What equates to comfort for you? Sitting with a good book and a comfy blanket? Cuddling up in front of your favorite movie with a glass of wine? My ultimate comfort at this time of year is baking. There’s something so soothing about measuring out ingredients, mixing it all together, and popping it in the oven. Fragrant spices and sweet, buttery aromas diffuse through the air rendering your kitchen irresistible. And an excellent glass of wine to sip on while I wait doesn’t hurt the comforting moment either…
You know what really sums up baking’s appeal to me? I know it’s going to work out. If you follow the instructions, you will succeed. That is an amazing assurance. So it’s really freaking annoying when it doesn’t work. That feeling when you get when your cake doesn’t rise or ingredients leach out of your cookies? I have a theory that I feel that feeling at least three-time as hard. Not only have I failed at this baked good, but my feeling of comfort has essentially been assaulted. How dare those rock-hard brownies take that comforting action away from me! That also means that you do NOT want to be around me when this happens. I have mini freak-outs…also known as hissy fits. I don’t know how many of these have been witnessed (hi mom…), but it’s embarrassing. I really need to work on my OCD recipe tendencies. Without fail, several hours later I feel so ridiculous that I cried over spilled sugar, flour, and butter. But then I remember with a sting why I got so upset. And I feel a tiny bit justified.
When I got my hands on the Food52 Baking Book, I knew that this whole recipe failure thing wouldn’t happen. Amanda and Merrill created such a wonderful website with foolproof editor recipes and articles, that I suspected their book would be on a whole other level. And boy was I right! The Baking Book features recipes from many nooks and crannies of the website. Reader favorites, editor picks, and even recipes from Amanda and Merrill! You won’t miss out on the beautiful aesthetics from the site because each recipe features a wonderful photo. From scones to fancy cakes, Food52 has got you covered. Actually, if you’re looking for a gift for that kitchen-minded person, this book is it!
Now that I’m near New England (because I guess technically PA is not actually a part of New England), I tend to gravitate toward apples. Something about the countless apple orchards that continue to push out bushels of apples makes me want to become a master of apples—especially apple desserts. (Remember those apple and cheddar galettes from last year?!) So when I was flipping through the F52 Baking Book and saw this Apple Brown Betty, I knew I had to make it. Featuring a spice-filled lemony filling and gingersnap crispy topping, it looked perfect for this time of year.
Side note: being from MN I acknowledge the amazing apple contributions of the Midwest. University of Minnesota has brought us the Honeycrisp and Sweet Tango, so they’re pretty much the bomb dot com. However…the atmosphere during the fall and early winter months of apple orchards in New England is more of an experience. And we all know how much I love autumn activities…
So we know what cooking with fresh apples means, right? Polyphenol oxidase! Okay sorry, I may have gotten ahead of myself there. Fresh apples, when sliced open, are exposed to oxygen. There is an enzyme in apples (and a lot of other fresh produce) that reacts with inherent compounds in the apple (phenolic compounds) and oxygen to produce a brown color. Polyphenol oxidase! Because of that oxygen requirement, when your apple is whole, the enzyme isn’t doing anything. But how do we stop this brown color from manifesting? Because that’s not attractive in your Apple Brown Betty. Well you may have noticed in a lot of recipes that lemon juice is used to stop apple slices from browning. Hmmm how does this work?
Enzymes are proteins with a purpose, and they have very specific needs. If the environment isn’t ideal, they just don’t work very well. You could call them high maintenance. pH is one of the conditions of the environment that’s critical for enzyme function. Lemon juice is extremely acidic. See where I’m going here? When you squeeze lemon juice onto apple slices or into a bowl of water used to immerse the apple slices, you’re lowering the pH below the optimum and effectively making the polyphenol oxidase useless. No more browning!
So onto this recipe. The lemon secret (that’s not so secret) in this case is really great because there is actually lemon used in the filling. You won’t have a weird residual lemon taste like in a few other desserts I’ve had. I made this for Thanksgiving last month when I was home, and it was a real hit. That comforting feeling with all of the best smells? This brown betty has all the best spices. Other than that, I don’t think there are any recipe notes. Except, you should probably get one of these apple corer/peelers because they’re really fun to play with. My mom has the best gadgets!
Apple Brown Betty
Adapted from Food52 Baking Book
12 ounce pkg gingersnaps
½ cup unsalted butter, softened and cut into several large pieces
4 small-medium Granny Smith apples
1 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons flour
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
2 lemons, divided
1 teaspoon large-grain sugar
- Preheat your oven to 350⁰F.
- In a food processor, grind the gingersnaps to small pieces. Add the butter and pulse until evenly combined.
- Fill a large bowl about halfway with cold water. Cut one of the lemons in half and squeeze the juice into the water. Put the lemon halves into the water as well.
- Peel and core the apples. Make thin slices from the top to the bottom of the apple, and cut each of those slices in thirds. Alternatively, if you have an apple corer/peeler, it will make this job much easier. As soon as you prep the apple slices, place them in the lemon water. Put an upside down plate on top of the slices when done to weigh them down into the water.
- Drain the apples and discard the lemon halves. Add the brown sugar, flour, salt, cinnamon, and cloves to the apple slices. Zest and juice the remaining lemon and add to the apple mixture. Stir until evenly coated.
- In a deep 9-inch pie plate, put ⅓ of the gingersnap mixture and pat to spread evenly. Add half of the apples to the top of the gingersnap mixture. Scatter another ⅓ of the gingersnap mixture on top of the apples. Top with the remaining apple slices followed by the rest of the gingersnaps making sure that the apples are completely covered. Sprinkle the top layer with the large-grain sugar.
- Bake for 30-35 minutes until the apples are soft and the topping is crunchy. Let cool for 10-15 minutes before serving (or risk burning the crap out of your mouth). There will be quite a bit of residual liquid in this dessert which is so yummy! It is amazing by itself by the spoonful, but you can also serve with ice cream as a sauce!
- This is best eaten right after you bake it, but if you have leftovers (yeah, right), refrigerate and heat in the oven until warmed through before serving.
Full disclosure: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review, but all opinions are my own!