- The Washington Times - Monday, December 15, 2003

I rarely try to replicate restaurant recipes. After all, our home equipment and ingredients are different from what professional cooks use. However, I am often inspired by chef specialties to create my own adaptations.

One such occasion was when I lunched at Milky Way. This kosher eatery in Los Angeles is known not only for blintzes that taste like your mom’s, but also for the mom who does make them: Leah Adler, Steven Spielberg’s mother.

Her blintzes are certainly tasty, but what caught my attention was the applesauce. It was scrumptious with my friend’s salmon-in-potato crust entree, with the blintzes I ordered and all by itself.

I suppose you shouldn’t really call it a sauce. It consisted of fairly firm apple cubes in a small amount of syrup. A liberal dose of cinnamon provided punch and a deep brown hue, almost as if the apples had been caramelized.

More concentrated in flavor and sweeter than most kinds of applesauce I’ve tried, it also had a bit of tang that may have come from lemon juice. Still, Mrs. Adler assured us that it contained only three ingredients: Granny Smith apples, cinnamon and sugar. The tart apples gave it that lemony flavor.

Like French apple compote, the applesauce was chunky, but its flavor was fresher and brighter than most versions of the classic. The secret? This applesauce was cooked briefly so that the apple dice retained a distinct texture. With only a 15-minute cooking time, it’s an ideal dessert for cooks in a hurry, and, unlike French compote, it doesn’t require any butter.

One of my dining companions, who is a very good cook, makes a similar fast-cooking applesauce, sometimes adding apple juice and occasionally substituting a little calorie-free sweetener for the sugar. Gabrielle and Bill Nagler, authors of “The Diet Doctor’s Wife’s Cookbook” (Diet Results), are also advocates of sugar-free applesauce and opt for brown-rice syrup, which you can find at natural food stores, as a sweetener. In addition to good taste, they offer another reason for including it on menus: “Cooked fruit is far gentler on the digestive system than its fresh counterpart.”

Pure pleasure is apparently the goal of the applesauce recipe in the Hanukkah chapter of Rosemary Black’s “The Kids’ Holiday Baking Book” (St. Martin’s Griffin). It’s flavored with cinnamon, maple syrup, brown sugar, raisins and lemon.

Not everyone agrees about which apples are the best choice. Sara Moulton, author of “Sara Moulton Cooks at Home” (Broadway), thinks that “unless you are an absolute nut for any particular variety of apple, you want your applesauce to be made from a mix of apples. They all add something unique to the flavor and texture.”

I agree. The first time I set out to make my version of Milky Way-inspired applesauce, my three apple trees — each of a different variety — were laden with fruit, and so I used a mix. Some were firm, some were soft, some were greenish. I left the peel on to save time and cooked the diced apples in a syrup of water, sugar and cinnamon until the cubes were just tender, not mushy.

At first the applesauce seemed thin, but after chilling, it was just right. The flavors had mellowed and come together, as the elements do in a stew. I wasn’t duplicating the Milky Way applesauce, but it didn’t matter since the result was delicious.

Homemade applesauce is good with pancakes, crepes or waffles. Or serve it warm or cold as a wonderful dessert, by itself or with a topping of plain or vanilla yogurt, sour cream, vanilla ice cream, toasted nuts or granola.

Milky Way-inspired applesauce

If you like, substitute brown sugar for the white sugar or replace half the sugar with honey or maple syrup. To further save time, you can skip the peeling step. But first taste the raw fruit. If the skin is bitter, peel the apples. Very green apples with tough skins should also be peeled.

2 pounds apples, tart, sweet or a mixture

½ cup sugar, or more to taste

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Lemon juice to taste, optional

Peel apples, if desired. Cut them into ½-inch dice or smaller, discarding cores.

Combine 1 cup water, sugar and cinnamon in a medium-sized saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring, until mixture comes to a boil. Add apples. Cover and cook over medium-low heat for 10 minutes, then over low heat for 5 minutes or until apples are just tender. Stir only if apples appear to be sticking.

Taste and add more sugar or lemon juice to taste, if desired. The applesauce will thicken as it cools, so don’t worry if it appears too thin. You can eat it immediately, but it will taste even better if you refrigerate it overnight. Serve it cold or reheat. Makes about 4 servings.

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