I don't have a favorite movie; there are just too many to choose from. Lately I've been thinking a lot about Bull Durham, one of the many movies I love. It's richly evocative of a time and place, the on-screen chemistry among the cast is wonderful, and it has many, many quotable lines. When Crash Davis sneers at Annie for having a fling with the much younger Ebby, Annie explains herself in a single sentence. "Young men," she says, "are uncomplicated.
I don't exactly agree with that – every human being I've ever met has struck me as a mass of complexities – but I certainly understand the impulse. Who doesn't wish for something uncomplicated from time to time?
Especially right now. I had the strangest sensation in January: I completely lost the desire to each chocolate. I'm not sure this has ever happened to me before. It's not a permanent condition, but for a few weeks here, I'm just not in the mood. I still want dessert, but I want something that's definitely not chocolate. Something simple and a bit old-fashioned. Something uncomplicated.
While I was in this daft mood, I happened upon The Four Midwestern Sisters' Christmas Book. On the back of the dust jacket, instead of a flattering studio portrait of the author, is a recipe for Apple Crisp. I don't know why more authors don't use this ploy: I can't be the only person who finds "Preheat the oven..." to be an irresistible phrase. In a flash of clarity, I realized that Apple Crisp was exactly what I wanted.
Blogging can be a risky business. That first batch of Apple Crisp was consumed before I could even snap a picture of it. When I informed the crew that I would have to make it all over again, there were no complaints. The IT Guy might have muttered "It's about time", but I wasn't really listening. On the second batch, I played around with sizes and proportions and added a few garnishes. I managed to get some photos before the feeding frenzy set in. Even the Resident Food Critic said "This is one of the best things you've ever made."
And I think I agree. It's so wholesome I could almost convince myself it wasn't dessert, but so delicious I didn't care. The scent of it baking turned the house into a sweet, cinnamon utopia. Apples, I say. Apples are uncomplicated.
This is a gluten-free recipe. If you do not want a gluten-free dish, you can replace the gluten-free flour with almost any kind of flour that is not self-rising. All-purpose or bread flour will work find. A batch I made with whole wheat pastry flour was particularly well-received.
The brickle toffee bits I used were these. I added chopped cashews to one batch, and they were very good. We all though chopped pecans would have been good also.
The original recipe specified Granny Smith apples, which immediately inspired my confidence. Everyone who cooks with apples seems to have a different, and strongly held, opinion about what variety of apples to use for various recipes, and I suppose I am no different: for many cooking purposes, I like Granny Smith. They are firm enough to keep some shape and character when baked, and their tart flavor adds a nice counterpoint to the usual sugar-and-cinnamon mixture. You can certainly substitute other apples, however. If possible, choose something with a crisp, crunchy texture; if it's a very sweet variety, you can cut back the amount of sugar in the recipe, or add a little lemon juice for tartness.
Apple crisp and apple pies are best if the apples are sliced to a uniform thickness. If some of the slices are thick while others are wafer-thin, some will be under-cooked while others have turned to mush. For this recipe, I found that slices about 1/8-inch thick worked well.
I think almost every cookbook I own has at least one recipe for Apple Crisp. This one looked especially inviting because it specified the right kind of apples, and it didn't involve any oats. Oats are nice, but Apple Crisp made with rolled oats seems more chewy than crispy to me, and more like breakfast than dessert.
Four Midwestern Sisters' Christmas Book is not exactly a cookbook; it's more like a memoir with recipes. I did very little to mess with this one, except to work out successively smaller sizes, and experiment with nut and brickle additions to the topping. The original recipe also called for adding some water to the apples, which sounded doubtful to me: Granny Smith apples are almost excessively juicy already. I left the water out and no one seemed to miss it.