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Posts tagged ‘Bramley apples’

a little slice of heaven

27 September 2010


Les Price, the great sower of all things apple at Jones Creek Farm, observed that i had a penchant for English varieties. i peered into the bags of apples i had just gingerly picked from the orchard: Ellison’s Orange and Cox’s Orange Pippins and gave thought to the 40 pounds of Bramley’s i’d toted home just the weekend before.

i began to delve deeper into my mostly subconscious affinity for all things British : Winnie, the English bull terrier, Elroy, the Old English bulldog, Ralph Vaughn Williams, a recent, torrid love affair with a certain MINI-Cooper, Hidcote lavender, and of course, my beloved friend Alex. yes, an astute assessment on Les’s part and a startling revelation on mine.

bringing it back to the apples, i put up nearly 100 pounds of English varieties. and i knew when i was finally ready to bake, i’d want to dedicate the first pie of the season to Alex. this special pie could not be ordinary, although i venture to say few pies made with these varieties would be considered as such. it had to be spectacular.

a recent segment of Unique Eats on The Cooking Channel had featured Emily and Melissa Elsen of Four & Twenty Blackbirds pie shop in Brooklyn, New York. impressed by their creativity, originality, seasonal approach and commitment to local/organic ingredients, i decided to send them a note to request the recipe for their salted caramel apple pie. Emily and Melissa quickly and kindly responded with this perfectly extraordinary culinary tribute to Alex.

Four & Twenty Blackbirds’ Salted Caramel Apple Pie
a recipe generously shared by Emily and Melissa Elsen…heartfelt thanks

set aside about four hours to tackle the recipe—it will be time well-spent.


for the crust
1 recipe of your favorite (2-crust) all-butter pie crust

for the salted caramel
1 cup white sugar
1/4 cup water
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter (i used salted and cut back slightly on the sea salt)
1/2 cup fresh heavy cream
1 1/2 teaspoon sea salt (recommended: Maldon sea salt flakes)

for the filling
4 to 6 lemons
5 to 6 medium to large apples (recommend a mix of varieties, including some tart)
1/3 cup raw sugar (castor, unrefined, large granule sugar)
2 tablespoons flour (to me, it seems like the amount of flour depends upon how juicy your apples are, so increase accordingly. the Bramley’s exude a lot of juice.)
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon (i increased this to 1/2)
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 to 3 dashes Angostura bitters (i didn’t have this ingredient, so i don’t know what i was missing. perhaps Emily or Melissa can comment, but the pie was wonderful nonetheless.)

for final assembly
1 egg beaten
raw sugar, for sprinkling
1 teaspoon sea salt (flake)


the crust

  1. prepare one 2-crust batch of your favorite all-butter pie crust.
  2. roll the bottom crust to fit a 9-inch pan, and cut the top crust as a lattice, approximately 1-inch in width or as desired.
  3. chill the rolled crust while you prepare the salted caramel and apple filling.

the salted caramel

  1. cook the sugar and water together over low heat until just dissolved.
  2. add the butter and bring to a slow boil; continue cooking at a low boil until the mixture turns a deep, golden brown color, almost copper. important note: this process takes awhile, depending on the heat source. keep an eye on it: if the caramel begins to smoke, you’ve burned it, and you’ll have to start over.
  3. when the mixture has turned a copper color, remove it from the heat, and immediately add the heavy cream – the mixture will bubble rapidly and steam, so be cautious as the sugar will be very hot.
  4. whisk the final mixture together well over low heat and sprinkle in the sea salt; set aside.

the filling

  1. juice the lemons into a large mixing bowl.
  2. core, peel, and thinly slice the whole apples.
  3. dredge all the apple slices in the freshly squeezed lemon juice to prevent browning and to add flavor; set the prepared apples aside.
  4. in a large measuring cup or small mixing bowl, combine the sugar, flour, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and Angostura bitters.
  5. sprinkle the mixture over the apples in the mixing bowl; use your hands to gently mix and coat the apple slices.

the assembly

  1. preheat the oven to 375F to 400F, depending on your oven.
  2. gather your rolled pie crust, salted caramel and apple mixture.
  3. layer 1/3 of the apples in the bottom of the crust; gaps between apples should be minimal.
  4. pour 1/3 of the caramel over the apples.
  5. add 1/3 of the apples and caramel for a second layer, and then add a third layer of apples, and then a third layer of caramel. important note: save a small portion of the caramel to pour on top once the lattice is assembled.
  6. assemble the lattice crust, and flute the edges.
  7. pour the last bit of caramel on top of the pie.
  8. brush the crust with the beaten egg, then lightly sprinkle with raw sugar and sea salt.
  9. bake the pie on a baking sheet larger than the pie pan for 20 minutes (otherwise the caramel will bubble over and burn on the bottom of your oven, and that would be bad).
  10. reduce the oven temperature to 325F to 350F, again, depending on your oven, and bake for 25 to 35 minutes.
  11. test the apples with a long toothpick or small knife; the apples should be just soft.

let the pie cool, then slice and revel in the sweet, buttery, salty, tart contrast and deliciousness of this truly amazing pie. cheers!

wicked-simple apple crisp

27 September 2009


as each day passes, i embrace fall a bit more graciously. i remember my father, who, each year, welcomed fall with open arms. i would help him rake large piles of leaves and was amply rewarded when he let me jump in them. he’d yell and cheer me on as i obliterated all the work we’d done to tidy the yard in the first place. he never complained that he had to rake it all again and would insist that i go in and warm up, instead of helping him finish the task (i’m sure he also thought doing it himself was a heck of a lot faster).

