Not too sweet

Tonight I made an apple crumble for tea. I’ve made quite a few of these over the years, certainly dozens though probably not quite yet hundreds. This one was a bit different in two or three respects, one of them accidental.

Usually I make crumbles as a dessert (although it’s actually fairly unusual for me to have a dessert at all, which may come as a surprise to many who know me and my sweet tooth), but this one was made as a standalone meal. Mainly that’s because I was feeling too lazy after my lunch (which, as usual for a Sunday, was my main meal) and also had some yoghurt that needed using up at that point. So today I made it for tea instead, served up with custard (made up from a packet mix – not from first principles, though that would be even nicer). I don’t think it’s the first time I’ve made it deliberately as a standalone meal, but it might be.

The deliberate way in which this was different from previous crumbles I’ve made is that instead of all butter I used a roughly 50:50 mix of butter and lard, as I had a block of the latter that needed using up. In fact, I still have most of it but there’s now about an ounce less to worry about. Incidentally, while I usually tend to prefer metric measurements for cooking and pretty much everything else, I consider myself to be more or less bilingual between the imperial and metric systems (though I usually have to look up the conversion factors if going between the two). I got my crumble recipe from my mum years ago when I went off to university (though I don’t think I actually made one until several years later) and it’s given in imperial units (6oz plain flour; 4oz butter; 2 oz caster sugar – though I usually halve the quantities, use granulated sugar instead of caster and add a handful of oats and some mixed spice). I can’t say that I noticed any particular difference in the flavour or handling properties from my usual version, but it is several months since I last made a crumble and my memory alone is probably not an entirely reliable guide. Really I’d have to do a side-by-side comparison (or better, a blind triangle test) but I only have one crumble dish so that would be a bit of a faff to arrange

The accidental way in which this crumble was different from my usual (though possibly not unique among all the crumbles I’ve ever made) is that I forgot to add any sugar or other sweetening agent to the apples. Sugar (generally granulated, though sometimes caster if I have it to hand, or brown if I’m feeling more adventurous) is my go-to sweetener for crumbles, but I have occasionally used honey instead to good effect. This time I forgot completely, though I did add a bit of lemon zest and juice (the latter mainly to help stop the apple going brown before I added the crumble topping and got it in the oven) and some chopped ginger, as well as a bit of water and some cinnamon. That (apart from the lack of sugar) is pretty much my standard approach to an apple crumble (and similar to how I’d do a rhubarb crumble, which is the only other kind I often cook – for that I’d probably leave out the cinnamon, but otherwise it would be basically the same, and probably suffer more for lack of sugar).

I gave it about half an hour in the oven at gas mark 6, which gave me the kind of result I particularly like with the fruit nice and soft but still having a slight bite to it. Even without the sugar it was quite pleasant to eat, as the crumble topping and custard made up for the lack of sweetness in the fruit. However, I did miss the syrup that usually forms from a combination of the sugar, water and juice from the apple, so I don’t think I’ll be dropping sugar from my regular recipe anytime soon. And I’ll probably be having another apple crumble before too long (not to mention the rest of this one, which I’ll enjoy for dessert, or possibly for lunch, tomorrow) as I still have a few apples that need using up.

Best Served Cold

I realised with some shock that it’s almost a year since I last wrote anything for my blog. In fact, when I went back this afternoon to see what was the last thing I wrote here I was confronted with a rather disturbing photo of me without a beard towards the end of last November. It’s strange to think that this time last year I was still waiting with baited breath to see if enough people would rise to the fundraising challenge I’d set to ensure that I would have to endure Movember.

Anyway, having finally been struck with sufficient inspiration to write another post, I should strike while the iron is hot…

They say that revenge is a dish best served cold.

It turns out that it isn’t the only one.

Yesterday I decided to cook myself a Spanish-style tortilla (i.e. basically an omelette with potato and onion) for dinner, and also to make my first apple crumble of the season with some apples that a friend has kindly given me (and also with custard). There was too much of both to eat them all at once and I knew that both can work successfully as cold dishes as well as hot ones, so I decided to have a bit of both for dinner and save the rest for lunch.

I came to the conclusion that although both were very tasty when they were freshly cooked, they were even better today as a cold lunch (including cold custard with the apple crumble). I’m not sure how much it was due to the different temperature and how much it was due to the flavours having had more chance to develop, or possibly even the fact that I was quite tired last night after a busy week and somewhat more refreshed this lunchtime after a nice relaxed morning.  Whatever the cause, the effect was one of the tastiest lunches I’ve had for a while.

