desserts: “The true reason for so many apple-filled pastries is apple’s flavor affinity with butter [in the dough] – one of the most successful baking marriages ever made.”
The writer is the author of Fresh From France: Dessert Sensations
This recipe is from Nick Malgieri’s Pastry.
“This was a mainstay of retail bakeries [in the US] about 50 years ago and has all but disappeared from sight,” wrote Malgieri. “A cooked apple filling with raisins is baked in a sweet crust in a straight-sided pan. After cooling, the top is spread with a simple confectioners’ sugar icing. I have no idea how or why it acquired the name, but... it has always been one of my favorite bakery treats.”
Makes one 20-cm (8-inch) pie, about 8 servings One batch Sweet Pastry Dough (see recipe below)
❖ 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
❖ 900 gr. (2 pounds) Golden Delicious apples, peeled, halved, cored, and cut into 1.25-cm (½-inch) dice
❖ ½ cup sugar
❖ ½ tsp. ground cinnamon
❖ ¾ cup dark raisins
❖ 1 Tbsp. dark rum
❖ 1 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted after measuring
❖ 1½ tablespoons water
For the apple filling, melt butter in a wide saucepan or Dutch oven with a cover and add apples, sugar, cinnamon, and raisins.
Stir well and place over medium heat. Cook until apples start to sizzle, then cover pan and decrease the heat. Cook until apples have exuded water, 5 to 10 minutes. Uncover pan and stir occasionally while water evaporates. Off heat, stir in rum. Spread filling in a shallow bowl and refrigerate until cooled or up to 2 days before filling the pie.
Butter a 20-cm. (8-inch) round pan, 5 cm. (2 inches) deep and line its bottom with a disk of parchment paper. When you are ready to assemble the pie, set a rack at lowest level in the oven and preheat to 175°C (350°F).
Roll out a little more than half of dough on a floured surface and line prepared pan, cutting away excess dough at rim of pan. Spread apple filling in crust. Roll remaining dough and cut a 20-cm (8-inch) disk. Set it atop filling and fold dough on side of pan onto disk of dough to seal it.
Bake pie until crust is baked through, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool on a rack.
Un-mold pie onto a platter, keeping bottom of the pie as the top.
For the icing, place confectioners’ sugar and water in a small saucepan and stir well. Heat to lukewarm and quickly spread on pie. Let icing set before serving.
Nick Malgieri has been using this recipe for over thirty years and has taught it to thousands of people. He likes it because of its ease of preparation and handling, plus the tender quality of the pastry after baking.
The dough keeps well in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. You can make it in a food processor, by hand or in a stand mixer.
(See Notes below.) Makes enough for 1 double-crusted pie or 2 single-crusted pies or tarts
❖ 2 cups (270 gr. or 9.5 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour (spoon into dry-measure cup and level)
❖ 1/3 cup (65 gr. or 2.3 ounces) sugar
❖ ½ teaspoon baking powder
❖ ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
❖ 8 Tbsp. (112 gr. or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 12 pieces
❖ 2 large eggs
Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in the bowl of a food processor; pulse several times at 1-second intervals to mix. Add butter and pulse again until butter is finely mixed throughout dry ingredients and no visible pieces remain. Use a fork to beat the eggs enough to break them up, and add to bowl. Pulse again until dough almost forms a ball; avoid pulsing too much or dough might become too soft.
Invert dough onto a lightly floured work surface and gently knead together 3 or 4 times to make it smooth. Divide dough into 2 pieces, form them into disks, and wrap each in plastic. Chill for a couple of hours before rolling.
Before rolling dough, place it on a floured surface and gently knead until smooth and malleable. Form into a disk again before beginning to roll.
Stir dry ingredients together in a medium mixing bowl. Add the butter and use your fingertips to rub the butter into the dry ingredients, occasionally using your hands to scrape the bottom of the bowl and incorporate any unmixed flour. Once the butter is finely mixed throughout and no visible pieces of butter remain, use a fork to beat the eggs to break them up; add them to the bowl. Use the fork to scrape up from the bottom of the bowl and incorporate the eggs. You can also stir with the fork while using the other hand to move the bowl back and forth on the work surface.Once the dough starts holding together, continue with second paragraph above.
Combine the dry ingredients in the mixer bowl and place on the mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on the lowest speed for a few seconds, then add the butter and mix until it begins to break down into smaller pieces, about 30 seconds.
Stop and scrape the bowl and beater, then repeat 30 seconds of mixing, followed by stopping and scraping, until the butter is finely worked into the dry ingredients and no visible pieces remain. Whisk the eggs to break them up; add to the bowl and mix again on the lowest speed until the dough begins to hold together, then continue with second paragraph above.
This recipe, from The Apple Lover’s Cookbook, is a good choice for the break-the- fast meal after Yom Kippur.
Author Amy Traverso wrote: “Cooking butter until it turns a rich brown color adds a nutty flavor to this addictive coffee cake. In fact, I don’t think it’s possible to pack in more appealing elements here: buttermilk batter, warm spices, streusel topping, the browned butter, and lots of apples.”
Traverso noted that the texture of this cake should be extremely tender, which is why a tender-sweet apple is important. The apples shouldn’t add crunch in the cake as much as little pockets of flavor. Fuji and Gala are good choices.
Makes 8 to 10 servings
❖ ½ cup (115 gr. or 4 ounces) firmly packed light brown sugar
❖ ½ cup (72 grams or 2.5 ounces) all-purpose flour
❖ ½ tsp. ground cinnamon
❖ 3 Tbsp. (57 gr. or 2 ounces) butter, cut into 1.25-cm (1/2-inch) cubes, plus more for greasing pan
❖ 8 firm-sweet apple slices, unpeeled, for garnish
❖ 10 2/3 tablespoons (2/3 cup; 150 gr. or 5.3 ounces) salted butter
❖ 2 cups (290 gr. or 10.2 ounces) allpurpose flour
❖ ½ cup (115 gr. or 4 ounces) firmly packed light brown sugar
❖ ½ cup (105 gr. or 3.7 ounces) granulated sugar
❖ 2 tsp. baking powder
❖ ½ tsp. baking soda
❖ ½ tsp. table salt
❖ 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
❖ ¼ tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
❖1 large egg, plus 1 egg yolk
❖ 1 cup (240 ml.) buttermilk
❖ 2 medium tender-sweet apples (about 340 gr. or 12 ounces total), peeled, cored, and cut into 1.25-cm. (½-inch) cubes
Butter a 23-cm. (9-inch) cake pan with removable sides.
Make topping: In a small bowl, stir together brown sugar, flour, and cinnamon.
Sprinkle the 3 tablespoons of butter cubes over mixture and use your fingertips to work it in to form a crumbly topping. Chill in refrigerator while you prepare cake.
Preheat oven to 175°C (350° F). Make the cake: In a small pan, melt butter over medium heat until it begins to turn a medium nut brown, 6 to 8 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside to cool slightly.
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugars, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices. In a medium bowl, beat egg and egg yolk to blend. Whisk in butter and buttermilk, then pour liquid mixture into flour mixture and stir just to combine.
Fold in apple cubes and pour batter into prepared pan. Sprinkle topping over cake and arrange the 8 apple slices around top, lightly pressing them into topping.
Bake until top is golden brown and a cake tester inserted into center comes out clean, 45 to 55 minutes. Set on a cooling rack for 20 minutes, then check to see if sides of the cake are sticking to pan in any spots. If so, use a thin knife to loosen them. Carefully remove sides of pan, transfer to a platter, and serve warm or at room temperature.