Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Caramel Apple Crisp Bites

Caramel Apple Crisp Bites - made November 1, 2014, adapted from Princess Pinky Girl
Last weekend heralded the start of November, my favorite month with my favorite holiday: Thanksgiving. And it's also when I start thinking about what desserts I want to make for our Thanksgiving meal. There'll be 15 of us this year which is neither the smallest or largest family gathering we've had but still a good number. Normally I do my standbys of Pumpkin Upside Cake with Caramelized Pecans and Cranberries, Butter Pecan Tarts, Banana Butterscotch Cupcakes and Lemon Bars.
But this year I wanted to do something different and started exploring new recipes. I normally don't bake pies but I love apple pie and thought I'd try this recipe for individual-size apple crisp cups. They looked so pretty on Princess Pinky Girl's blog and I thought, "yeah, I could make those for Thanksgiving." Ha. I was only half right. I really could make those but apparently I didn't specify to the baking gods that I wanted mine to look as good as hers.
Things were good at first. The graham crackers crusts were easy to make and I made them in my mini cheesecake pan with the removable bottoms so there'd be no issue with getting them out of the pan. But I decided to get a little creative with the apple filling (you just went "uh-oh", didn't you?). I had caramelized apples before and I knew what I liked so what could go wrong? Yeah, never ask that question if you don't actually want it to be answered. Because I'll tell you what went wrong. First, I shouldn't have used Granny Smith apples. They're great in pies and crisps because they're tart and can offset a lot of the sweetness. But unfortunately they also soften and wilt faster than other apples and don't look pretty. Ask me how I know. Yup, my second mistake was cooking them too long. Instead of baking them as the original directions specified, I decided I could better control the cooking if I sauteed and caramelized them in my cast iron skillet. Well.....it seemed like a good idea at the time.
It might have actually worked if I had only sauteed them for a few minutes. But I didn't want them to be crunchy so I keep cooking them. And they went from pretty to overcooked, limp and cooked down in a flash. Oops. I spooned them into the graham cracker cups and they looked so-not-pretty that I decided to make a streusel topping for them. Then they'd be more like a crisp but at least I could hide their appearance, right? Uh, that might've been mistake #3. I made up the streusel recipe and I think I had too much flour and not enough butter because instead of the streusel lumps I envisioned dropping over the limp apple filling, it was more like powdery streusel dust. Eeep.
I baked them anyway because at a certain point, there's just no stopping a train wreck. When I took them out of the oven, they were beyond not-pretty so instead of a caramel sauce, I drizzled the leftover sauce from caramelizing the apples over the streusel. Have you followed me so far? I made the streusel to hide the overcooked apples and I drizzled "caramel sauce" over the streusel to hide the streusel. In appearance, these are unfortunately not going to make it to the Thanksgiving table because I need something a little more cute! However, taste-wise, the main reason I left my recipe modifications as is below, is these were actually pretty tasty. A bit ironic but at least it wasn't a total failure. And it reaffirms why I'd rather focus on how something tastes than how it looks. If you do want to make these for public appearance, I advise learning from my mistakes: use a firmer apple, don't overcook them, and either skip the streusel or cut back on the flour.
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
12 tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 cup powdered sugar

2 cups peeled, cored and finely chopped apples
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Crumble topping
1/4 cup butter, chilled
1/4 cup flour (or less)
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

caramel topping, homemade or storebought, optional
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Grease mini muffin pans with nonstick cooking spray.
  3. Melt butter. In a medium-size bowl, mix graham cracker crumbs, powdered sugar and butter with a spoon.
  4. Evenly distribute mixture among the 24 mini muffin cups. Press along the bottom and sides to make a "cup".  Bake for 5 minutes and let cool; keep in muffin tins.
  5. Mix apples, granulated sugar, brown sugar, flour, cinnamon and nutmeg in a bowl.
  6. Bake in a baking dish for 15 minutes at 375 degrees F until apples are slightly softened or "stir fry" in a cast iron skillet for several minutes; avoid overcooking the apples.
  7. Scoop a teaspoon or so of the apple mixture and spoon into the graham cracker crust cups.
  8. Combine crumble topping ingredients and squeeze into large clumps to sprinkle over the apples in each cup.
  9. Bake for 5-8 minutes at 350 degrees F or until streusel is golden brown (if using).
  10. Let cool completely. Use a knife to loosen from the pan and remove. Drizzle with caramel topping (or leftover caramel sauce from the apples) and serve.

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