- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Apples conjure up beautiful images. They have long inspired an association with Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, and with the forbidden fruit of the biblical Garden of Eden.

love, and with the forbidden fruit of the biblical Garden of Eden.

Linking motherhood and apple pie is not just an American tradition. Even top French chefs like to name apple desserts for their grandmothers and moms with names such as “gateau de pommes de ma mere” (my mother’s apple cake).

Sweet Turkish pastries made of phyllo dough filled with apples and raisins are among the pastries developed for the sultans of the Ottoman court. In fact, apples may come from that region, according to Dianne Onstad, author of “Whole Foods Companion,” (Chelsea Green). Onstad writes that apples probably originated in the Caucasus Mountains of western Asia in Anatolia, the Asian part of Turkey, “where carbonized apples dating to 6,500 B.C. have been found.”

In Istanbul, the tradition is to shop while sipping apple tea. This delightful tea is made of small cubes of dried apples that are steeped in hot water. The apples soften, and you can eat them after sipping the tea.

French chefs from the Normandy region make great use of apples in savory dishes. If you find it surprising that sauce normande — a cream sauce made with cider — is served with vegetables and fish, remember that French cider is not sweet apple juice, as it is in the United States, but is alcoholic cider. For such sauces, a dry cider is used that is like dry white wine.

Ask 10 cooks which apple variety is best for a given purpose and you’ll probably get 10 different answers. The general rule is that sweet apples are for snacks and tart apples are for cooking. With experience, each cook develops his or her own preferences. Of course, the selection varies with the location, since apples are grown in almost every state.

With its beautiful heart shape and deep red hue, Red Delicious is the best known of American apples, but is not very good in desserts. In many households, including mine, aromatic, crisp sweet-tart Fuji and sweet Gala have largely displaced Red Delicious as the favored eating apples. I like both for cooking, as well.

European chefs use sweet and tender Golden Delicious apples for everything: in tarts, compotes and sauteed as side dishes for meat. American cooks don’t usually count this variety as one of their top choices, but these dependable apples remain one of my favorites for turning into desserts. And with a sweet apple, I don’t need to add as much sugar.

Renowned California chef John Ash, author of “From the Earth to the Table” (Chronicle), also recommends Golden Delicious as an “excellent all-around apple for eating out of hand or cooking.” For baking and tarts, his top pick is the tart, green or yellow Newton Pippin. He also recommends Jonagold as an excellent sweet-tart dessert apple that is great in pies.

I like firm, slightly tart Braeburns and Jonagolds for eating, cooking and baking. McIntosh is another time-honored variety for eating and for making applesauce, and Rome Beauty is a good choice for baked apples and pies. Apples that are good for pie also make good cobblers (baked with a tender biscuit topping) and crisps (baked with a crumble topping).

Mr. Ash even finds a use for apple skins. His rosy apple syrup, for which he credits his grandmother, is flavored with red apple peelings and cooked with white wine, sugar and cinnamon sticks. He likes the syrup cold, drizzled on any fresh fruit or over creamy blue cheese served with fresh sliced apples.

At the store, choose apples that are firm and free of bruises. For varieties such as Fuji, which come in varying shades of pink and red with some green, I opt for those with the least amount of green to be sure they are ripe and sweet.

Many people keep apples in a fruit bowl, but apples keep much better in the refrigerator crisper drawer in a single layer. If properly refrigerated, according to the U.S. Apple Association, apples will keep for three months. They ought to know.

Chicken with apples, cider and Calvados

This traditional entree from Normandy, France, features a creamy sauce enhanced with dry cider and apple brandy and a garnish of sauteed apples. Make it with tart apples, such as Granny Smith, with tart-sweet apples, such as Braeburn, or with sweet Golden Delicious apples. I like this dish with fresh noodles or rice pilaf and lightly cooked green beans.

2½ pounds chicken pieces, patted dry

Salt and freshly ground white pepper

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

5 tablespoons butter, divided

3 medium-size apples, divided

1 cup hard cider

½ cup chicken broth or water

3 tablespoons Calvados (apple brandy), divided

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/3 cup creme fraiche or heavy whipping cream

Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Heat oil and 1 tablespoon butter in a large, deep, heavy skillet. Add enough chicken pieces to make one layer and brown on all sides over medium heat. Transfer to a plate. Repeat with remaining pieces.

