It’s apple season

America’s favorite fruit is deliciously versatile, from salad to pie

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It’s our favorite fruit and American as, well, its most popular baked good.

A new apple season is here, offering a crisp, sweet edge to fall meals plus the promise of lots of pie — and pie-inspired dishes.

What makes apples and apple pie so all-American?

“It brings people together,” said Ken Haedrich, author of “Apple Pie: 100 Delicious and Decidedly Different Recipes for America’s Favorite Pie.” “It’s the closest thing we have, food-wise, to a universal symbol of goodness and contentment.

“It manages to do this with unabashed honesty and not an ounce of pretense. It’s an edible reflection of America’s best character traits.”

Love of apples — and apple pie — seem eternal. The sweet scent of baking apples, mixed with cinnamon and a dash of nutmeg, automatically brings back memories.

“It reminds me of my mom and dad, who are gone now,” Haedrich said. “I grew up watching them make apple pies together, and it’s probably my fondest childhood memory.”

In honor of 2011 as the “Year of the Pie,” Haedrich’s “Apple Pie” was re-released this month — just in time for the new apple crop.

Haedrich said he loves all sorts of apple pies, particularly those with a brown sugar crumb topping.

For pies, he prefers Winesap apples.

“It’s hard to find but worth looking for in an area where they’re grown. It’s the perfect blend of sweet, tart and juicy, with wonderfully complex flavor. Among the more common varieties, I like Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Fuji and Jonathan.”

“My best advice: If you find an apple that makes a great pie, stick with it,” he said, “but don’t be afraid to experiment.”

The flavor of apple pie inspires variations such as apple-pie cookies, apple-pie salad and apple-pie soup.

Baked in a pie plate, an apple-pie cake looks, smells and tastes like its namesake. An apple stack cake piles up pielike, apple butter filling (using dried apples) between fluffy layers.

Some bakers use Fuji apples because of their sweetness. Others stick to tart Granny Smith. Pink Lady and Honeycrisp varieties have their fans.

“We use Jonathans,” said Alyssa Larsen, who manages the Larsen Apple Barn bake shop in Camino, Calif. “They hold their crispness. They’re really flavorful and don’t get mushy. They’re a good apple to cook with.”

Her bake shop makes about 30 kinds of pastries, breads and other goodies, including several pies.

“We make sour cream berry apple pie and French apple,” she said. “What we’re known for is our cream cheese apple pie — it’s delicious.”

Old-Fashioned Stack Cake with Appalachian Apple Butter Filling

Cook time: Three stacks baked simultaneously takes 10 to 12 minutes; Makes one 9-inch cake with six stacks; Serves 8.

From the Sept.-Oct. issue of “Cooking With Paula Deen.” According to the magazine, stack cakes were traditional in Southern Appalachia when folks gathered for special occasions. The number of layers in a cake was a measure of the popularity of the hosting family.

½ cup all-vegetable shortening

½ cup sugar

½ cup buttermilk

⅓ cup molasses

1 egg, slightly beaten

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3½ cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon ground ginger

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

Pinch of nutmeg

Confectioners’ sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray 6 (9-inch) cake pans with nonstick cooking spray. Line bottoms of pans with parchment paper, and spray parchment paper with cooking spray.

In a medium bowl, beat shortening and sugar at medium speed with a mixer until creamy. Add buttermilk, molasses, egg and vanilla, beating well.

In a large bowl, combine flour, ginger, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Make a well in center of flour mixture. Add shortening mixture, stirring just until combined.

On a lightly floured surface, form dough into a log; cut into six equal portions. Place one portion in each prepared pan, and use fingers to lightly pat dough to edges of pans.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from pans and cool completely on wire racks. Cake will have the consistency of a gingerbread cookie.

Place one cake layer on a serving plate or cake stand; spread with about ¾ cup warm fruit butter filling (recipe below).

Repeat procedure with remaining layers and fruit butter filling, stacking each on previous layer. Do not spread fruit butter filling on top layer. Cover and refrigerate cake for at least 24 hours. Just before serving, dust with confectioners’ sugar.

Appalachian Apple Butter Filling

Cook time: about an hour.

4 cups roughly chopped dried apples

¾ cup packed dark brown sugar

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

6 cups apple cider (not juice)

In large saucepan, combine dried fruit and all dry ingredients. Add enough liquid to cover. Bring to a low boil and cook, stirring often, for 45 minutes. Remove from heat, and let stand for 10 minutes or until cooled slightly. Transfer to a food processor or container of a blender; process until smooth. Use while still warm.

Per serving: 704 cal.; 8 g pro.; 137 g carb.; 13 g fat (4 sat., 5 monounsat., 4 polyunsat.); 24 mg chol.; 548 mg sod.; 5 g fiber; 548 g sugar; 17 percent calories from fat.

Apple Pie Soup

Prep time: 30 minutes, plus chill time; Cook time: 6 hours in slow cooker; Serves 6 to 8.

This is a spiced dessert soup that is best served cold.

1½ teaspoons cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon allspice

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

3 cups water

3 cups apple cider

4 large Granny Smith (or other tart apples), peeled, cored and sliced

⅔ cup raisins

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

4 tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons brandy, optional

1 cup vanilla yogurt

Apple slices or chopped nuts, for garnish, optional

Combine the spices, water, cider, apple slices and raisins in a slow cooker. Cover and cook on low 6 hours or until apples are quite soft.

Purée the soup using an immersion blender or, if using a regular blender, a partial batch at a time, until all the apple solids and most of the raisins are puréed.

Stir in the lemon juice, honey and, if using, the brandy.

Chill several hours. Just before serving, whisk in the vanilla yogurt. Serve in chilled bowls, garnishing with apple slices or chopped nuts, if desired.

