There is nothing more enjoyable than baking with the flavors and scents of fall. Sometimes I feel like apple season takes a back seat to pumpkin but in my opinion its equally important. With their sweet scent and crisp bite, apples are one of those things that define ‘fall’.
The apple pie as we know it, originated in Europe. The most widely known variations are the English, Dutch & Swedish apple pies. While all made their way into North American food culture, the English version is the one familiar to most of us. Worldwide, there are over 7500 types of cultivated apples, reflecting both their versatility and popularity.
Apples, perfectly spiced in a fall dessert, can be amazing. Like most spice blends, the flavor of apple pie spice is variable since the maker can choose the components according to their preference. In all cases, the goal is to provide warmth and sweetness that compliments the tartness of apples.
These little mini tarts started out with an idea I had to incorporate an upside down cake with some shortbread pastry and spiced apples. They actually turned out better than I had expected. After baking, it seemed like they might be quite dry, but instead were real tender and not too sweet. I’ve always enjoyed to use the cardamom spice. It gives such complexity and depth to the flavor of whatever its used in.
Apple Walnut Mini Tarts
In a bowl, whisk together flour, sugar & salt. Using a pastry blender or a fork, cut in butter & add vanilla & lemon zest. Mix only until combined, divide in half & wrap each piece in plastic wrap. Place in freezer until slightly frozen & ready to use.
In a bowl, combine sliced apples, lemon juice, sugar, flour & spices. Set aside.
In a small bowl, combine chopped nuts, brown sugar & melted butter. Divide mixture between 4 mini tart pans. If your tart pans have removable bottoms, I suggest using a large paper cupcake liner, placing it first in the pan & then putting 'bottom' on top. This will avoid having any of the filling leaking out.
Remove one half of the pastry from the freezer. On a CHEESE GRATER, grate pastry. Divide between the 4 mini pans, placing the pastry on top of walnut mixture.
Strain apples, reserving liquid. Divide apples between mini tarts. Microwave reserved juice for a few seconds just to thicken it a tiny bit, then pour over apples in each tart.
Remove second half of pastry from freezer & grate. Top each mini tart with grated pastry. Bake tarts for about 45-50 minutes or until apples are soft. If browning too fast, float a piece of foil paper over the tarts.
Remove tarts from oven & allow to cool for about 5 minutes before inverting onto serving plates. Nice to serve warm with a little ice cream or whipped cream.
- If you care to make your own, here is a recipe for apple pie spice. It makes about 1/3 cup & of course you can always customize the levels of the spices to suit your own taste. I like to keep some handy in my spice drawer to use for various baked goods.
- 1 tsp nutmeg
- 1/4 tsp ginger
- 4 Tbsp cinnamon
- 2 tsp allspice
- 1 tsp cardamom
- Mix together & store in an airtight container in a cool dark place.
Perhaps its no surprise that Asian pears suffer an identity crises. They are often called ‘apple pears’ because of their crisp texture and apple flavor characteristics. Asian pears are a cross between the Ussuri pear and the Japanese Sand pear, having no relation whatsoever to apples.
Some of the Asian pears made their way west with Chinese and Japanese immigrants in the 1850’s. Their shape and taste were modified into fruit like the well known ‘Bartlett’pear. Other pears travelled eastward to Korea and Japan. These ‘Asian’ pears became more like an apple in shape and crisper in texture. Unlike other types of pears, which you want to eat when they have a bit of give to them, ripe Asian pears are firm. Even though they are hard, they still bruise easily, which is why you often see them sporting ‘foam net sweaters’ for protection in the grocery stores.
Since I had a couple of these nice juicy pears on hand as well as some Brie, putting them into strudel seems like a good idea. I’m just going to ‘wing it’ as the saying goes, and combine a few ideas to see what develops. What’s not to love about strudel, right?!
Asian Pear & Brie Strudel
In a small saucepan, combine pears, apple juice & maple syrup. Bring to boiling; reduce heat & simmer uncovered about 5 minutes or until pears are tender. Drain pears; add nuts, cherries, brown sugar & apple pie spice. Toss gently until mixed; set aside.
In a bowl, stir together flour, oats, sugars, spices & salt until fully combined. Gently stir in melted butter & crumble ingredients together. Set aside
In a medium bowl, stir together flour, baking powder & salt. With a pastry blender, cut in cream cheese & shortening until mixture resembles coarse peas. Stir in milk. On a lightly floured work surface, knead dough gently about 20 times. On a sheet of parchment paper, press dough out to a 14"x 14" square & lightly butter pastry.