my dad loved to cook, but i think he loved to eat even more. as any good New Englander would say, i always thought it was wicked cool when he would drive us out to the orchards in Bolton or Stow, Massachusetts to pick apples. in retrospect, the apple picking was a pretense; he was really after apple cider donuts and a few generous cups of steaming apple cider. oh, we’d get the apples, but they were tertiary to the other goodies procured at the farms. driving home, the sun would reflect on leaves ablaze with color: orange, red, burgundy, yellow. and sitting in the back seat, i felt content.

i can calculate precisely when i stumbled upon this recipe by the condition of the cookbook that houses it: the cookbook binding, nibbled on by my basset hound, Dewey, when he was a puppy. the pages tarnished from Dewey’s teething and from decades of use. Dewey and my dad have been gone for many years, but they both had an affinity for apple crisp (or for page 280, where the recipe can be found).

apple crisp
a wicked-simple variation based on a recipe from the vegetarian epicure

Alex in the U.K. gathering his Bramleys

Alex in the U.K. gathering his Bramleys


5 – 6 medium-size Bramley (or other tart) apples
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup unbleached organic flour
1/2 heaping teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter (1 stick)


  1. preheat oven to 350F.
  2. whisk all the dry ingredients in a medium bowl.
  3. cut the butter into the dry ingredients, until well combined.

    consistency of topping, prebaking

    consistency of topping, prebaking

  4. peel the apples, and slice thinly.
  5. place the apples only in a round casserole dish.
  6. sprinkle the mixture over the apples; don’t combine the apples and the mixture.
  7. cover and bake for 35 or 40 minutes.
  8. remove the cover, and bake for another 15 or 20 minutes, until the topping is crisp (hence the name) and golden brown.

apple crisp serving

serve warm, topped with whipped cream, ice cream, or half and half. it’s especially lovely when accompanied by profoundly insightful (and very funny) composer and folk singer Cheryl Wheeler’s When Fall Comes to New England.

the ultimate apple

26 September 2009


according to the Farmers’ Almanac (and no doubt other authoritative scientific resources), autumn has officially arrived. to grudgingly usher in the season, i made my annual trek out to Jones Creek Farm in Sedro-Wooley, WA. Jones Creekthere, friendly, knowledgeable farmers Les and Talea Price give TLC to their orchard laden with an extensive variety of heirloom apples. while i appreciate Jones Creek’s apple cornucopia, scenic Skagit Valley location and genuinely nice growers, i go out to the orchard for one simple reason: Bramleys.

this year marks the bicentenary of the Bramley apple (i.e., 200 years since British youngster Mary Ann Brailsford planted the pips in her garden that ultimately become the apple tree that bore the fruit that was named after the man who purchased the cottage where the tree was rooted and insisted that the apples be named after him—the abridged version). touted by apple pundits (and by me) as the best cooking apple on the planet, Bramleys retain their tart flavor because they contain more acid and less sugar than their inferior counterparts. and they produce an unbeatable melt-in-your-mouth texture, again, unlike more mundane varieties. somehow, the Bramley apple made it across the pond and to the top of my best-ever-fruits-of-all-time list.

with a bushel of Bramley apples, four sugar pie pumpkins and Elroy in the back of the car, i hightailed it home from Jones Creek Farm. later that afternoon, i made the recipe that follows with only three Bramleys; these guys were mutants. cropped Bramleys

i dedicate this pandowdy to my dear friend Alex, a true U.K. renaissance man, who tends his own Bramley apple trees. and whose curiosity and thirst for knowledge have led him on many great adventures, from flying and stone henge site exploration to archaeologic digs. a man of generous spirit and an even bigger heart.

Apple Pandowdy
a dish concocted by combining a recipe from Sunset and one from Emeril Lagasse/Food Network and an idea or two of my own

apple pandowdy prebake


for the crust

1 1/2 cups unbleached organic flour
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons cold butter
4 tablespoons ice-cold water (add more as needed)
1 tablespoon sugar for sprinking

for the filling

4 large Bramley apples (or, if you must, 6 – 7 Granny Smith), peeled, cored and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
2 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon butter cut into small pieces


  1. in  a large bowl or food processor, mix the flour, 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar and salt.
  2. cut the butter into the flour mixture, until coarse crumbs form.
  3. sprinkle water evenly over the crumb mixture, until a dough forms; add more water, if needed.
  4. turn dough out onto a lightly floured mat and pat into a flat disk.
  5. wrap disk in plastic wrap, and place in fridge.
  6. preheat oven to 350F.
  7. in a large bowl, toss the apples and lemon juice.
  8. in a medium bowl, whisk all the filling dry ingredients.
  9. add the mixture from the medium bowl into the large bowl filled with the apples and lemon juice; toss to coat, and let sit for 10 minutes.
  10. spoon the apple mixture into a 10-inch-deep ceramic pie dish.
  11. top the mixture with the small pieces of butter.
  12. remove dough from fridge and let stand at room temperature until pliable.
  13. with a lightly floured rolling pin, roll the dough into an 11-inch circle, about 1/4-inch thick.
  14. place dough on top of apple mixture, rolling edges under (trim off any excess, as needed).
  15. place pie dish on a cookie sheet covered in non-stick foil, and bake for about 30 minutes, or until crust is golden.
  16. remove from oven, and with a small, sharp knife, score the crust into 1-inch squares.
  17. with the back of a spoon, gently press the crust into the filling, so the juice flows over the edges of the squares.
  18. sprinkle the sugar over the crust, and return to the oven to bake for another 30 minutes, or until the apples are tender when pierced and the juices are thickened.

serve warm, topped with fresh whipped cream or vanilla or cinnamon ice cream. ok, i even like it for breakfast, without anything on it. well, maybe a splash of half and half.

apple pandowdy baked