Apples are one of my favorite foods of fall. You can eat them straight off the tree or turn them into so many delicious dishes. Caramel apples, apple cider, apple butter, apple sauce, apple strudel, and of course an apple crumble.
Can’t you just imagine the apples and cinnamon wafting through the air as you pull this out of the oven? There is something so cozy about that smell that evokes the comforts of fall. Here in Napa, our fall currently includes trying to keep cool in what continues to be 90 degree heat and avoiding the tourism rush of harvest. So, in an effort to keep our sanity, I decided it was time to get out of the kitchen and get back to the farm for a little apple picking!
I really wanted to find something closer to home, but here in Napa all of our farms are growing grapes and the places I found in Sonoma were already booked. A little more digging and I discovered a place called Apple Hill in Camino, CA. They are located about 45 minutes west of Sacramento, with 48 farms, stands, and wineries on their current map. In the summer time you can pick berries, fruits and vegetables. In the winter time you can even chop down your own Christmas tree! The earliest blooming apple trees are ready to be harvested in early September, but as we went the first weekend of October our choices for apple picking were getting low. Quite a few of the places we tried had very few apples left, with many of our choices revolving around apple butters, chutneys, and pre-made pies. Don’t get me wrong, all of these items looked, smelled, and even tasted delicious but, I wanted to make it my own. So we stopped for a little wine tasting at Smokey Ridge Farmstand and asked.
They directed us to Pine O’ Mine as the best place to still get in on the action for picking our own apples right off the tree. The farm looked busy when we pulled up, but once we got into the orchard there were no crowds to be found, just lots and lots of apples. Granny smith were the pick of the day, which are the best for cooking. It was a great experience and so nice to know that we have year round options under two hours away. After 45 minutes we had a whole box of apples, or a half bushel if you want the technical term.
With all of these apples, I had a few suggestions from facebook as to what to do with them, but nothing I had time to perfect. I have played around with a couple of things, but all that sampling really made me want to share one of my old favorites: caramel apple crumble. I decided to make this one with my favorite brown sugar caramel sauce. The measurements below make twice as much caramel sauce as you need to make the crumble. I like to use the extra to drizzle over the crumble prior to serving, mix it with espresso to make a caramel cappuccino, or eat it by the occasional spoonful. Yep, it’s that good. So lets get started!
A traditional caramel sauce gets its flavor from caramelizing white granulated sugar. I still haven’t mastered the trick to get it just right, so for this recipe we are using my quick and easy brown sugar caramel sauce. To get started, melt the butter in a small sauce pan over a medium heat. Once it’s liquid and foamy, add in the brown sugar. While this is cooking set out an additional stick of butter to come to room temperature for the topping. Continue to cook the brown sugar and butter until tiny bubbles start to form on the edge as you can see below.
The mixture will be pretty thick at this point. The larger bubbles in the middle are actually air bubbles from stirring and not produced by the heat. Keep in mind that if you use light brown sugar, the color will be much lighter than what you see in the pictures. Once you see the bubbles forming add in the heavy cream, salt, and bourbon.
I chose to use Basil Hayden’s Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, as I had a bottle sitting on the shelf in the living room. Basil Hayden’s is a lighter bodied bourbon with a lower alcohol content than most at 80 proof (40% alcohol). It has hints of spice, rye, honey, wildflowers, and vanilla, all which lend depth to the caramel sauce. If you don’t have bourbon, you can use any aged spirits such as whiskey or brandy, or use vanilla extract. Regardless of your choice, the alcohol will cook out as the caramel cooks.
Once you have added in the cream and bourbon, allow the mixture to continue to cook uncovered over medium heat. Stir occasionally with a whisk to make sure nothing is sticking. Once the sauce triples in size, remove it from the heat and allow to cool in the pan. This method does not require a candy thermometer, but don’t leave it unattended! If it bubbles over or burns, the mess you are left with is very difficult to clean. While the caramel is cooling, preheat your oven to 350 degrees and prepare the apples and the topping.