On another large sheet of parchment paper, spread streusal topping out evenly. Lay pastry, buttered side down over streusal & press down lightly. Lay thinly sliced BRIE cheese over pastry, then top evenly with pear filling. Roll up pastry from the longest side using parchment to do so.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Lay filled strudel roll with parchment on a baking sheet. Slice top of strudel part way through at 1" intervals. Remove any excess streusal. Bake about 40 minutes or until golden brown. Remove strudel from baking sheet & place on a wire rack. Sprinkle with excess streusal.
Germany’s love of poppy seed is no secret, you can find it in everything from sweet to savory foods. For many German and central eastern Europeans, poppy seeds are a symbol of wealth, the tiny seeds representing coins. They figure prominently at Christmas and New Year’s, expressing hoped-for prosperity in the coming year.
Poppy seed cultivation dates back to 1400 BC. Early Egyptians pressed the seed into cooking oil whereas the the ancient Romans mixed them with wine and honey for Olympic athletes or home use. It should be made clear though, that this spice is not narcotic because opium is found in the pod and not in the seed itself. The dried pod loses any of it’s opiate properties long before the seeds are harvested.
‘Mohn Kaffee Rolle’ is considered a nostalgic German Christmas pastry much like Stollen is. One thing for certain, in keeping with true European tradition, poppy seed is added in such large quantities that the dough sometimes looks black.
When I recall my mother’s poppy seed roll, it was never dry. It seemed like a vanilla custard with ‘wall to wall’ poppy seeds in it. There were numerous recipes in her file — cake, roll, twists, cookies, strudel, pudding — everything and anything poppy seed! This recipe seems unique in that it uses a ‘Zwillingsteig’ (zwilling=twin, teig=dough) dough, a rich, moist dough used in the past when making cakes with fresh fruit. The dough is a combination of yeasted and shortcrust dough kneaded together. It seems a little involved but is well worth it in the end. One more special ‘taste of a memory’ before the holiday season is to far behind us.
'Mohn Kaffee Rolle' - Poppy Seed Coffee Roll
A unique, very tender pastry, slightly sweet with loads of poppy seeds!
In a bowl, place all shortcrust ingredients & quickly knead together until well combined. Shape into a disk & set aside. Dough can be made a day ahead, wrapped in plastic wrap & refrigerated. Bring to room temperature before combining with yeast dough.
In a small dish, sprinkle yeast over lukewarm water, add 1 tsp sugar stirring until dissolved. Let stand 5 minutes. Sift flour with 3 Tbsp sugar & salt. Cut in butter with pastry blender. Add lukewarm milk, egg & vanilla to yeast mixture, then gradually add to flour mixture & blend.
Press dough out to about 1 inch thickness & lay disk of shortcrust on top. Knead together by hand until fully combined, about 2 minutes. Shape into a ball & place in a greased bowl. Cover with a tea towel, let raise in a warm, draft free spot for about an hour or until doubled in size.
Poppy Seed Filling
Grind poppy seeds. In a small saucepan, combine poppy seeds, sugar, semolina & salt. Add butter & milk. Place over medium high heat; stirring constantly, bring to a boil. Remove from heat immediately & set aside to cool. When mixture is lukewarm, stir in egg, vanilla, rum & walnuts. Set aside.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. When dough has risen, punch down & roll out on a lightly floured surface about 1/4 - 1/2 inch thickness.
Spread with cooled poppy seed filling leaving a 1 inch border on each of the shorter ends. Brush shorter ends with egg wash. Starting from shorter end, roll dough, jelly-roll style, into a tight log. Cut into 2 loaf pan lengths.
With a sharp knife, cut each log of dough in half lengthwise. Carefully twist the two pieces of dough together & place into prepared pans. Brush dough with egg wash, cover with greased plastic wrap & let rise in a warm place for about 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 325 F. When dough has risen, brush again with egg wash & bake about 40 minutes or until golden brown. When loaves have fully cooled, whisk together powdered sugar, water & lemon zest until smooth. Brush glaze over loaves & allow to set before slicing.
- Unless you can find freshly ground poppy seeds, it is best to buy the whole seeds, store them in the freezer and grind them right before using. Because of their high oil content, the seeds easily turn rancid.
- Good poppy seeds smell slightly 'musty' and have a nutty flavor - not bitter or harsh.