Apples have been on my mind. First came John Seabrook's article "Crunch" in the New Yorker, which I heard read enticingly on NPR. Seabrook's description of SweeTango, the latest apple breed to hit stores, had me wondering if the experience of biting into its crisp glory, might be worth stabbing myself in the leg with an EpiPen afterward. Read his words aloud and see if your salivary glands don't leap into action.
"[The store owner] handed the apple to [the customer]. She looked it over, and then sniffed the calyx, the apple's bottom. It was a large apple, but not supersized, like the Fujis down the aisle. It had sunburned shoulders, yellow sides, and a splash of green around the stem bowl, and it was freckled with 'lenticels,' through which it was imperceptibly breathing."
Nothing yet? Read this.
"Like Honeycrisp, SweeTango has much larger cells than other apples, and when you bite into it the cells shatter, rather than cleaving along the cell walls, as is the case with most popular apples. The bursting of the cells fills your mouth with juice. Chunks of SweeTango snap off in your mouth with a loud cracking sound. Although a crisp texture is the single most prized quality in an apple--even more desirable than taste, according to one study--crispness is more a matter of acoustics than of mouthfeel. Vibrations pass along the lower jaw and set the cochlea trembling."
That paragraph deserves an award, and I may too for resisting its siren song.
Then came a flurry of apple recipes in the blogs and magazines that fill my reading life: Apple Butter, Roasted Apples , Cardamom Roasted Apples, Apple Pie Cookies, Apple Sauce, Apple Butter, Apple Pie Jam and the most adorable (can a New Englander say "twee"?) Apple Chai Pies in CraftSanity (issues 4 and 5). I resisted them all on the premise that while I can eat cooked apples safely, these cooked apples were just too desserty at a time of year that needs no more desserts.
We rang in the new year and my apple longings faded along with the discussion of holiday baking. And then I heard Spilled Milk's Apple episode. I was a goner. When Matthew read off a list of apple varieties, an image of a road trip based on tasting everything from the Aunt Rachel to the Tarbutton flashed into my mind. Then there was the audio of the hosts, Matthew and Molly crunching into apple after appple. Seabrook knew what he was talking about when he wrote that the crispness of an apple is all in th ears.
Several cook books and recipe websites later, I had a solution. The apples were cooked, but still maintained a whisper of crunch. The recipe wasn't a dessert, in fact it was pretty healthy (see notes in the recipe). I put one in my pocket (bagged, of course) before heading out for a walk tonight, and a half hour later it was none the worse for having shared space with my cell phone and keys. Did I mention they're really yummy too?
Apple and Cinnamon Muffins
This recipe is a modified version of the one Rachel Allen provides in her excellent book Favorite Food at Home: Delicious Comfort Food from Ireland's Most Famous Chef.
2 eggs - lightly beaten
6 tbsp skim milk
6 tbsp (roughly a individual pack) vanilla yogurt
1/6 cup oil
1/3 cup apple sauce - this takes the place of most of the oil normally called for
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 unpeeled apple cut into matchstick size pieces
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
dash of salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 cup wheat germ - high in fiber, iron, zinc and folic acid. It adds a nice nutty taste too.
1 cup wheat flour
1/2 cup light brown sugar
3 hand fulls of your favorite raw (unsalted, unroasted) nut. I used hazelnuts.
- Preheat to 350 degrees. The recipe makes 12 muffins. Use paper liners or grease your muffin pan. These muffins retain their shape well, so the paper liners are optional.
- In a large bowl lightly beat the eggs. Add the wet ingredients: milk, yogurt, oil, vanilla, and apple.
- In a second bowl mix the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Then add the wheat flour, wheat germ, sugar and most of the nuts.
- Fold the dry ingredients into the wet ones. The batter will become quite thick. As soon as the ingredients are mixed stop, you don't want to overwork the dough.
- Fill the muffin cups to the top. The batter is thick enough that this step could even be done successfully by a young child. Anyone who has ever had a child (or themselves) get frustrated as more cupcake batter ended up on the flat of the pan than in the cups, will love this.
- Chop the remaining nuts and sprinkle them on top.
- Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the dough offers resistance (spring) when touched.