Caramel Apple Paillassons
Did you know apples could melt in your mouth?
Humble to look at, divine to eat. Tart but sweet, with an amazing aroma and a surprising texture--the apples practically confit themselves in their own juices, melding with the spiced caramel to create layer after barely discernible layer of buttery smooth, juicy wonder.
Oh, and did I mention you can make them several days in advance?
I have made these several times at home, but my most recent batch of apples was unphotographably disappointing (bruised apples still taste fabulous; they just don't look as nice) so you'll have to make do with photos from pastry school, back before I knew how to plate things so they'd photograph nicely. :)
The recipe is almost laughably simple: thinly sliced apples and a "powdered" caramel, layered together and baked. Since I was making this particular version as a plated dessert, it was paired with an orange gastrique (which is a tangy thick syrupy sauce made with vinegar), vanilla bean crème anglaise, and orange-cinnamon ice cream nestled in a brown butter tuile and garnished with an orange crisp, but it is quite lovely with just a scoop of good vanilla ice cream...or a fabulous accompaniment to panna cotta.
There are three ways to approach this dessert:
One, you can purchase a mandoline, which is not a musical instrument but rather a tool for making very thin slices very easily.
Two, you can buy twice as many apples and a box of Band-Aids, sharpen your best chef's knife, and consider it to be knife skills practice.
Three, you can chop your apples roughly, sprinkle them with the caramel powder, and make a less formal but still delicious version that is a lot like eating the best apple pie filling you've ever had out of the crust with a spoon.
(Actually, there are four ways, because the original recipe from which I stole the idea (in Frederic Bau’s Au Coeur des Saveurs) directed you to slice the apples but then trim the slices into stacks of tiny, perfect rectangles. Which would be lovely if you ever need enough apple trimmings to make a bathtub of apple butter.)
Caramel Apple Paillasons
5 medium Granny Smith apples (or another tart, sturdy cooking apple)
Spiced Caramel Powder (below)
Wash and peel apples, hold in a lemon-water bath to reduce browning. Slice thinly on mandolin along latitude, revealing 'star' cross section. (It helps to stop slicing when you reach the seeds, and remove them with the tip of a paring knife before continuing—this way you won’t have to pick little seed bits out of your apple slices). Divide each sliced apple into two piles, star cross section on top. Discard any really small or oddly shaped pieces, each pile should have ~ 8-12 slices in it. Dip each pile into lemon-water and swish around to coat with lemon.
In a shallow hotel pan or casserole dish, place the bottom (non-star) layer of one apple slice pile. Sprinkle lightly but evenly with caramel powder. Repeat with remaining slices, orienting star slices to line up the stars. Sprinkle top layer with caramel powder as well.
Bake in 250 degree oven until apples are soft when pricked with a paring knife.
Remove apple paillasons from liquid and place in a clean hotel pan or dish. Discard liquid (or reduce in a saucepan until slightly thicker and pour, warm, over a bowl of vanilla ice cream.)
Serve warm or at room temperature.
If holding, wrap pan with cooled, drained paillasons in plastic and refrigerate up to 1 week. Rewarm paillasons in 350 degree oven until heated through.
Spiced Caramel Powder
(makes enough for 2 rounds of apples, but holds for weeks at room temperature in an airtight container)
225g granulated sugar
25g light corn syrup
1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped
2g ground cinnamon
75g butter, in small cubes
Rub the vanilla bean seeds and cinnamon together and set aside.
Mix sugar and corn syrup with enough water to make a ‘wet sand’ texture in a non-reactive saucepan with high sides. Wash down sugar from sides of pan. Cook sugar to a medium caramel color, remove from heat. Add cinnamon-vanilla bean mixture and butter, stir vigorously until combined (be careful, the caramel will bubble and sputter when you add the butter).
Spread in a thin layer onto a parchment lined sheet pan and allow to cool (non-stick parchment really is best for this, although a Sil-Pat will also work. Don't use waxed paper. If you cannot find parchment, you can try with aluminum foil, well buttered. The caramel may still stick a little.)
Break cooled caramel into pieces and crush in food processor to an even, fine powder.