I adore baking, and I particularly love baking pies. There’s just something gorgeous and magical about them.
Growing up, my mom and I were often in the kitchen baking, and our favorite thing to bake together was pie. Any-kind-of-fruit pie, whatever was in season, fragrant, ripe and full of flavor. Summer was the best because there were so many options: peaches and nectarines, cherries, berries, even plums and apricots. But come late summer, we’d start seeing just-picked apples in the farmers’ markets.
Apple pies are near and dear to my heart, plain or mixed with another fruit such as wild blackberries. And every Thanksgiving, for as long as I can remember, my mom and I have baked an apple pie, along with the requisite pumpkin pie. When I was a kid, it was made especially for my beloved grandmother, Mimi, because it was her favorite. I still always bake an apple pie for her, even though she’s long gone, because it’s become our family tradition.
But apple pies — and baking with apples in general — aren’t only for pie contests and holidays. Apples are great anytime, and the best part is that you can almost always find some variety of baking apples in the market year-round.
The first step in baking with apples is selecting the right one. Finding local apples that are in season is great — you’ll introduce a lot more flavor and personality into your baked goods — especially if you can get your hands on lovely, versatile Gravensteins. Our local Sonoma County beauties ripen at the end of July, just in time for the Gravenstein Apple Fair in Sebastopol, happening this weekend (Aug. 11-12). Gravensteins have a fairly short-lived season (so get them while you can). Their tart-sweet flavor and crispness make them terrific for eating out of hand, baking or even spinning into applesauce.
When you can’t find Gravensteins, there are plenty of other apples out there that are great for baking: Honeycrisp, Pink Lady (also calls Cripps Pink), Gala, Jonagold and Braeburn are all excellent, as is the ubiquitous Granny Smith. Look for crisp, tart-sweet fruits that hold their shape during baking and don’t break down into mush.
Pies are probably the first item that comes to mind when baking with apples, but apples can shine in all kinds of baked goods, including sugar-dusted turnovers; rustic, free-form galettes; whiskey-spiked cakes; and custardy tarts, to name but a few.
They are amazing dusted with cinnamon and topped with a crunchy streusel or pillowy biscuits, and fantastic even just baked with a little sugar and spice and finished off with a dollop of whipped cream.
Of course, they can also be served up in savory dishes, such as chutneys alongside pork chops or braised in sauerkraut with tender pork shoulder (a great New Year’s Day dish).
Whether you bake for a contest or not, you’ll find a variety of creations at the fair and can sample loads of other apple-y dishes, such as the scrumptious Native American-inspired apple shortcakes that will make their first appearance at this year’s fair (recipe below).
Chef Clint McKay of Papa’s Shack turns out these sweet delicacies with a base of crisp fry bread, topped with buttery spiced apples and whipped cream.
See you at the fair!