Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Freakin' Awesome Apple Butter

Who's gone apple picking and, deluded (mesmerized??) by the Rockwellian outdoorsy perfection of it all, came home with 40 pounds of apples?  This gal!  Don't get me wrong. I love apples.  But after weeks of making apple cake, apple muffins, pork roast with apples, and, of course, eating them raw (many, many raw apples), you start running out of ideas.  What uses up a lot of apples, tastes delicious, and is freezer-friendly?  Apple butter!  If you're the canning sort, you could can this and give as gifts.

I don't have pictures of the process, because, well, it's me and I forgot. No worries, though, because it's kind of hard to screw up boiling and pureeing.  BUT, I do have a picture of the finished product:

I've never made apple butter before, so I went looking for recipes and found one that boils the apples to soften them, then bakes the puree in a "slow" oven (old-timey phrase to describe an oven that's not really hot) for a long time.  This method creates a wonderfully deep flavor, so I really recommend giving this a try, despite the time commitment. Even I was skeptical, but the results are absolutely fabulous!  When my husband tried it, he actually said, "This is freakin' AWESOME!"

Marna's Freakin' Awesome Apple Butter

10 apples (I used a mix of different kinds), peeled, cored and cut into chunks
1 1/2 cups apple cider
2/3 cups sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp dried, ground ginger

Combine diced apples (the apples don't really have to be uniform size, this is a pretty forgiving recipe), apple cider, and sugar in a 4 or 5 quart pot.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then turn down to medium-low and simmer about 30 minutes, or until apples are tender.  When apples have cooked, blend (using an immersion blender) or mash (using a potato masher) until smooth.  Again, if there are chunks, that's okay, because it's going to cook more. Add the cinnamon, cloves and ginger, then stir to combine.

Lightly butter a baking dish large enough to hold the the apple puree, approximately 2 inches deep (I used a 10 inch x 12 inch dish, but an 11x7 inch dish would work, too). Bake puree for 4 hours at 275 degrees, stirring every hour, or until thick and of a spreading consistency.  Let cool for about an hour, then cover and chill.  Makes about 3 cups.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Baklava -- It's Easier Than You Think

Want to become a pastry chef without actually making pastry?  Use phyllo dough.  Unlike puff pastry (a pain to make, to be honest), I don't know anyone who actually makes their own, so no chef can "one up" you by saying they make their phyllo dough "in house."  :-)

Once you get the hang of it, phyllo is pretty easy to use.  Plus, if it rips, it's no big deal -- just layer it on anyway and brush with a boatload of butter.  Fool proof!  The original recipe I found didn't use enough cinnamon, in my opinion, so I upped the spice.  Plus more honey.  More flavor, more goodness. Also, there's no way I wanted an entire large pan of baklava sitting around our house (the original recipe made a 9x13 pan) -- the temptation would be too great to eat it all in two days.  As it was, we ate this smaller pan in 2, and we only gave away 4 pieces to our neighbors.  I have no willpower...


Baklava My Way

Adapted from a recipe found on Allrecipes.com

1/2 package of phyllo dough
2 cups finely chopped walnuts
1 Tbsp cinnamon
2/3 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup honey
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Butter the bottom and sides of an 8x8 inch pan.  Combine finely chopped walnuts and cinnamon in a medium bowl. Unroll phyllo dough, and place a damp, clean towel on top of it to keep it from drying out.  Take a couple of sheets and line the bottom of the pan.  Brush with melted butter.  Layer another sheet, brush with butter. Repeat until you have about 8 layers on the bottom. Spread 1/3 of the walnut mixture on top of the phyllo layers.  Layer and butter 3 more phyllo layers, then spread the second 1/3 of walnuts, then another 3 sheets with butter.  Top with the remaining sheets, buttering in between each layer.  Carefully cut the baklava into 9 squares, then cut each square in half, making 18 triangles.

Bake for about 50 minutes, until golden brown.  While the baklava is baking, combine water and sugar in a small saucepan, heat until sugar dissolves, then add honey.  Bring mixture to boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes until thickened and syrupy (you should still have about 1/2 cup of syrup).  Take off heat and add vanilla.

After baklava has finished baking, remove pan from oven and drizzle honey syrup over the entire pan of baklava.  Let cool for at least an hour (2 hours is best, if you have the willpower), so that the pastry can soak up the syrup.

Makes 18 servings (or 9, if you're my family, because you can't eat just one piece).