We all have our traditions come fall. Collect pumpkins-check. Cue Gilmore Girls marathon-check. Launder sweaters-check. Pick apples– check, check, check. And then take those apples and turn them into warm, spicy, gooey goodness. When that crisp weather hits, the baking starts. Applesauce is a staple. Apple pie, also a classic. But when it comes down to favoritism, apple crisp takes the gold medal for me.
Who doesn’t love a good crisp in the fall? The name itself evokes an autumnal mood- quite symbolic, really, and dangerously close to an onomatopoeia. Not only that, but it’s a very approachable dish. Apple crisp is apple pie’s laid-back and reliable cousin. It’s rustic, versatile, and, need I say, crustless. When I saw The New York Times Cooking post an Apple Crisp recipe featured in “Baking That’s Simple, But Always Satisfying,” I had to bite, no pun intended.
The recipe belongs to Genevieve Ko. In the aforementioned article, she describes the pleasure and simplicity of preparing ingredients with your hands. Her apple crisp recipe encourages this tactile exercise in baking. Mixing butter and dry ingredients with your hands is messy business but also oddly satisfying. This instinctual, connected way of baking promotes intuitiveness. Fruit crisp recipes are made to be tweaked, after all. Some want might want more of that crunchy topping, while others prefer a more apple-forward crisp. This one works no different, prompting you to create the perfect apple crisp for you.
Here’s my experience cooking up this fall classic from The New York Times.
Visit NYT Cooking for the full recipe.
The Anatomy of an Apple Crisp
1. The Topping
Aside from the butter, dry ingredients account for the topping. You’ll start with sugar, flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, and a pinch of salt. Once you mix your dry ingredients, it’s time to get those mitts dirty. Add in your cold butter, cubed; coat and pinch together while keeping the butter as piece-y as possible. Once the butter and dry ingredients are familiarized with each other, throw in chopped pecans and old-fashioned oats and thoroughly mix. Really get your hands in there and smoosh. You’re aiming for “crumbly” here, and don’t be afraid of mix-matched chunks.
Once the topping is mixed, spoon into a freezer bag and toss into the fridge or freezer until needed.
2. The Apples
In this step lies the crisp’s foundation: fresh from the orchard apples and a good sweet and spicy bath for them to bake in. First, you’ll want to prep your dry ingredients: whisk up some flour, sugar, a pinch of salt, and of course, cinnamon. Washing, peeling, and cutting 8-10 apples is the most labor-intensive part of this dish. Grab a chair, pull up a festive playlist, and get cozy. I should mention that the peeling may be optional for some. Ms. Ko’s recipe suggests forgoing the peel for a rustic chewy bite. I can see the appeal (ah, there I go again…full of puns today), but a peel intact is just not my style. You do you.
After your apples are sliced and diced, add them to a large bowl along with several splashes of lemon juice. Then sprinkle the dry mix over juicy apples, mixing and coating each slice well. It’s at this step I take the liberty of adding a bonus ingredient: Kentucky bourbon. A generous splash will do. Trust me, it adds a warm depth and highlights the cinnamon nicely. By the end of this step, you want your apples looking generously and thickly sauced; then spatula the apple mixture into a skillet.
3. The Crumble and Bake
Topping the apples- it’s an easy but very important part of the recipe. You’ve worked so hard up to this point, so don’t screw it up now. Gasp! Just kidding, it’s pretty simple. Just sprinkle the topping by a.) allowing for some small gaps between clusters for the apples to breathe, and b.) clumping together mixture in different sizes as you go to ensure a crumbled and textured top.
My favorite part of Ms. Ko’s recipe is that you assemble and bake the crisp in a skillet, preferably cast iron, but otherwise ovenproof. My cast iron skillet was on the fritz, so I baked the crisp in my ovenproof All-Clad, and it came out sizzling nicely. The skillet gives the toppings a perfect buttery brown crisp-up, while underneath bubbles a thick, saucy cauldron of fall goodness. And the aromas, ah! That air of autumn lingers for hours after the bake.
Serve warm after about 15-20 minutes. Of course, a cozy bowl of this is begging for a scoop of vanilla ice cream, but it eats deliciously all by itself, as well. The recipe also suggests trying this cold in the morning, if and when there are leftovers…
- Save Time. The beautiful thing about the topping is that it can be put together ahead of time. In fact, I suggest at least doubling or even trippling the recipe. This stuff freezes, well. And with some basic pantry ingredients and apples, you’ll have access to a quick dessert for unexpected company.
- For Crunch Lovers. I like to add a smidge more topping to my crisp, cuz I’m greedy like that.
- A Slice of Variety. I like to cut the apples in different sizes- some long ways, some more square. As long as the thickness is similar, the apples should cook up evenly. Smaller slices jam up the sauce while longer pieces retain the sauce’s integrity.
- Nutty. I’ve adjusted to a rougher chop with my pecans for this recipe, with some pieces left whole. The bigger pieces add a nice, soft crunch
- Spicy. I add a bit more cinnamon than the recipe calls for; adjust to your liking.
- Juicy. Don’t be afraid to add more lemon juice or bourbon if your apple mix seems dry. You want that apple mixture thick and juicy going in to bake.
- Next Day Crisp. The apple crisp reheats well in the skillet. I throw it in as the oven is preheating and re-bake for 15 minutes.