This past week I packed the kids in the mini-van and drove out to my parents’ house in the Pocono mountains of Pennsylvania. Fall is the perfect time to be in the rural mountains. The colors are bright, the air crisp, and the breeze invigorating. While there we had many lovely sunny days and lots and lots of fun. My son hauled logs for the wood stove, “helped” Granddaddy with his tractor, and got to throw a lot of rocks in the creek. The babies touched the leaves and did a lot of rolling around on the floor. Our main purpose for this trip, however, was my mother’s birthday.
In our family you get to choose any dinner you want for your birthday. Birthday meal requests are sacred, and the cooks honor any request made. When we were children my sister and I would challenge my parents to find and make things that we thought were impossible. Lobster dinner in Texas in the ’80s was not easy to come by. Neither were artichokes in December. Eventually as we aged we fell into habits. These days we tend to just go for our tried and true meals. This is how it came about that I now have a three course fondue dinner for my birthday almost every year and how my mother, “Mimi,” had apple crisp for her birthday cake this year. Her birthday meal request: hamburgers, baked beans and a caramel apple crisp made with walnuts (not pecans).
There are a lot of recipes for caramel apple crisp on the Internet, but I discovered that almost all of them use store-bought caramel ice cream topping or melted caramel candy. Homemade caramel is so superior to store bought, that it just seemed necessary to make it from scratch. As long as you are diligent while cooking it, it is also pretty easy. Using real caramel sauce in the apple crisp is so obvious, so natural, so fantastic. The result is nothing short of spectacular; it is the best apple crisp I have ever tasted. Of course if you’re all into the salted caramel fad, you can toss a 1/2 teaspoon of salt into the caramel at the end, but you don’t need it; it’s just that good. Happy birthday Mommy! Enjoy!
I’m a big fan of the wet method of making caramel (adding a few tablespoons of water to the sugar to help it get started). It’s just a tiny bit easier and I like anything that’s easier. This stuff is up there with molten lava on the temperature scale so make sure you are prepared and using all your safety sense when making this recipe.
1 cup white sugar
1/4 cup water
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
Pour sugar in the middle of a medium sauce pan or skillet set over medium-high heat. Slowly pour water around edge of sugar. Bring to a boil, but do not stir. Using a pastry brush, brush the edges of the pan with additional water to insure that all sugar crystals have dissolved from the edge.
Let the mixture boil slowly until the sugar turns light tan, watching very carefully so that it does not burn. When the caramel is almost the color of tea turn off the heat and swirl the pan. The sugar will get darker.
Add the butter and stir until the butter is completely melted and mixed in with the sugar. Add the cream and let the caramel come to a rapid boil.
Remove from heat and allow to cool.
Caramel Walnut Apple Crisp
You can use pecans or almonds instead of walnuts in this recipe.
5 Apples, peeled, cored and sliced into 1/2 inch slices
1 recipe caramel sauce (recipe above)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup rolled old-fashioned oats
6 tablespoons butter
3/4 cup chopped walnuts
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 375. Lightly grease a large baking dish and place apples in pan. Pour the caramel sauce over the apples and gently stir to make sure the caramel sauce is evenly spread over the apples.
Set aside. In a medium bowl combine the brown sugar, flour, oats, cinnamon and nutmeg.
Using your fingers or a pastry cutter mix the butter into the flour mixture until crumbly.
Stir in walnuts and sprinkle evenly over apples.
Bake for about 20-25 minutes or until the edges are bubbly.
Let cool slightly before serving.