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No Ordinary Apple

By Lori Grossman

Autumn is just about here, finally! I hope it's getting cooler where you are. In Texas, you would ordinarily call this time of year Indian summer, but I can't write what I've been calling it lately. Anyway, I am eagerly awaiting cool breezes from the north, leaves turning their spectrum of colors, and all that delicious autumn produce in the farmers markets and grocery stores.

I have always preferred apples and bananas to any other fruits. Every Saturday morning, my dad and I would go to several grocery stores to do the shopping. Dad always said that my mom had enough to do all week long, anyway, so he wanted to save her the trouble. That might have been partly true, but I think he liked doing the shopping, and I loved tagging along. He taught me how to pick out all kinds of fruits and vegetables, from tomatoes, celery and cucumbers, to watermelons, apples, and oranges. I still remember my amazement (and confusion) when I discovered all the different kinds of apples there were to choose from. My favorite was (and still is) the Red Delicious, but I would eat Winesaps if that was all we had. Dad liked all kinds, but was partial to Golden Delicious. It took me a while to discover that some were better for eating and some were better for cooking. That was my mom's department.

When you think of apples, don't you think of biting into a crunchy, sweet, juicy piece of fruit, or as the main ingredient in some delicious dessert? Hey, apples can make a main dish even better. Here's a perfect example.

Apple, Bacon and Walnut Flautas

"This is no ordinary apple. It's a magic wishing apple."
  • Six 8-inch yellow or blue corn tortillas
  • Canola oil (to soften the tortillas)
  • 3 or 4 slices bacon
  • 3 Granny Smith apples (or other tart green apple), peeled, cored, and diced
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons fresh thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • Juice of one lime
  • 2 teaspoons packed brown sugar (or to taste)
  • 1/4 cup walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
  • 4 ounces crumbled blue cheese or aged goat cheese
To make the filling, cook the bacon in a large sauté pan or skillet over medium heat until the fat has rendered and bacon is brown but not crisp (about 3 to 5 minutes). Using a slotted spoon, remove bacon, leaving the fat in the pan. Sauté the apples in the bacon fat. Stir gently for 6 to 8 minutes, or until evenly browned and tender, but not mushy. Add thyme and remove apples from the heat. Add pepper, lime juice and brown sugar. Stir well. Pour the mixture into a shallow pan and spread it out to cool to room temperature. Put the cooled mixture into a medium bowl and stir in the bacon, walnuts, and cheese.

Heat 1 inch of oil in a skillet to 325°F, or until it's hot but not sizzling. Place one tortilla in the oil for 1 to 2 seconds, or until it's pliable. Using tongs, place the tortilla on a paper towel to drain. Repeat this step with remaining tortillas. Drain well, blotting the surfaces to remove excess oil. Spoon about 4 tablespoons filling in a line down the center of a tortilla and roll into a tight cylinder. Close the seam with a toothpick. Repeat with remaining tortillas. You can prepare the flautas to this point up to 24 hours in advance, but cover them airtight (use plastic wrap) to keep them from drying out. Refrigerate until you're ready to fry them.

To fry, heat 3 to 4 inches of oil in a large, heavy pot or deep-fryer to 375°F or until sizzling but not smoking. Using tongs, add 3 or 4 flautas and fry for 3 to 5 minutes or until golden and crisp. Transfer to a paper towel-lined baking sheet and cover with foil to keep warm. Fry remaining flautas. Remove toothpicks and serve at once. Makes 6 flautas.

Here's a quick and easy-to-make dessert for adults only. You'll see why when you check out the list of ingredients. Or, if you know Spanish, you might get a hint from the dessert's name. Enjoy this after the kids are asleep.

Apples Borracho (Drunken Apples)

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 4 Jonathan or McIntosh apples, peeled, cored, and sliced
  • 1/4 cup bourbon
  • Ice cream (for serving)
In a large skillet, heat the butter and brown sugar together over medium heat until bubbling. Add the apples and sauté for 5 minutes. Pour the bourbon over the apples and stir to blend. Sauté until apples are soft, but still a little firm (about 10 minutes). Serve warm with ice cream. Makes 4 servings.

If you have a birthday or other special occasion coming up, skip store-bought and make this cake. It does take some time to prepare, but it's worth the effort. The combination of the rich caramel and tart apples may remind you of caramel apples. If you're pressed for time, you can make both the cake and caramel sauce in advance, then assemble and frost the cake just before you serve it.

Caramel Apple Cream Cake

  • 2-3/4 cups cake flour
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2-1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup canola oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup Caramel sauce (recipe follows)
Caramel Sauce
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup heavy cream or evaporated milk (evaporated low-fat or skim will work well, too)
To make the caramel sauce, combine the sugar, water, and vanilla in a medium-size heavy saucepan. Stir over low heat to dissolve the sugar, then increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. Without stirring, watch the mixture closely until it begins to turn golden (about 15 to 18 minutes). Remove from the heat.

While the sugar mixture is cooking, heat the cream in a small saucepan over low heat and keep warm. When the caramel reaches a golden brown, remove from the heat immediately so it won't darken and become bitter. With heavy-duty oven mitts on both hands, pour in the warm cream and whisk to blend. (The hot caramel may splatter a little as you do this). If the caramel seizes up in the cream, return the sauce to the heat and whisk until blended. Set aside to cool.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease two 9-inch round cake pans and line the bottom of each pan with waxed paper. Grease the paper. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium-size mixing bowl. Set aside.

With an electric mixer, beat the eggs and sugar together in a large mixing bowl until light and fluffy (about 2 minutes). Slowly beat in the oil, vanilla, and milk. Beat in the flour mixture until just combined. Stir in half of the cooled caramel sauce (1 cup) and continue beating until well blended. Divide the batter evenly between the pans.

Bake the layers until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean (55 to 60 minutes). They will be a rich brown color. Let cool for 5 minutes in the pans, then invert onto wire racks and quickly turn upside down to cool completely. Discard waxed paper.

Caramel Cream Frosting

  • 2 cups cold heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Remaining 1 cup Caramel Sauce at room temperature
Before making the frosting, wash and dry the beaters well (after using them to mix the cake batter). Beat the heavy cream and vanilla in a large mixing bowl until the cream holds stiff peaks. Fold the caramel sauce into the whipped cream until the frosting looks marbleized.

Apple Filling

  • 2 large, tart apples (such as Jonathan or Granny Smith), peeled, cored, and finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
To make the filling, mix the chopped apples with the lemon juice and let sit for 5 minutes. Drain off the juice.

To assemble the cake, place one layer on a cake stand or plate. Spread 1 cup of the frosting over the top and spoon the chopped apples evenly over the frosting. Top with the second cake layer. Spread the remaining frosting on the top and sides of the cake, swirling the frosting on top. Cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days. Serve chilled. Makes 10 to 12 servings.

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