Incidentally, I was pleased to see that while it’s probably been nearly as long since I last cooked an apple crumble as it has since I last updated this blog, I haven’t entirely lost my touch. Probably more through luck than judgement I managed to cook this one at just the right combination of time and temperature to get the apples nice and tender but with a bit of bite left in them, with about the right amount of sugar, cinnamon and lemon juice to complement the taste of the apples nicely, while the crumble topping (including my usual addition of a few oats for texture and a bit of mixed spice for flavour) retained just a hint of gooeyness, exactly the way I like it.

Doubtless I’ll be cooking up another crumble (possibly with one or two variations – maybe apple and raisin next time?) pretty soon as I still have a few more apples to use up. It may be a while longer before my next post, but hopefully not another 11 months.

And, in case you were wondering, I’m not planning revenge on anyone for anything. It was just a line (from an old Sherlock Holmes film, as I recall) that sprang to mind as I was thinking about the delights of cold apple crumble and custard.

 

 

When life gives you apples…

Over the last few years I’ve been greatly blessed to have a more or less regular annual bulk supply of apples.

At first, it was because I lived in a house with two apple trees in the garden.  The landlords were very happy for my housemates and I to avail ourselves of the crops and since I seemed to be the only one to do so I had more than enough apples for my culinary needs each autumn.

I moved out of that house quite a few years ago now (about 8, I think) but since then I’ve had a couple of friends with apple trees and each year one or both of them give me a nice lot of apples to use.

Originally I mostly used these apples for cider but in more recent years I’ve tended to use more of them for cooking than brewing.  In the past this has usually amounted to lots of apple crumbles supplemented by occasional batches of stewed apple (and in one case when I was feeling adventurous, apple butter) or zapped apples (a microwaved treat that is both deliciously simple and simply delicious), with one or two apples lobbed into stews now and then.

A few days ago I received this year’s (or technically last year’s) batch of apples from one of my friends and I’ve decided to expand my repertoire a bit.  Doubtless there will be a few apple crumbles and zapped apples to come (not to mention apples in stews, and perhaps a batch of cider) but I want to do a few other things as well.

As it happens, I’ve just been getting into another bout of slavophilia, prompted by finally getting round to listening to the CD of Eugene Onegin that I bought several months ago and aided by the fact that the Russian lessons on Duolingo have finally gone live, which gives me a good chance to revive my rather rusty Russian language skills. One result of this is that I’ve had my Russian cookery books out (the one by Kira Petrovskaya that I blogged about shortly after getting it several years ago and one called The Food and Cooking of Russia by Lesley Chamberlain that I got shortly afterwards. Both of these contain several recipes involving apples quite prominently.

This evening I have been trying my first couple of Russian apple recipes, one from each book.

Chamberlain supplied an intriguing recipe for Carrot and apple vzvar. She didn’t seem to explain what a vzvar (or взвар as it would appear in Cyrillic) is, but this one amounted to gently simmering carrots and apple in a minimal amount of water (after lightly sautéeing them in butter). Interestingly, all the Google hits I’ve been able to find for vzvar seem to indicate a kind of beverage, which is certainly not how this recipe turned out or, as far as I can see, how it was intended. Perhaps because of the limited amount of water used, I accidentally burned the carrots a bit but it actually gave quite a nice caramelised effect; there was no mention of this in the recipe, so I assume it’s not how it’s supposed to turn out but it certainly wasn’t the major culinary disaster I first feared.

Petrovskaya’s book furnished a recipe for an apple soup. The idea of cold fruit soups is not new to me, as I came across them on a visit to Hungary and I’m sure I’ve previously seen this recipe (and an equally delicious looking one for cherry soup – all I need now is a friend with a cherry tree) on reading this book, but I’ve never tried to make one. Again, it’s a pretty simple recipe. Basically you chop up a load of apples, simmer them with a bit of sugar and a few cloves in plenty of water until they are nice and soft, then mix in a bit of vanilla extract, leave to go cold and serve. At the moment I’m still waiting for it to go cold, but the taste I’ve had of the still-warm soup is promising.

I’ll probably be returning to Chamberlain’s book this weekend to try a dish of stewed cabbage and apples and there are plenty more apple-based recipes in both books to check out.

Of course, I’m not restricting my Russian cookery explorations to things involving apples (any more than I’m intending to restrict my apple cookery to recipes from Russia). Indeed, one of the other things I’ve been doing in the kitchen this evening is to get another batch of перцовка (pertsovka – (chilli) pepper vodka) going. In case you’re wondering what that’s all about, I wrote about pertsovka in my previous post about Petrovskaya’s book (linked above), although she doesn’t mention it (Chamberlain does, but I didn’t get her book until after that). I wrote that post shortly after my first and, up to now, only previous – and rather successful, if I say so myself – attempt to make pertsovka and I look forward in a few days time to finding out whether my second batch is as good as the first.

Perhaps I should next have a go at making apple vodka!