Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Apple Crisp

Mmmm. Apples. Tastes like America.
Apple pie is the quintessential American dessert. You've heard the phrase "as American as apple pie," and I bet you swallowed it hook, line, and sinker. Well, here's the dirty truth - apple pie predates America by at least four hundred years. Decent apples aren't even native to the new world. When European settlers got to America, they were a little dismayed to find that the only apples that grew natively were crab apples. (Just so you know, crab apples suck.) It wasn't until Johnny Appleseed came along that apples worth eating became widely available in America. (His legend is a little exaggerated, but he did plant a lot of trees and increase the American interest in growing apples.)

A much more accurate phrase might be "as American as apple crisp." For a long time, the idea of baking a pie crust in the new world was laughable. Pretty much no one had an oven, and building them wasn't exactly high on the list of priorities for the settlers until they moved out of the "likely to be eaten by bears" phase of settlement. Nonetheless, people want dessert, and cobblers, grunts, and crisps were quickly created by enterprising women who had the oh-so-pleasant task of trying to make entire meals using a fire and some cast iron pots. Until apples became available, other fruits were used, but after Mr. Appleseed worked his magic, apples quickly became a favorite crisp ingredient.

A paleo apple crisp isn't too hard, because you can use chopped nuts as the primary ingredient in the topping. Because apples have their own sweetness, you don't really need to add sugar to them. There is a little bit of honey in the recipe, but it falls well within the description, "an amount I'd be willing to steal from bees." I'm putting this in the indulgences category, but it's so close to the line that you'd probably be OK with eating it pretty often, just not every day.

I forgot to get the coconut oil and salt before I took the picture.
Just pretend they're behind the walnuts or something.


For the filling
1 lemon (you will need all of the juice and half of the zest)
1 tsp minced ginger
4 granny smith apples
1 tsp honey
1 tsp arrowroot powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon

For the topping
1 cup walnuts
1 cup pecans
2 tbsp coconut oil
2 tsp honey
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp arrowroot powder
a pinch of salt


Large Bowl
9x9 Baking Dish
Food Processor (recommended)

Preheat your oven to 350.

Strip the zest from half of the lemon and mince it very finely. Also go ahead and mince the ginger.

Zest on the left, ginger on the right.

Before you start working on the apples, you should fill a large bowl about half full of water, and squeeze the juice of your lemon into it. As you chop the apples, place the pieces into the water. Doing this will keep them from turning brown.

Peel the apples, core them, and chop them into medium-sized pieces (I got 48 pieces per apple, if that helps with the definition of "medium-sized.") As you chop them, place the pieces into the bowl.

The acid in the lemon juice disables an enzyme that would otherwise cause the apples to brown.
Science - it's super fun!

Once all the pieces have been chopped, drain the water out of the bowl. (a colander is probably the easiest way to do it.) Add the lemon zest, ginger, honey, arrowroot powder, and cinnamon to the bowl, and mix them in with the apples so that everything is evenly coated. Place the apples into your baking dish.

I prefer a glass baking dish, because it heats everything just a little more slowly than a metal one.

To make the topping, you need to chop the walnuts and pecans into small pieces, and then mix in the coconut oil, honey, cinnamon, arrowroot powder, and salt. If you've got a food processor, you can just throw everything in and pulse it about 10 times (or until it looks like granola). If you don't, you can chop the nuts by hand, and then mix the other ingredients in with your hands or a spatula. Once you've got the topping prepared, place it evenly on top of the apples and press it down just a little.

Making it even will help prevent any nuts from burning.

Bake the crisp at 350 for 15 to 20 minutes. The apples will still be a little firm, and the topping will have started to toast, but not burn. Take the crisp out of the oven, and let it cool for at least 10 minutes before serving, so that any juices have a chance to gel.

You can see that the apples are still holding their shape.
  • Use granny smith apples for this recipe. They are, in my opinion, the best apples for making any kind of pie, crisp, cobbler, or crumble.
  • When you serve this, the topping will get all mixed in with the apples. That's good, because some of the topping will be in every bite.
  • Be careful when baking the crisp. It's very easy to let it go too long and burn the topping. I started checking it pretty often at the 15 minute mark, and it was exactly right at 20 minutes. If you start to see any bits of the topping get very dark, take the crisp out of the oven immediately.
  • I like my apples to still be firm in a dessert like this. If you want your apples mushy, you can bake them by themselves for about 10 minutes before you put on the topping.
  • One more piece of pie trivia: early pie crusts were so crappy that it was just expected that you wouldn't eat them. The filling was baked in one, but you'd eat the filling and throw away the disgusting crust.

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