Wednesday, November 4, 2009

all about apples

To a pastry chef, apples fall into one of two categories-eating apples and baking apples. Eating apples are quite sweet and juicy, but unfortunately, are usually not able to maintain those qualities in a baked item, often collapsing into applesauce when fully cooked. Baking apples have a strong flavor and are generally a bit drier in texture, holding their shape beautifully even with prolonged cooking in a pie. The best baking apples in the supermarket are Granny Smith, Pippin, and Fuji, but every baker has a favorite, so feel free to experiment. Other good baking apples include Braeburn, Gala or Rome. Explore local possibilities at farmers’ markets, where you may find “antique” or heirloom varieties of apples that are grown in small quantities and do not ship well; sometimes they are less than beautiful. These apples are usually far superior to anything you can find in a supermarket. Apple season begins in late summer and continues until the last variety is picked, sometime in November.

Simple and lovely on their own, these individual pastries are even better with a scoop of vanilla ice cream alongside or a dollop of crème fraîche. They’re best when warm from the oven, so if it helps with timing, you can assemble them ahead and refrigerate for a couple of hours before baking (don’t brush with egg until the last minute, though). Slicing the apples is a breeze; try to aim for uniform thickness so they cook evenly.


Flaky Apple Pinwheels
Serves 4

2 medium apples (12 ounces), such as Braeburn, Gala, or Rome
¼ cup sugar
¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
Scant 1/8 tsp. nutmeg, preferably fresh ground
Pinch of kosher salt
1 sheet frozen puff pastry (9 ounces), thawed at room temperature for 45 minutes (keep refrigerated until ready to use)
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg
Turbinado sugar, or another coarse sugar, for sprinkling (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Peel the apples and cut them into ¼ inch thick slices. Put the apples in a medium bowl. Sprinkle with the sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt, and toss until evenly coated.

2. On a lightly floured surface, gently unfold the puff pastry and roll it out to a 12-inch square (use a ruler; don’t guesstimate). Cut it into four 6-inch squares. Put the squares on the lined baking sheet. Drop the butter pieces evenly over the apples. Moisten the four corners of one of the pastry squares with the water. Lift up and join the corners together in the center, first squeezing them firmly and then giving a good hard twist (don’t be shy; firm pressure is essential or the pinwheels may open during baking). Repeat with the other three squares.

3. Lightly beat the egg in a small dish. Brush the pastries with the egg; be sure to coat all surfaces, including the sides and the center knob. Sprinkle each pastry with a little turbinado sugar. Bake until the pinwheels are deep golden on top and bottom (lift one up to check), about 25 minutes. Set the pan on a rack for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

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