apple crisp, and a birthday

apple crisp, and a birthday

Let me tell you a story: After I graduated from college, I moved to France for a little while, to teach English and find my bearings in the big, scary world outside of the college bubble. When I was getting ready to make my triumphant return to the states, I decided that I would try living in New York (I’m originally from Northern California). So I packed my bags and came straight here, after two panicked and bewildering days wandering around in Charles de Gaulle. I had lined up a place to stay in Manhattan while I looked for a job and an apartment, but for various reasons, that situation didn’t work out, and I very quickly found myself homeless, jobless, and broke in a gigantic, expensive, and unfamiliar city.

That’s where Kenan came in. You see, I had met Kenan a few days before I became a wandering urchin. Although he didn’t really know me, and although he was also broke and barely had any space of his own, Kenan graciously, kindly, sweetly (and perhaps crazily) offered me a place to stay while I figured things out. And because I had nothing to offer in return other than my ability to wield a whisk, I baked for him and his accommodating roommates to thank them, and to calm my nerves while I sent out cover letters and went on countless interviews. Luckily for me, everything worked out: Kenan made sure that I took care of myself, I found a job, we eventually found an apartment of our own, and everyone got delicious treats. I mean, the guy even made me this site, not to mention the fact that he’s responsible for all the pretty pictures around these parts. In any case, a year and a half and many adventures later, we’re the happiest little scrubs Greenpoint has to offer.

So why am I telling you this, you ask? Well, you see, a couple weeks ago, it was Kenan’s birthday, and of course, I had to make something celebratory. When I think about birthday desserts, I think layered cakes and the like, but Kenan is a much, much bigger fan of fruit things, and apple crisp in particular. And my favorite gets what he wants, so apple crisp it was gonna be.

apple picking!

apples are nice nice

As I said, I’m a Northern Californian by birth, so there were innumerable fruits and vegetables in season at all times while I was growing up. But pretty much the only apples around were either in Gravenstein orchards or were primarily used for making apple juice. Sure, you could go pick a few apples in the fall, but it just wasn’t as much of a thing as it is here on the East coast. Add to that the fact that I could eat apples all day, every day, forever, and you’ll appreciate my extreme excitement when Kenan suggested that we go to New Jersey the day before his birthday to do some apple picking.

With Kenan’s mom and stepdad in tow, we went to Eastmont Orchards, and oh my goodness, I’ve never seen so many apple trees, or so many different kinds of apples in one place. It was a crowded day, and there were plenty of screaming children and obstinately aimless suburbanites crowding the rows, but we managed to find some gorgeous Crispins, Ida Reds, Staymans and Fujis for our baking adventures. We also made a stop at Delicious Orchards to get some life-changing apple cider donuts. And so, apples and donuts and other supplies in hand, we headed back to Brooklyn, dodging crazies on the train and trying not to bang up the apples too badly.

i want crisp in the afternoon

there is never too much cinnamon

Ladies and gentlemen, there is a raging debate going on in the apple crisp baking community. And by raging debate, I mean that there are a couple different variations on it, and I am decidedly in favor of one over the other. You see, some apple crisps are sorta granola-y: baked apples topped with a crunchy mixture that seems to be mostly oats and brown sugar. While I’m not one to turn my nose up at any dessert (my sweet tooth is equal opportunity), I just don’t really care for those kinds of crisps. I mean, if I want to eat granola (and quite often, I do), I’ll just sprinkle a bit over some fruit and be done with it. But what I strongly prefer to bake, and happen to think are more enjoyable as dessert, are heftier, richer crisps: I like toppings that hold together somewhat when they’re scooped out of the pan – somewhere in between a biscuity texture and a crumbly mess, I suppose. So I chose an Ina Garten recipe that looked like it had those qualities.

Apple crisp is so lovely; simple, elegant, and prepared with the most basic of ingredients: flour, butter, brown sugar, spices, and, of course, apples. The only time-intensive step is coring and slicing the fruit. Most recipes will tell you to pare the apples entirely, but I love the texture and flavor of the skins, so I leave the skin on about 15-20% of the time; just enough to give things a crunch without making it all too rubbery. I also prefer to use two or three different varieties of apple, because they cook down at different rates and add further to the consistency of the baked product. For this crisp, I used three or four Staymans (crunchy, tart), one gigantuous (yes) Crispin (crisp, semi-sweet), and three or four Ida Reds (sweeter, a bit soft, somewhat like a Red Delicious), all of which added up to about five pounds. After paring, coring and chopping, I mixed the fruit together with some brown sugar, spices, salt, lemon juice, and a bit of bourbon (the booze was not called for in the recipe, but I thought it would be a nice addition). Then I mixed butter with some sugar, flour, oats, and a few more spices. Ina Garten suggests using a mixer, which I did, but I think I would have been better off with a food processor: it involves less handling of the batter, and probably would have been quicker. Anyhow, then I spread the filling in a casserole dish, sprinkled everything with a thick layer of topping, and dropped that sucker in the oven.

