We're in that weird in-between phase where the weather's warming up and the markets are starting to glow with mounds of ghostly white asparagus, tender baby onions and the first shoots of rhubarb, but old habits die hard and I still find myself reaching for the last butternut squashes and apples from the fall. I keep wanting to smack my own hands for doing it, but I usually don't realize it until I've already paid and am turning away from the stand, heavy bags in hand.
I guess spring fever really does addle the mind.
So we had roast butternut squash purée this week, the same week we went out for our first ice cream cones and starting sleeping with our legs stuck out from under the covers in search of cooler air. And to rid myself of the last wrinkly little apples gathering dust in the bowl that I like to pile them in during the colder months, I made an apple crisp.
Let's just pause for a moment and give thanks for the mighty fruit crisp. How I do love it. May I count the ways?
1. It allows you to use up fruit you wouldn't eat under any other circumstances due to spots, wrinkles and other blemishes of old age.
2. It can be made in the time it takes you to eat dinner.
3. It requires no special ingredients at all.
4. It can be eaten both for dessert and breakfast.
5. It makes your house smell amazing. Move over, Diptyque.
I got the recipe for this particular crisp from Jane Lear's blog, where she tucked it into a post about her favorite pan. Since then, I've made it about four different times, usually with apples, but once with rhubarb, which I brought to a dinner party hosted by some German friends who could have been summarily knocked over with a feather once they starting eating it. "But it's so good!", and, "How did you do it?"
I'm still chuckling about that.
You barely need a recipe, as you probably already know. Just some key elements: a bit of fruit, in this case about five apples, some oats, in this case a mixed grain müsli we had lying around the kitchen, some brown sugar, some pecans, a bit of cinnamon, and butter. That's it. That's it!
After my American grandfather had a stroke several years ago and went to live in an old-age home, my stepmother and father went down to Philadelphia to deal with the apartment he'd left behind. Almost everything was sold or given away, the impeccable Danish modern furniture, the tchotchkes, the art. My uncle kept a few paintings, my dad his favorite little table. And my stepmother, lovely woman that she is, poked her head into the kitchen and made sure a few pots and pans were put aside for me.
Which is why I think of her and my grandmother now everytime I pull out this old yellow baking dish. It's sort of the perfect size for one or two people. Just big enough for roasting a few shallots in vinegar, or for making baked tomato sauce, or for an apple crisp that'll last long enough for a few desserts and breakfasts. It's worn but not too worn, the yellow is sunny and yolk-like and it makes a satisfying clang when plonked down on the kitchen counter.
What I think is important to remember about a crisp is that it shouldn't be too sweet and there should definitely be pecans involved, because there is something about the alchemy between toasting pecans, brown sugar and butter that makes the world stop turning. Combine that with tart-sweet apples that have gone all limp and soft in the oven and you've got yourself a pretty wonderful weeknight dessert. I don't ever put ice cream or cream on it because I figure it's decadent enough to be eating a baked dessert on a weeknight rather than just a plain apple sliced into quarters, but if you wanted to gussy things up for a weekend or a party, gild away with dairy!
There's little that can beat, however, a bowl of this cooled to room temperature in the morning and spooned up with a dollop of cold plain yogurt for breakfast. Who needs fried eggs or pancakes when there's yesterday's apple crisp?
This was the last crisp of the season, since I really can't bear to buy any more apples, not when there are little berries winking at me in the market and stalks of rhubarb waving away right next to them. Soon we'll be picking berries out in the countryside around Berlin and then there will be elderflowers and plums and cherries galore and I'll forget entirely about apples until the first cold weekends again in the fall when all I'll want to do is turn the oven on and start baking again. But there's something so sweet and simple about this dessert that it makes me a little melancholy to leave it behind.
So if it's still cool where you are, if you're still grateful to turn the oven on for a little while at dinnertime, if you still want the scent of cinnamon and baking apples and toasting pecans to waft through your home before they're supplanted with warm breezes and the smell of cut tomatoes on the kitchen counter, then make this crisp, snuggle into your couch after dinner and spoon up the last flavors of winter.
Happy Easter, everyone. Happy Passover. And happy spring!
5 to 6 apples, I used Pinova, peeled, cored and sliced
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon rolled oats or a müsli mix with rolled oats, whole-grain flakes and seeds
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup pecans, roughly chopped
3 tablespoons butter, softened, plus more for the pan.
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly butter the bottom and sides of a baking dish. Pile in the apple slices.
2. Combine the oats, sugar, flour, salt, cinnamon and pecans in a bowl. Work the butter into the oat mixture with your fingers until it forms small, moist clumps.
3. Sprinkle the topping over the apples (it won’t completely cover the fruit) and slide the dish into the oven for about half an hour. The crisp should be fragrant and bubbling around the edges and the apples should be cooked through.