I wanted to make something different this year for Christmas, something a bit away from our traditional desserts. Don’t get me wrong, my dad’s pecan pie is the absolute best version of pecan pie that this world has ever seen. But I wanted to make something a little lighter to have as well. The idea of poached fruit came to mind because it’s a great way to add rich flavor to some of autumn and winter’s best fruits. Poaching fruit in of itself is pretty easy – all one really does is simmer a fairly meaty fruit like apples or pears in a sugary syrup concoction until beautifully tender. However, the trick is all in the timing. If you don’t let it go long enough, the fruit will be hard still. If you go too long, your fruit will fall apart into a mushy mess in the middle of your poaching liquid. So the key to success here lies in actually babysitting the process. But other than that, it’s pretty simple. Simple is good, because simple means low-stress. And that’s exactly what the holidays should be. What fun is a holiday if you are running around worrying about everything? It’s better when you can relax and have fun with it, and use the experience instead to create fond memories with friends and family. Not that I was really worried about freaking out, my family is a pretty forgiving crowd so I am fine presenting to them my first runs of my food
Actually, the hardest part of making this dessert was all brought on by myself. The frangipane cream recipe called for crushed macarons. I took this as a sign that I was meant to attempt the macarons cookies again (since finding premade ones that weren’t made on machinery that came in contact with wheat seems to be hard where we were), and I spent a good two days trying to finally get them right. I came pretty close this time though. Actually, really close. So my Christmas morning started off with a great feeling of accomplishment from tackling the notoriously challenging cookie.
Speaking of frangipane cream, wow is that rich delicious stuff that I could just eat by the spoonful if I could shut off my brain from what would be the surely inevitable calorie-guilt that would immediately follow. And again I have to sing the praises of millet flour for working so well in this. But using it with the poached apples works really well. The entire dessert is rather small in portion, but delectably rich as only almond and sugar combined with apples can be. What really finishes the whole thing then is adding the apricot syrup from poaching the apples on top. Yum. I can put that stuff on just about anything. Ice cream, fruit, cookies, you name it
Another great thing about this dessert? You can pretty much make everything ahead of time, and then all you have to do right before serving is assemble. Super convenient when you are making lots of other stuff for a get together with family and friends, or packing a lot because this was the last thing that you made in the States…
Adapted from The Gourmet Cookbook, Volume II (1972)
4 cortland apples, peeled, cored an halved
2 c. water
1 c. apricot preserves
3/4 c. sugar
1 tsp. orange zest
For the frangipane cream:
1/3 c. millet flour
3/4 c. sugar
2 egg yolks
2 c. whole milk
1/4 vanilla bean
2 tbs. butter, cubed
6-8 French macarons, crushed
1/2 c. toasted almonds, chopped
1. In a medium saucepan (2 qt), add water, preserves, sugar and zest and bring to a simmer. Add apple halves, a couple at a time (because they won’t all fit at once), and simmer (try to keep them submerged), flipping every few minutes or so until tender enough to pierce with a fork, which will be around 25 -35 minutes depending on the size of your apples. Be careful not to over-poach them or they will just fall apart. Once successfully poached, set apple halves aside and chill in the fridge for 2 hrs. Keep the poaching liquid.
2. In a medium pan start the frangipane cream. Combine flour, sugar and salt, and whisk in gradually one egg, then egg yolk, then egg, then egg yolk until well mixed. In a separate pan, heat up milk (slowly on medium stirring frequently so nothing burns on the bottom) and scrape vanilla bean seeds into the milk. Then just drop the whole bean in. Just before the milk comes to a simmer, gradually whisk it into the egg/flour mixture until well mixed.
3. Heat up the frangipane cream mixture on medium, stirring constantly with the whisk. When it just comes to a boil, it will start to thicken. Keep cooking for about 2 more minutes until quite thick. Then remove from heat, find the vanilla bean and discard, and whisk in the butter and the macarons. The crushed macarons should dissolve nicely into the cream and impart the almond flavor. Allow the cream to cool to room temperature stirring every few minutes, then cover with plastic wrap until needed.
4. To assemble, place apple halves (core side up) in serving dishes. Fill a pastry bag with frangipane cream and pipe cream on top of the apples. Garnish with chopped toasted almonds. In a small saucepan, heat up the reserved poaching syrup, and then spoon a couple of spoonfuls on top of everything. Serve and enjoy!
Photography Note –
I used my tripod this time, woohoo! I was so glad that I actually remembered to get it out and use it. Both of these pictures were lit by candlelight actually, one candle on either side, about the same height as the glasses. They were 6 s and 3.6 s exposure times respectively, which I could do so easily on a tripod. Just wonderful! I did need to play with white balance a lot because candlelight is very yellow, but that is really it. The long exposure times that I sorely have been needing in many previous pictures meant that I did not need to do nearly as much in photoshop. Even when you don’t have ideal neutral light, getting the proper amount of light to enter into your camera is always a bonus. In such low-light conditions, my tripod became my best friend