Pastry chefs and bakers are an amazing bunch...it astounds me the things they can make with sugar and flour and chocolate. And I happily eat most any dessert on any given night.
Unfortunately, as you may have gathered from my prior pastry rant, I don't consider myself a baker. Sure, I always serve homemade dessert at dinner parties...I can follow the directions of a recipe and the dish will turn out just fine. But I don't have the patience to bake tray after tray of cookies, or the understanding of the ingredients to make things rise or puff or set.
So in trying to come up with my own dessert dishes, it has to be something that doesn't involve too much chemistry.
With the changing weather, I've been thinking a lot about apple pie. Years ago, when my uncle had apple and peach orchards, my mom would make homemade pies with his fruit. This was the kind of fruit you felt lucky to be eating...it was perfect. I've heard stories that my grandfather would hoard his peach pie and not share with anyone. Another story goes that if the customers at my uncle's fruit stand squeezed a peach, they would receive his wrath for handling the fruit that way. His fruit was ripe...no need to poke or prod or squeeze. He didn't take kindly to people bruising it. Not knowing if this was just lore, I called my dad to verify the story. He chuckled and said, "Hell yes, he'd yell at them!" I can so picture that.
My uncle no longer has his orchards, so my mom no longer makes pies. I'm sure she is quite pleased about this since she hates all things involving cooking and baking. I suppose then that I have to lay the blame on my uncle for selling his orchards. Otherwise, I might still have homemade apple pie.
I wanted to come up with a dessert that included the flavors of an apple pie, without all the work. So here's my easy version of the pies of my past...
Caramel Apple "Pies"
(Makes 6 individual desserts)
2 apples, peeled and sliced (I used 1 Honeycrisp and 1 Granny Smith)
1/2 cup sugar, plus extra for topping
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons butter
24 caramel squares
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 sheet puff pastry, defrosted (or 2, depending on the size of your dishes)
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1-2 tablespoons sugar
1/4-1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
In a large pan, saute apples with butter, cinnamon and sugar until the apples start to soften. Stir in cornstarch. Remove from heat.
Put caramels and cream in a small pot and heat over medium heat. When caramels start to melt, stir constantly until completely melted.
Spoon caramel into the bottom of each dish, then top with apples. Cut the puff pastry to fit the the top of the dishes, leaving some filling showing on the sides. Brush pastry with egg wash and sprinkle with sugar.
Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes, or until pastry is puffed and golden brown.
For whipped cream: Whisk cream, vanilla, cinnamon and sugar in a mixer until peaks form. (Add more sugar and cinnamon to taste, if desired.)
Top with whipped cream and serve warm.
These little pies received much praise. The bubbly caramel and the cinnamon whipped cream gave this classic dessert a fun twist. Next time you don't feel like rolling out pie crusts, give these a try.
And remember: don't squeeze the fruit. At least not when you're being watched...