It has been over a year since I sounded-off about my mild irritation with Michael Chirello–salient takeaways included that I found him fussy and often in excessive use of needlessly pretentious ingredients–and I’ve spent most of it feeling bad about it. I mean, he cooks honestly; he uses as good ingredients as he gets his hands on and he’s not afraid of adapting old stand-bys to make them more feasible for entertaining. These are all good things. I will not now nor ever abide throwing fistfuls of carefully cultivated gray salt into boiling pots of pasta water, but I’d rather pay attention to someone who cares enough about the nuance in flavor that they create than someone who acts like it doesn’t exist.
Unfortunately, we’ve had another setback. A significant one, one so bad I have had to something that crushes my spirits and raises my shackles and throw the entire dish in the garbage. And the error was so easily avoidable, I just… can’t let it go. I hate throwing away food.
This apple-cranberry crisp with polenta streusel is aggressively, inedibly and teeth-achingly sweet. When I saw the amount of sugar required, my eyebrow arched, but I remembered how much sugar is needed to make even a tart cranberry sauce and forged ahead with Chiarello’s instructions. Oh, how I wish I could hit the “do over” button now, because the flavor of this crisp is stupendous–lemon, orange, cinnamon and the slightest edge of pepper nestle against apples and cranberries in a dish that would be welcome at any winter dinner party. But I’d use a heck of a lot less sugar next time.
I’ve been pondering for a few days now whether the sugar needs to be halved or just two-third-ed, and well, I can’t tell you with any authority because I haven’t remade it yet. When I do, I will halve it first, but I’d rather have too little sugar than any memory of too much. But if you’re nervous, and are willing to risk a little extra sweetness, try knocking down the sugar by just 1/3 of a cup. Whatever you do, I’d love it if you can report back to us. It will likely be weeks or months before I get to this again, and wouldn’t want others to miss out on your helpful input. It’s a good recipe, it just needs a major adjustment of one ingredient.
Oh, and why, pray tell, am I weeks away from getting back to this recipe? Because I’m leaving this town–with the sleet sliding down the windows and the ankle-deep slush just waiting for my defiantly stilettoed feet to mistake it for solid ground–and I’m taking Alex with me. We’re going to Aruba, baby, and we’re not going to be back for a week. But what is this? Do not be sad! Because I am such a doting and dedicate food blogger, I have been furtively stashing cookie recipes for weeks that I could share with you in my absence. Four, in fact. So, never mind the fact that I’ll be wasting away in Margaritaville while you’re searching for your long-lost layer of Gore-Tex. I leave you with four of my favorite cookie efforts to date, just in time for your holiday bake-fest. I might be a little absent from answering questions in the comments after Saturday, but I’ll make every effort to get to all of them when I return a week later.
The Menu for Hope Campaign continues, which means that you still have a chance to win a box of home baked cookies from the Smitten Kitchen, delivered to your doorstep. You receive one raffle ticket for a prize of your choice for each $10 you donate. I’ve explained everything else over here.
One year ago: Soupe a l’Oignon [Onion Soup]
Apple-Cranberry Crisp with Polenta Streusel Topping
Adapted from Michael Chiarello via Bon Appetit, December 2007
1 teaspoon aniseed
1 1/2 cups pastry flour
3/4 cup polenta (coarse cornmeal)
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 large egg, beaten to blend
2 cups fresh cranberries
White sugar–original recipe calls for 2/3 cup, I’d suggest 1/3 cup or omitting it entirely
2/3 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon peel
1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated orange peel
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 pounds Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Vanilla gelato or ice cream
For topping: Toast aniseed in small skillet over medium heat until slightly darker in color, about 3 minutes. Place seeds in processor. Add next 5 ingredients; blend 5 seconds. Add butter; blend, using on/off turns, until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Transfer mixture to large bowl. Drizzle egg over and stir until ingredients are evenly moistened.
For filling: Preheat oven to 375°F. Combine first 8 ingredients in large bowl; stir to blend. Add apples and lemon juice; toss to blend. Transfer filling to 11x7x2- inch glass baking dish (or other shallow 2-quart baking dish).
Crumble topping finely over filling. Bake dessert until apples are tender, juices bubble thickly, and topping is crisp and golden, about 1 hour. Cool 15 minutes. Serve crisp warm with gelato.