Per serving based on 8 servings: 194 cal.; 2 g pro.; 47 g carb.; trace fat; 2 mg chol.; 32 mg sod.; 2 g fiber; 39 g sugar; 3 percent calories from fat.

Brown Butter Apple Pie Salad

Prep time: 30 minutes; Cook time: 30 minutes for the streusel; Serves 4.

This salad features a brown-butter vinaigrette and a pumpkin seed streusel. Adapted from a recipe from Ginger’s Kitchen, a blog at www.food52.com.

For the streusel:

¼ cup all-purpose flour

¼ cup raw pumpkin seeds

⅓ cup rolled oats

1 heaping tablespoon brown sugar

½ teaspoon kosher salt

3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

For the vinaigrette:

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 small shallot, minced

Juice of half a lemon (about 2 tablespoons)

Few pinches finely chopped fresh marjoram or fresh thyme

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Salad:

1 head red leaf lettuce, washed and torn into bite- size pieces

1 sweet-tart apple, cored and sliced thin

2 ounces fresh chèvre

For the pumpkin seed streusel: Preheat oven to 350 F. Combine the flour, pumpkin seeds, oats, brown sugar, salt and 3 tablespoons of butter (cut into small pieces) in a small bowl. Use your fingers to blend the ingredients, until you’re left with large streusel-y crumbles.

Spread the streusel on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and bake for 20-30 minutes, or until lightly browned and crisp. Cool slightly.

Make the brown-butter vinaigrette: Melt the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter in a small pan over medium-low heat. Watch the butter carefully — when the foaming has subsided and the butter has started to brown, add the minced shallot and soften for one minute. Remove from heat, and transfer to a small bowl. Whisk in the lemon juice, a sprinkling of fresh marjoram or thyme, and season to taste with salt and pepper.

To assemble the salad: Toss the lettuce, sliced apple and chèvre with a few tablespoons of the brown-butter vinaigrette. Add dressing as needed until leaves are nicely coated. Sprinkle liberally with the pumpkin seed streusel.

Per serving: 394 cal.; 9 g pro.; 26 g carb.; 29 g fat (16 sat., 7 monounsat., 2 polyunsat., 4 other); 60 mg chol.; 318 mg sod.; 3 g fiber; 9 g sugar; 65 percent calories from fat.

Apple Pie Cake

Prep time: 20 minutes; Cook time: 45 minutes; Serves 8.

It’s a snack or breakfast cake baked in a pie plate. Serve with rum sauce (recipe below) for a fall dessert.

1 cup sugar

½ cup butter

1 egg

1 cup flour

¼ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon soda

1 teaspoon nutmeg

1 teaspoon cinnamon

2½ cups finely chopped apples, cored but unpeeled

½ cup chopped nuts (pecans, walnuts or almonds)

2 tablespoons hot water

Preheat oven to 325 F.

In large bowl, cream together sugar and butter. Beat in egg. Sift together dry ingredients and add to batter.

Add apples and nuts, then stir in hot water.

Grease a 9-inch pie plate. Pour batter into prepared pie plate. Bake in center of oven for 45 minutes at 325 F or until a toothpick inserted near middle comes out clean.

Serve warm with whipped cream or rum sauce.

Per serving without whipped cream or rum sauce: 336 cal.; 4 g pro.; 44 g carb.; 17 g fat (8 sat., 4 monounsat., 5 polyunsat.); 54 mg chol.; 242 mg sod.; 2 g fiber; 30 g sugar; 45 percent calories from fat.

Rum Sauce

½ cup brown sugar

½ cup whipping cream

¼ cup rum

In saucepan, combine brown sugar and whipping cream. Bring to boil. Add rum and stir until blended. Serve immediately over warm cake.

Apple Pie Cookies

Prep time: 30 minutes; Cook time: 10 minutes per batch; Makes about 4 dozen.

These are soft cookies with a spicy apple flavor. The caramel glaze adds a sweet touch. To toast walnut pieces, place in a dry nonstick sauté pan over medium heat, stirring frequently, until walnuts are fragrant, about 10 minutes. Be careful not to burn them. Cool before chopping.

½ cup unsalted butter, slightly softened

1½ cups light brown sugar, packed

1 egg

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground cloves

½ teaspoon ground nutmeg

½ teaspoon salt

¼ cup milk

1 cup grated apple, from 1 large or 2 small peeled, cored baking apples

1 cup walnut pieces, toasted and chopped

For the caramel glaze:

2 tablespoons butter or margarine

2 tablespoons brown sugar

¾ cup confectioners’ sugar

4 teaspoons milk or half-and-half

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Beat butter and sugar until fluffy and well blended. Add egg and blend until fully incorporated.

In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and salt. Add half the mixture to butter mixture, stirring until incorporated, and then add remainder of flour mixture.

Add milk, then gently stir in, using a spatula or wooden spoon, the grated apple and chopped nuts. Drop by rounded teaspoons onto a parchment-paper-covered cookie sheet.

Bake 10 minutes or until cookies are golden brown. Let cool on rack for a few minutes, then slide the paper, with cookies still on it, from pan to rack and let cookies finish cooling before removing from paper. (An offset spatula works well for this.)

To make caramel glaze: Combine brown sugar and butter in a small pan. Stir and bring to boil over medium heat. Simmer for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and add the confectioners’ sugar and half the milk, stirring before adding the rest of the milk, 1 teaspoon at a time.

Drizzle over cooled cookies using a fork. Add a little more milk if glaze becomes too thick.

Per cookie: 97 cal.; 1 g pro.; 14 g carb.; 4 g fat (2 sat., 1 monounsat., 1 polyunsat.); 10 mg chol.; 55 mg sod.; 0 g fiber; 10 g sugar; 38 percent calories from fat.