Autumn is for apples
Wednesday, September 25, 2013
One of my favorite autumn traditions involves picking up a bag of new crop Jonagold apples from one of the fruit stands near my parents’ house in the Wenatchee Valley. Some of the fruit becomes applesauce for the freezer, some gets sautéed in butter to go with pork chops, and a few apples are saved to become German Apple Pancake.
Pancake, singular—this isn’t a pile of flapjacks, but one large golden, puffy pancake, either topped with apples or with fruit baked into it, to cut into wedges and share. We typically eat it for breakfast, although it would do just as nicely as an easy dessert, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Some people call this dish a Dutch Baby, others an Apple Popover, and it basically is the same thing as a popover, done large.
My usual approach for preparing the apples is to slice them and lay them in a pan with some hot butter. Once they’ve browned a little I sprinkle on some cinnamon sugar to taste, so they’re spicy but not very sweet. Cardamom is nice, too. Any apple will work here, of course, but if you have a choice of variety I can recommend Jonagold, Braeburn, or Granny Smith. You can also branch out with other fruits. Use whatever’s in season or sounds good to you.
You’re more likely to get good height on the pancake (and a crispier crust) if you cook the fruit separately, but the final texture seems to depend on humidity, temperature, the particular fruit, or some combination thereof. The best ones have fantastic caramelized edges, with an ever-so-slightly custardy interior.
I particularly love this dish for a company breakfast or brunch because it gets baked in the oven, so the cook isn’t stuck at the stove making pancakes all morning. And because the ratios are so simple, you can easily adapt it to feed any number of people—allow one egg per person and scale the milk and flour accordingly, along with the size of pan. I’ve made it quite thick as well as very thin and crispy, and it’s fabulous both ways.
German Apple Pancake
2 apples, peeled and thinly sliced
1 tbsp butter
2 tbsp white or brown sugar
pinch of ground cinnamon and/or cardamom
1 cup milk
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 large eggs
pinch of salt
1 tbsp butter
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Make sure the top rack isn’t up too high. In a mixing bowl, whisk together the milk, eggs, flour and salt. Set aside. If using the fruit as a topping: melt a tablespoon of butter in a nonstick or enameled skillet and add the apples in a single layer. As they begin to soften, stir them and sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon until they’re soft and glazed.
Melt a tablespoon of butter in a 10-inch cast iron skillet (or other ovenproof skillet). If baking the fruit into the pancake, add it to the pan now and cook until soft, sprinkling with sugar and spices—if not, simply wait until the butter foams and make sure it coats the inside of the skillet. Pour in the batter and quickly put the skillet into the oven. Bake about 20 minutes (don’t peek for the first 10 minutes at least), until the pancake is puffed and golden. When done, let the pancake cool slightly, pile on the cooked apples, then cut into wedges and serve with a dusting of powdered sugar and, perhaps, a spoonful of sour cream.