Upside down apples ... tarte tatin. Photo: Marina Oliphant
Though I eat apples all year, I always look forward to the new season's fruit in autumn, which I enjoy the most. Growers' markets are great places to find some of the lesser-known varieties. Not as uniformly perfect or polished as their commercial counterparts, these apples, with their quirky names of yesteryear, are full of character and have a beauty and charm of their own - cox's orange pippin, early mcintosh, blenheim orange, bramley's seedling.
Buy apples with firm, smooth skin and store them in the fridge to stay crisp for up to two weeks. Some varieties, such as granny smiths, can be stored longer.
The cooler weather offers the perfect excuse to make warm treats with apples. Here are three of my favourites.
A delicious, upside-down apple tart. Use a frying pan with an ovenproof handle. Golden delicious apples are perfect here, as they hold their shape.
7-8 golden delicious apples
1/2 cup castor sugar
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1 star anise
400g puff pastry
1 egg, beaten
Heat oven to 200C. Peel apples, cut into quarters and remove cores. Melt butter in an ovenproof 22-25-centimetre frying pan and sprinkle half the sugar over the base. Place vanilla and star anise in bottom of pan, then pack in the apples tightly. Note they will soften and sink a little as they cook. Sprinkle over remaining sugar and cook on the stove over medium heat for 30 minutes without disturbing the apples until the bottom looks golden (bubbling golden liquid should be visible between each piece of apple and at the edges). Remove from heat.
Roll out pastry and place over apples. Using the outside of the frying pan as a guide, trim around the edge with the back of a small sharp knife (use the back so you don't blunt the knife blade on the pan) and discard excess pastry. Tuck pastry inside frying pan rim so it surrounds the apples. Prick lightly with a fork, brush with beaten egg and bake in oven until golden, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven.
Place a large serving plate over the pan and carefully turn upside down. The tart will release from the pan and any extra juices will drizzle over the apples. If a piece of apple is stuck in the pan, gently remove it and press it into the tart. Serve hot with cream or ice-cream.
My mum makes her apple pie with granny smiths, as they dissolve into a soft puree, but I love the sweetness of these red varieties. I haven't messed with her pastry - it's easy, reliable and makes a good, crisp crust.
8 red apples (fuji, pink lady or jazz)
1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
1 stick cinnamon
1 star anise
Zest 1 lemon
1/2 cup castor sugar plus 2 tbsp extra
1 cup self-raising flour
1 cup plain flour
125g unsalted butter at room temperature, plus extra for greasing
1 egg yolk
Golden castor sugar to sprinkle over the top
Peel apples, cut into quarters and remove cores. Cut into thick slices. Place in a medium pan with vanilla, cinnamon, star anise, lemon zest and ½ cup sugar. Add ¼ cup water, cover with a lid and cook over low heat for 20 minutes until soft (add a little water if apples look too dry). Set aside to cool. Remove and discard vanilla pod, cinnamon and star anise.
Sift flours with two tablespoons castor sugar and a pinch of salt. Rub butter into flour until it forms crumbs. Beat egg yolk with two tablespoons cold water and add to the mixture. Knead gently until it forms a dough. Wrap in cling wrap and rest in fridge for 20 minutes. Preheat oven to 200C. Grease base and sides of a deep, 23-centimetre pie dish.
Cut pastry into two pieces, one slightly larger than the other. Roll out the larger piece to about 26 centimetres and line the bottom and sides of the dish. Place cooled apple filling in the pie. Roll out remaining pastry and put over filling. Press edges together to seal. Trim around the edge with the back of a knife to neaten. Use a fork to press indentations into the pastry edge. Make a vent in the middle of the pie with a sharp knife. Sprinkle over golden castor sugar. Bake for 35 minutes. Serve warm with vanilla ice-cream or cream.
Give these extra flavour by infusing the apples beforehand. Maple syrup is our family favourite.
4 red apples
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
1 large egg
1/2 cup milk
1 tbsp castor sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
200ml sour cream
1 cup self-raising flour
Vegetable oil for frying
Icing sugar for dusting
Peel and core apples*. Slice horizontally into one-centimetre-thick rounds. Place in a shallow dish and pour maple syrup over them. Set aside to allow flavour to infuse into apples. In a medium-size bowl, mix egg, milk, sugar, spices and sour cream.Add flour and mix until smooth. Heat oil in a deep fryer or heavy-bottom deep pan to 190C.
Remove apple slices from maple syrup, drain any excess syrup off and lightly pat dry. Dip apple slices into the batter to coat completely, then deep fry in hot oil for two minutes each side. Remove and drain on paper towel. Repeat with remaining fritters. Dust heavily with icing sugar and serve warm.
*Use an apple corer pushed through the centre of the apple. If you don't have a corer, simply cut the apples into thick wedges rather than rounds.