Monday, September 26, 2011

Honey caramel Apple crisp for Rosh Hashanah

The weather is turning crispier, the sky is cool blue and the leaves are just beginning to turn dry… it begins to smell like fall.  This time of the year bring us the wonderful harvests of the long summer, the musty smell of re-used school books and the Jewish New Year – Rosh Hashanah.    Although I have very fond memories of my grandparent’s house and Rosh Hashanah gatherings, I rarely keep up with tradition myself.  Maybe I should? 
A few days ago I received a few requests for a simple apple and honey dish to welcome the New Year.  I was disappointed that I had not thought to do it myself.  So I immediately begun to work on something original, homey and something that anyone can make and I came up with this crisp.
Jews have a tradition of eating apples dipped in honey during the welcoming of New Year.  According to Jewish mysticism the apple represents the Shekhinah (the feminine aspect of God). It is believed that during Rosh Hashanah the Shekhinah is watching us and evaluating our deeds for the last year.  Eating honey with apples represents hope that the Shekhinah will judge us kindly and look down on us with sweetness, therefore granting us a prosperous and peaceful year ahead.
 I am very proud of this recipe; it reminds me of sitting in my grandmother’s kitchen and watching her and my mom cook endless feasts for the holidays.  It reminds me of candles that my grandfather used to light during prayers.  My kitchen smells like my mother’s apron, the scent I used to inhale when I would be only tall enough to hug her knees.   This dish signifies the warmness and generosity of our ancestral homes, despite, in most cases, very humble roots.  This may not be the prettiest dish I ever made; it does not have the complexity or fine finesse of macaroons or tarts, but it feels and smells like home and family, which is exactly where I want to be for Rosh Hashanah.

Honey Caramel Apple Crisp.
Makes 6 individual deserts or 1 large
6 tart apples like Granny Smith, Crispin or Empire, peeled, cored and sliced into thick slices
Juice of ½ lemon
8 tbs of butter cubed and at room temerature + 1 tbs for buttering the baking dishes
2 ½ cups of quick cooking oats
1 ½ cups of walnuts roughly chopped
1 cup raisins or dry currants
1/2 cup of all-propose flour
½ cup of brown sugar
¼ cup of honey

For the caramel.
1 cup sugar
½ cup honey
1 cardamom pod crushed (optional see Note)
Splash of water
½ cup of heavy cream or half-and-half
Note:  I find the “traditional” apple spices such as cinnamon, all-spice and nutmeg don’t work well with the strong taste of honey.  Cardamom provides a nice background scent without overpowering th distinct honey flavor.  Feel free to use any spices you like or none at all.

Make the caramel.  Combine sugar, honey, water and the spice and bring to a boil.  Do not stir once the mixture comes to a boil, just turn down the heat to low and swirl the sauce pan gently.  Once the mixture begins to brown, turn of the heat and pours in the cream.  The mixture will begin to bubble violently.  Place back on low heat and cook stirring with a wooden spoon for 30 seconds or until the mixture is smooth.  Let cool slightly before using.

Preheat the oven to 350F.  Butter 6 individual ramekins or one large glass or ceramic dish.  Toss the apple slices with lemon juice.  In a separate bowl, prepare the “crisp” by combining oats, flour, nuts, raisins, and the brown sugar.  Work the butter into the dry mixture with your fingers or a fork, until well combined.

Assemble the crisp.  Pour ¼ of the caramel onto the bottom of each dish.  Place the apples slices on top and top with remaining caramel.  Place the butter – oat mixture on top

Drizzle with honey.  Place the ramekins on the sheet tray covered with aluminum foil (to catch the bubbling over).  Bake for 30 min (for individual potions) or 45 min – 1 hr if making a large crisp.  When the oats are brown and crispy and the apples begin to bubble, it is ready.  Cool slightly before serving. 

I wish everyone a happy and sweet New Year!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Fresh lemon ricotta and berry tartlets

The summer is over and as usual it passed by too quickly, to many hopes and plans remained unfulfilled and to many dishes uncooked. 
My garden did not do well this summer, either due to the fact that my kid’s are probably not the best substitute for my care or the most persistent caterpillars in the whole state of New Jersey.
My plans to host a summer brunch did not happen either as there are just not enough weekends on the calendar.  So many sunny days passed with me locked in the stuffy, dusty office and so many rainy Saturdays remained wasted… Oh well, if the kids can bare to go back to school, I should be able to deal with it as well.
But on the brighter note, the weather will be turning cooler and leaves will change color and if I can squeeze in one more wine trip to the country I can even see the full glory of the North East autumn.  The Thanksgiving is promising to be quite exiting this year as I think I will actually have a significant audience for my culinary efforts.
So for the last summer desert fling ( to be followed by the remainder of the year deserts), I thought I would do something light, simple, fresh and truly my own recipe.  For those who cook most often follow a recipe of some sorts, not necessarily to a T, but the idea comes from some place, it is based on something you read or watched.  You may change up the book or a show or a web recipe until it is unrecognizable but it is still not fully yours until… well until it is.

Fresh lemon ricotta and berry tartlets
Makes 10  4 inch tartlets

For the dough
8 tbs of ice cold butter cubed
1 ¼ cup of all-purpose flour
¼ cup almond flour
2 tbs sugar
Pinch of salt
2 -3 tbs ice cold water

For the filling
2 cups fresh ricotta (drained if runny) – see note*
1 ½ cups of sugar
4 egg yolks
Zest of 2 lemons
2 tbs of lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
Fresh berries
1 tbs powdered sugar
Note* - now I am not a food snub (well sometimes I am), but really try and get the best homemade freshest ricotta around.  It makes a lot of difference.  Look for small Italian neighborhood store that makes its own.  And don’t go for the skim milk kind, pick either part skim or full fat variety.

Prepare the dough by pulsing the flour, sugar and salt in the food processor until combined.  Add the cubed butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse corn meal.  Add iced water and pulse until the dough comes together into a ball.  Press the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
Preheat the oven to 350F.  Roll out the dough to ¼ inch thickness and using a glass or a cookie cutter, cut out 10 circles about 5 inches in diameter.  Press into the buttered tartlets forms.  Place a small sheet of buttered foil over each form and fill with pie weights or dried beans.  Bake blind for 10-12 min, than remove the pie weights and foil and bake for an additional 3 min.  Let cool.
In the meant time, prepare the filling by whisking together the egg yolks, sugar, and lemon zest.  Add the ricotta and whisk to combine.  Add the lemon juice and vanilla and whisk until the mixture is smooth and creamy.
Fill each tart with the filling and bake for about 15 min until the filling begins to turn golden brown and puffy.   Let cool on the wire rack and arrange fresh berries on top.  Dust with powdered sugar and a bit more lemon zest.

Now this can cure the “summer is gone “blues!