Monday, December 03, 2012

What To Make For The Holidays? Cranberry-apple Crisp!

It's that time of the year: holiday parties for two months, where you want to bring something nice but after the first couple of parties you just can't be bothered.  You're running around, trying to go to your friends' parties to see them and have a good time with them while arranging your own holiday life, getting in fights with your parents, failing to find presents that your sisters will actually like, forgetting some of your friends when setting up your own party invitations, trying to get all of your work done while half of your coworkers are gone.  It's no wonder that there's a popular urban legend that the suicide rate goes up because of winter holidays.

The best recipe for this time of year should be delicious, easy to make, quick to make, and require only ingredients that you've already got in your kitchen.  Not surprisingly, such a recipe does not exist.  The closest you can get are delicious recipes that are easy to make and which use common ingredients, ones that you can easily get at the grocery store.  The good news is that this recipe meets all of those requirements, and gets better the longer it sits in the fridge.

This recipe works because it releases a lot of the sugar (sucrose) held in the apples and cranberries.  The longer the apples sit with the cranberries, the more the tastes mingle, so the two-day old leftovers from this recipes will often taste better than the freshly made version.

You can also change things up quite easily in this recipe.  I didn't have dried cranberries about half of the times that I made this crisp, so I just used more fresh cranberries instead.  It came out fine.  You can also add in other flavors easily - orange zest, lemon zest, nutmeg, etc.  The one part of the recipe you don't want to change is the topping (the part that becomes crisp when you bake it).

I got this recipe from America's Test Kitchen: All-time Best Holiday Recipes, which was an impulse buy when I was stuck in a ludicrously long line in a Whole Foods.  I don't know why the website says price: $9.95, on sale: $9.95.  Maybe they are great at baking and terrible at arithmetic.  All I can tell you is that this magazine is worth the money.

This crisp is a great party dish because it is easy to make and transport (just one baking dish), it has ingredients that are considered to be winter holiday fruits (apples + cranberries), and it's different from what most people bring (chocolate, gingerbread, or pumpkin pie).  It's easy to serve and people are always impressed if you make fresh whipped cream to go along with it.

Tips: if you don't have dried cranberries, follow all of the directions when making the apples but just skip adding the dried cranberries.  Increase the fresh cranberries to 16 ounces to make up for it.

When you cook the cranberries, stir them once or twice a minute to make sure that they cook evenly.  They really do need about 10 minutes of cooking to get a jammy texture.

Use a small but sharp knife, like a paring knife, when you peel the apples.  There are also apple peeling machines that you can use instead.

The butter doesn't need to be frozen but it does need to be chilled enough not smush together when you cut it up.  You can take it out of the fridge and it will be cold enough.

You don't need to use a glass baking dish for this recipe.  I use a ceramic baking dish instead and it turns out find.

When you bake the crisp, put the baking dish on a cookie sheet so if the fruit bubbles over, it won't fall to the bottom of the oven and burn.  The fruit juices will bubble up and over the edge of the crisp topping.

Do not use instant oatmeal!  Just use old-fashioned oats, the kind you get in a cardboard tube at the grocery store.  Instant oatmeal has extra ingredients that will not bake correctly.

You want to use a firmer apple because softer apples will just turn to mush when cooked.  Granny Smith and Golden Delicious apples are a great combination and blend nicely with cranberries.

Cranberry-Apple Crisp
from America's Test Kitchen: All-time Best Holiday Recipes

Ingredients for topping

¾ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup packed light brown sugar 

½ cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into ½ inch pieces and chilled
¾ cup old-fashioned rolled oats

Ingredients for filling

1 pound fresh or frozen cranberries
1 ¼ cups granulated sugar
2 ½ pounds Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and cut into ½ inch pieces
2 ½ pounds Braeburn of Golden Delicious apples, peeled, cored, and cut into ½ inch pieces
1 cup dried sweetened cranberries
3 tablespoons instant tapioca

Preheat oven to 400 F.  Adjust oven rack to middle position.

Pulse flour, brown sugar, granulated sugar, cinnamon, and butter in food processor until mixture resembles coarse crumbs, about 10 pulses.  Turn mixture into medium bowl and stir in oats.  Pinch mixture with fingers to create peanut-sized clumps and refrigerate.

Simmer cranberries, ¾ cup granulated sugar, and water in large Dutch oven (or large soup pot) over medium-high heat until jam-like (about 10 minutes).  Transfer mixture to bowl and set aside.  Add apples, remaining ½ cup granulated sugar, and dried cranberries to pot and cook over medium-high heat until apples begin to release their juices (about 5 minutes).

Off heat, stir cranberry mixture and tapioca into apple mixture.  Pour into 13X9 inch glass baking dish set on rimmed baking sheet and smooth with spatula.

Scatter topping evenly over filling and bake until topping is a deep golden brown (about 30 minutes).  If topping is browning too quickly, loosely cover with aluminum foil.  Let cool on wire rack for about 10 minutes before serving.

The topping without the oatmeal.  Make sure to mix everything up very fine.

With the oatmeal added.  Mix it all up with your hands and then pinch clumps together with your fingers.  The head from your hands will help the butter soften and hold the sugar and oatmeal together.

Cooking the cranberries.  Make sure to mix the pot from bottom to top so the cranberries on the top cook as much as the cranberries on the bottom.

Apple peeling.  I waste a lot of apple when I'm peeling.

For P.  He wanted some apples but didn't get any because they are not good for bunnies.  He's shaggy because he's got his winter coat in.

Cooked cranberries.  They become thicker as they cool, and the texture becomes jammy.

Five pounds of peeled apples.

Apples cooking.

The finished result: the fruit juices have bubbled over the top of the crisp on the edges of the pan.

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