High Country Baking: Embrace fall with this Apple Crisp with a cranberry-orange twist
High altitudes make cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall, and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column presents recipes and tips that make baking in the mountains successful.
Morning frosts, golden aspen leaves, and a dusting of snow on high peaks … fall has arrived. In our house, the chilly weather brings a change in menu: I pull out recipes for soups and stews and warm, satisfying desserts, like this apple-cranberry crisp. I made it on the first cool evening of the season. To me it represents the foods of autumn.
It’s a classic crisp recipe, like the ones grandma used to make. But I’ve added some orange zest to complement the baked apples, dried cranberries for a contrasting taste, and a bourbon sauce for a little zing as an optional topping. Warmed caramel sauce is a fine accompaniment as well.
If I were making this dessert at sea level, I’d use Granny Smith apples, which are often the apple of choice in crisp recipes. But I’ve found, at higher elevations, they dry out in the oven and take forever to bake, so I favor Golden Delicious or other sweet, juicy baking apples.
Works at any elevation
Bake in six 6-ounce ramekins or a 2-quart shallow baking dish
¼ cup superfine granulated sugar, preferably Baker’s
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
Grated zest of half a navel orange
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon butter, melted
2 pounds Golden Delicious apples
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons superfine granulated sugar, preferably Baker’s
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for greasing the baking dish
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons toasted, chopped pecans
Bourbon Sauce, optional
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
½ cup packed brown sugar
¼ cup bourbon
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees with a rack in the center position. Lightly coat the baking dishes with butter.
2. Make the filling: In a large bowl, combine the sugar, cinnamon, orange zest, lemon juice and melted butter and stir to combine. Peel, core, and cut the apples into slices one-eighth to one-quarter inches thick. Add the apples and cranberries to the sugar mixture and toss until all the apple slices are thoroughly coated and none of the mixture remains on the bottom of the bowl. Set aside.
3. Make the topping: To make with a food processor: Add the flour, brown sugar, granulated sugar, cinnamon and salt to the bowl and pulse until well combined. Cut the butter into 16 pieces, add them, and pulse until large, moist clumps form. Dump the mixture into a bowl and work the chopped pecans into the dough with your fingertips. To make by hand: Put the ingredients in a medium bowl and stir with a whisk until combined. Cut the butter into 16 pieces, add them to the dry ingredients, and work the mixture with a fork or a pastry blender until large, moist clumps are formed. Blend the chopped pecans into the dough with your fingertips.
4. Combine and bake: Divide the apple mixture evenly among the buttered baking dishes. Crumble the topping and sprinkle it over the apples, covering them completely. Bake until the tops are golden brown and a skewer or toothpick can be inserted in the apples with little resistance, 30-35 minutes for individual crisps, about 55 minutes if baked in a single baking dish. If the tops brown before the apples are done, tent the dishes with a sheet of aluminum foil until the fruit is fully cooked. Cool the crisps on a rack until they are warm enough to eat. Alternatively, cool completely and reheat in a 300-degree oven before serving. Don’t re-heat in a microwave or the topping will soften. Serve warm with a scoop of ice cream and a drizzle of bourbon sauce.
5. Make the bourbon sauce (if using): Cut up the butter, add that and the corn syrup to a small, preferably nonstick, saucepan and heat on the stovetop at low-medium temperature until fully melted. Add the sugar and bourbon, stir to combine, and bring to a low boil (it will bubble up). Cook for about 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally, and then remove from the heat. Cool a little, give it a taste and add more bourbon if desired. Serve warm. The sauce can be made a day ahead, and reheated before serving.
Vera Dawson is a high-elevation baking instructor and author of three high-altitude cookbooks (available at The Bookworm in Edwards, Next Page Bookstore in Frisco, and Breck Books in Breckenridge). She became a full-time Frisco resident in 1991 and has been developing and adjusting recipes so that they work at our altitude ever since. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.