I chose four beautiful green apples for a 10″ pie pan. For a crumble you can always use more or less fruit depending on what you have on hand. I find that 4 sliced apples filled the pan out nicely, but if you prefer to have a fuller crumble you can use more. Wash and peel the apples. Quarter the apples, then divide them into eighths. Each 8th should be sliced thin for even cooking and even caramel coverage.
Place the apple slices in a large bowl and toss them with 1/2 cup of the caramel sauce. The sauce should be warm, but not boiling hot by this point. By tossing them immediately, the caramel sauce will help prevent the apples from browning and draw some of the juices of the apple out.
While the caramel coated apple slices wait, bring together your crumble topping. In a medium bowl combine flour, old fashioned oats, brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Mix together thoroughly with a whisk. Then add in the room temperature butter. Crumble the butter into the flour mixture using either your hands or a pastry cutter. Make sure that the butter is broken down into smaller bits, so that you don’t end up with any large chunks.
To assemble your apple crumble,pour 1/4 cup of the caramel sauce into the bottom of a 10″ inch pie pan. Use a spatula to spread it out thin and evenly. Spoon the apples into the pan next, being careful not to dump the thin liquid from the bottom of the bowl. It will not thicken up and if poured in it will make your crumble thin and watery. You can see that the pan would have more room for additional apple slices, if you wanted to make a thicker dessert. Lastly top with the crumble topping, again being careful not to leave any large butter chunks in tact.
The pan should be placed in the center of a now 350 degree oven. I like to place a round cookie sheet on the lower rack of the oven to catch any drips in the event the caramel bubbles over. I didn’t end up having this problem, but if you use more apples or a smaller pan you might. Set the timer for 30 minutes to check the first time.
The resulting dessert should be golden brown on top, with the apple mixture bubbling below. Mine wasn’t quite done at the 30 minute point, but at 35 minutes it looked like this:
This crumble is best enjoyed warm from the oven. I like to reheat some of the remaining caramel and drizzle it over the top. You can also top it with vanilla bean ice cream or whipped cream if you prefer. I have never been a fan of ice cream on pies, but I know there are some people that wouldn’t have it any other way. You can even drizzle the caramel over the ice cream, over the crumble, for a really decadent treat.
A fruit crumble is one of the easiest desserts to make and one of the simplest to master. By simply adjusting the spices, this recipe can be modified to work with many types of fruit, which means it great to have on hand any time of the year for whatever fresh fruit you may have sitting around. I’m sure we will be visiting this crumble again in the not so distant future. In the meantime: Enjoy!
Thanks for reading. What is your favorite apple based treat? What’s your favorite fruit to put in a crumble?
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- 1/2 cup butter
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 2 tsp bourbon or vanilla
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 4 apples
- 1 cup flour
- 1/2 cup old fashioned oats
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup butter room temperature
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and set out a half cup of butter to come to room temperature. The recipe calls for 1/2 cup melted and 1/2 cup at room temperature.
In a small sauce pan over medium heat, melt 1/2 cup of butter until foamy. Add in 1 cup of brown sugar and continue to cook 3 - 5 minutes or until tiny bubbles form around the edge of the pan.
Stir in cream, 1/2 tsp salt, and bourbon or vanilla and continue to cook over medium heat.
Mixture will bubble up and expand. Stir occasionally to prevent burning. Once the mixture has tripled in size remove from heat and allow to cool slightly in the pan.
Wash and peel your apples. Cut them into 8 wedges, then thinly slice the wedges.
Toss the sliced apples with 1/2 cup of the warm caramel sauce.
In a small bowl combine flour, oats, 1/2 cup brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Mix to combine well, then crumble in butter using your hands or a pastry cutter.
To assemble: Pour 1/4 cup of caramel into the bottom of a 10" pie pan. Spoon the caramel covered apples on top, being careful not to add the liquid from the bottom of the bowl. Top with the oat and flour mixture.
Bake at 350 degrees for 30 - 35 minutes or until golden brown.
Serve warm with extra caramel sauce on top.