Kitchen Wit & Wisdom: It’s all about apples

The Okanagan is home to a huge variety of apples and they can be enjoyed as the ultimate in healthy fast food or turned into a sweet treat

This week let’s celebrate the crunchy texture and delicious taste of apples while they are in the peak of their season. We are so blessed to live in an area where so many varieties of apples are grown, and it’s a shame that so many take them for granted.

But did you know that the only apple native to North America is the crab apple? Indeed, apple trees originated in Central Asia, and have been  grown for thousands of years in Asia and Europe; they were brought to North America by European colonists. Apples are so versatile and are used in everything from entrées to desserts, drinks, sauces, chutneys and more. Mixing a variety of different kinds of apples also renders delicious applesauce, with little sugar needed to be added.

Since Halloween will soon be upon us, I’m offering a recipe for caramel apples today as well as a wonderful dessert square.

Caramel Apples

8 large apples

8 craft sticks

2 cups packed light brown sugar

1-3/4 cups heavy cream

3/4 cup dark corn syrup

2 tablespoons unsalted butter (1/4 stick)

2 teaspoons kosher salt

Wash the apples under hot water to get off any wax coating, then dry thoroughly.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat and set aside. Set the apples stem side up, and push the sticks down into the apple cores; set aside.

Prepare an ice water bath by filling a bowl halfway with ice and water.

Combine the remaining ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook until the mixture registers 250 F on a candy thermometer, about 10 minutes. Immediately dip the bottom of the saucepan in the ice water bath and let it chill until the bubbles have subsided, about 1 minute. Stir until stiff caramel from the bottom is incorporated into the warm caramel on top. Remove from the water bath. Dip the apples one at a time into the caramel, rotating once to coat 3/4 of the way up the sides. Lift the apple straight up from the caramel, letting the excess drip back into the pot until the drips have slowed, about 10 to 15 seconds. Flip the apple so the stem is facing downward and let the caramel set, about 10 to 15 seconds more.

Place on the prepared baking sheet, stem side up, and repeat with the remaining apples. (If the caramel gets too hard to coat the apples well, set the pan over low heat and rewarm, stirring constantly, until the caramel is loose and pourable.)  Refrigerate the apples until set, at least 10 minutes.

The apples can be made and stored in the refrigerator up to 1 day in advance.

Caramel Apple

Cheesecake Bars

Crust:

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1 cup butter, softened

Cheesecake Filling:

3 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened

3/4 cup sugar, plus 2 tablespoons, divided

3 large eggs

1-1/2 tsp. vanilla

Apples:

3 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and finely chopped

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1/4 tsp. nutmeg

Streusel Topping:

1 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup quick cooking oats

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened

Drizzle:

1/2 cup caramel topping for drizzling after baking

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  In  medium bowl, combine flour and brown sugar. Cut in butter with a pastry blender or 2 forks until mixture is crumbly. Press evenly into a 9×13 baking pan lined with heavy-duty aluminum foil. Bake 15 minutes or until lightly browned.

In a large bowl, beat cream cheese with 3/4 cup sugar in electric mixer at medium speed until smooth. Then add eggs, 1 at a time, and vanilla. Stir to combine. Pour over warm crust.

In small bowl, stir together chopped apples, remaining 2 tablespoons sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Spoon evenly over cream cheese mixture.

For the streusel topping: In a small bowl, combine all ingredients. I like to really combine it by using my clean hands to thoroughly combine the butter into the mixture.

Sprinkle streusel topping over apples. Bake 40-45 minutes, or until filling is set. Drizzle with caramel topping and let cool. Serve cold and enjoy!

Make 16 servings.

Cathi Litzenberger is The Morning Star’s longtime food columnist, appearing every other Wednesday, and one Sunday per month.