Peel and dice 1 apple. Return chicken pieces to pan and add any juices from plate. Add cider, broth or water, diced apple and 2 tablespoons Calvados and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook until pieces are tender when pierced with a knife, about 40 minutes.

While chicken is cooking, peel remaining apples and cut each in 8 wedges. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a skillet. Add apple wedges and saute over medium-high heat until lightly browned on both sides and just tender, about 7 minutes. Remove from heat.

When chicken is tender, remove pieces to an oven-proof platter. Arrange apple wedges around chicken, cover platter and keep warm in preheated 275-degree oven. Skim excess fat from chicken cooking liquid. Strain liquid, pressing on apple pieces.

Melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter in a medium, heavy saucepan over low heat. Whisk in flour. Cook, whisking constantly, until mixture turns a light beige color, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat.

Gradually pour chicken cooking liquid into flour mixture, whisking. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, whisking constantly. Simmer uncovered over medium-low heat, whisking often, for 5 minutes.

Add creme fraiche or whipping cream to sauce, whisking, and bring to a boil. Simmer over medium heat, whisking often, until thickened slightly, about 2 minutes. Add remaining 1 tablespoon Calvados. Taste and adjust seasoning. To serve, spoon sauce over chicken but not over apples. Makes 4 servings.

Vanilla apple compote

The French like vanilla with apples as much as Americans like cinnamon. This buttery French-style applesauce is flavored with vanilla bean. It makes a tasty dessert on its own or can be used as a filling for baked tartlet shells or single-crust pies.

2 pounds Golden Delicious, Newton Pippin or Granny Smith apples

2 to 3 tablespoons butter

1 vanilla bean

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice, optional

4 to 6 tablespoons white or brown sugar, or to taste

Creme fraiche, sour cream, whipped cream or vanilla yogurt, optional

Peel, halve and core apples. Cut in thin wedges. Heat 2 tablespoons butter in a large, heavy, deep saute pan. Add apples and saute over medium-high heat, turning pieces over from time to time, for 2 minutes or until coated with butter. Add remaining 1 tablespoon butter if needed to prevent apples from sticking to pan.

Add vanilla bean and lemon juice, if desired. Cover tightly and cook over low heat, stirring often, about 15 minutes or until apples are tender.

Stir in 4 tablespoons sugar. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring, until mixture is thick and nearly all liquid in pan evaporates. Taste and add more sugar, if desired; heat briefly to dissolve.

Remove vanilla bean. Serve warm or cold topped with creme fraiche, sour cream, whipped cream or vanilla yogurt, if desired.

Makes 4 servings — about 3 cups.

Apple cobbler

This homey American dessert is much easier to make than pie. You simply spoon dollops of soft biscuit dough on top of the apple filling. Some good apple choices are sweet Golden Delicious, semitart Jonagold or Braeburn, or tart Granny Smith or Newton Pippin.


1½ cups all-purpose flour

1½ teaspoons baking powder

1/8 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons sugar, divided

6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut in small cubes

2/3 cup whole milk, or more if needed


2 to 3 tablespoons butter

2 pounds apples, peeled, cored and sliced

½ cup sugar, or to taste

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Whipped cream or ice cream, optional

Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and 2 tablespoons sugar in a bowl. Add 6 tablespoons cold butter and blend with your fingertips or a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add 2/3 cup milk and stir just until a soft, sticky dough forms, adding more milk by tablespoons if needed.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet. Add apples and saute over medium heat for 5 minutes, or until slightly softened, adding remaining 1 tablespoon butter if needed to prevent sticking. Add ½ cup sugar and cinnamon and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, 1 or 2 minutes. Stir in lemon juice. Taste and add more sugar, if desired. Transfer apple mixture to 9-inch oval or square baking dish or a 1½-quart casserole.

Drop about 12 heaping tablespoons of dough over hot filling, leaving filling uncovered in spots. Sprinkle dough with 2 teaspoons sugar.

Bake cobbler in preheated 425-degree oven 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 400 degrees and bake for 30 minutes more, or until topping is golden. Serve warm with whipped cream or ice cream, if desired.

Makes 6 servings.

Faye Levy is author of “Feast From the Mideast” (HarperCollins).

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