And then we waited. Ms. Garten says the baking takes an hour, but my crisp wasn’t ready for maybe an hour and twenty. I think this was likely a problem with my oven; we live in a new building, where everything looks fancy but is secretly a cheap, tawdry version of an actually nice thing (hello, Magic Chef), so it’s possible that the oven was just being wonky. At any rate, the thing finally got all golden and, well, crispy on top, and filled our home with the glorious smells of apples and flour and butter.

friends eat, friends drink, friends are nice.

sometimes, friends are made out of flour and oats

After we’d waited for the crisp to cool down, we headed to Diamond, where we were meeting some folks to celebrate Kenan’s jour de naissance. We got started on the crisp right away, and I was really quite pleased. The topping was buttery and crumbly and the apples had a lovely texture. I would make a couple slight adjustments next time, however: the filling was a bit too sweet, so I would lower the amount of sugar, and the topping was not quite as toothsome as I would have liked, so I think I would use a slightly lower ratio of flour to oats. But all in all, it was quite lovely, and no one seemed to have any complaints. And so, over pints of beer and generous servings of crisp and whipped cream, we joked and pontificated and bantered late into the night, and I thought quietly to myself that I really am very, very lucky to have a Kenan.

apple crisp


apple crisp (adapted from Ina Garten)

apples (mixture of sweet and tart) 5 pounds
grated zest of one lemon
fresh-squeezed lemon juice 2 tablespoons
light brown sugar, packed 1/3 cup (or more if desired)
ground cinnamon 2 teaspoons
ground nutmeg 1 teaspoon
bourbon (optional) 2 tablespoons


all-purpose flour 1 1/4 cups
granulated sugar 1/2 cup
light brown sugar, packed 1 cup
salt 3/4 teaspoon
rolled oats 1 1/4 cup
cold unsalted butter, chopped 1/2 pound (2 sticks)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9 by 13 inch casserole.

Peel, core, and cut the apples into chunks, leaving the skin on some of the apples (about 15-20%). Combine the apples with the zest, juice, sugar, spices, and bourbon. Pour into the dish.

To make the topping, combine the flour, sugars, salt, oatmeal, and butter in the work bowl of a food processor or in the bowl of an electric mixer. If using a food processor, pulse until the mixture is crumbly and the butter is the size of peas. If using an electric mixer, work at low speed. Scatter the dry ingredients evenly over the apples.

Place the crisp on a sheet pan and bake for 1 hour until the top is golden and the fruit is bubbly. Serve warm and savor the deliciousness of fall.

apple crisp enjoys dramatic lighting

photos by kenan “boy blue” rubenstein.

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7 notes

  1. Alicia says:

    I LOVE crisps! And there was once upon a time when Sebastopol was the apple capitol of the world- before they gutted all the orchards and replaced them with vineyards. I used to sneak through the woods and into the orcahard next to our property to steal apples. Then we’d make loads of fresh apple sauce, crisps, and cider.

    • girlcate says:

      Yeah, Sebastopol is a bit of a sad sight these days, as far as apples are concerned. They’ve torn down even more orchards since I was a kid. But you can still get Gravensteins when they’re in season, which makes me a very, very happy lady.
      Thanks for the comment – I’m excited to browse through your site! (I’m an intermittent knitter and ogler of pretty yarns)

      • boy blue says:

        i don’t suppose we should try a sonoma grape crisp? then we could talk about it really obnoxiously, like, “hm, this varietal gives the crisp a faint fruitiness, and a vague scent of something… almost like a pound of melted butter.”

  2. josh says:

    Awesome apple crisp!

    I love apples in the fall. By mid-winter, when the only fruit I’ve eaten for months is apples and pears, their luster has worn off a bit.

  3. Emilie says:

    You sound so happy in this entry. It is rubbing off and making me smile as I attempt to do some Arabic homework. Also, it makes me want dessert…

  4. emiliejolie says:

    That was just lovely, Cate. Just freaking lovely. Even when I see your posts first thing in the morning, I save them for the end of the day because they’re so nice to read, not to mention look at. And I just might have to pick up some apples on my way home… (And I’m even MORE sad now that I missed the birthday festivities!!)

  5. mom says:

    I also feel very lucky to have a Kenan, and, of course, a Cate! Looks like an amazingly lovely dessert.
    Miss you guys!

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