Saturday, October 1, 2011

English Apple Shortcake with Brown Sugar & Cream-Cheese Crust . . .

Household circumstances sometimes have a way of forcing your hand. You know what I mean. There's the long front hedge bordering your neighbor's driveway, so shaggy at times it demands to be trimmed lest it bring shame upon the family. There's the faucet that gasps and yawns and refuses to put in an honest day's work until the plumber is finally called in.

And, this morning, there was the problem of the ignored bookshelf. I'm talking about the big 7x4-footer with six really deep shelves. It was barely 9 a.m. when that thing finally gave up the ghost, collapsing under its burden with a mighty crash.

I was in the basement, romancing the ironing board again, when thunder rumbled above my head. Instantly I knew what had happened. I'd been expecting just such a catastrophe. I merely nodded to myself in acknowledgment and kept on ironing. I'd confront the monster soon enough.

The warning signs had been staring me in the face for months, but I'd ignored them. I'd ignored the obscenely overladen shelves, each one sagging in the middle like a tired mule. I'd ignored the fact that the brackets holding up each shelf were pathetically inadequate even to my untrained eye.

Eventually I trudged upstairs and stood there silently, gazing in resigned disgust at the aftermath. Books that had been packed together sardine-style had thunked to the floor willy nilly, a few stragglers still plummeting now and then in solidarity.

The resulting pile was about 18" deep, easily six feet wide, and thoroughly impassable. It was the Niagara Falls of literature. I thanked the fates that my husband hadn't had to face this right before heading off to work. It would have been too much for him. There would have been copious cussing. Better it happened this way.

About this recipe . . . 

As in so much of life, such mishaps often reveal their own silver lining. As I was sorting and stacking the  victims, one volume fell open at my feet and a particular page caught my eye. It was The Kitchen Diaries: A Year in the Kitchen with Nigel Slater. (Slater, in case you're unfamiliar, is a British food writer and a passionate home cook.) I sat down amidst the destruction and read through  the recipe that inspired today's dessert.

I made a few small changes to Slater's formula and ended up with something wonderful. Instead of using Bramley apples (which I've never seen in Michigan), I used Sweet Tango apples; they're firm, crunchy, and they'll make you pucker. Instead of turbinado sugar in the crust dough, I used light brown sugar, and I subbed some cream cheese for part of the butter, also adding in a generous pinch of kosher salt. I added a mixture of superfine- and light brown sugars to lightly caramelize the simmering apples, instead of just using a very small amount of superfine alone. We served this with a dollop of delicately sweetened whipped cream on top. Especially when served slightly warm, this makes for a comforting and rustic dessert.

English Apple Shortcake with Brown Sugar & Cream-Cheese Crust

(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and place a metal baking sheet in the oven to heat up. Butter a 9" or 10" pie, cake, casserole, or quiche pan.

For the crust:
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup cream cheese, room temperature
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1 egg, large, at cool room temperature
2 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (I used unbleached.)
1 and 1/4 tsp. baking powder
1 generous pinch kosher salt

For the filling:

2 and 3/4 lbs. firm, tart, and sweet apples (I recommend Sweet Tango or Honey Crisp apples.)
half of a lemon
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1/4 cup superfine sugar
1/3 cup light brown sugar

For the top of the crust, before baking:

A couple tablespoons of milk, half & half, or cream
2 Tbsp. superfine sugar

Peel and core all of the apples, and slice them as you would for apple pie (I made my slices at least 1/4" thick). Put the slices into a big bowl of cold water and squeeze the lemon-half over them; this will help keep them from turning brown while you're preparing the crust. Set the bowl aside.

In a medium size bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In the large bowl of your mixer, on medium speed, cream together the butter, cream cheese, and brown sugar for a few minutes, until light and fluffy. Blend in the egg.

On low speed, add in the dry ingredients and blend until combined.

Dump the dough, which will be very soft, onto a heavily floured surface (do not skimp on the flour!).

Flour your hands, and knead the dough a few times, just for a minute or so, until it's smooth.

Divide the dough into two equal parts. Use a rolling pin to roll out half the dough; it will be thick. Carefully transfer the rolled out dough into the buttered pan and press it gently into the corners. It doesn't have to look perfect. Wrap up the second piece of dough in plastic wrap and place it in the fridge along with the dough-lined pan, while you finish prepping the apples.

Drain the apples in a colander. Heat a large frying/saute pan, and add the 4 Tbsp. of butter. Toss the apple slices into the hot butter and let them simmer over medium heat until the butter looks frothy and the apples start to just soften around the edges, stirring now and then.

Raise the heat and sprinkle the 1/4 superfine sugar and 1/3 cup light brown sugar over the apples. Cook the apples until they just begin to caramelize; they should be slightly soft and have taken on a deeper yellow color. Take the pan off the heat.

Remove the second dough half from the fridge and roll it out as you did the first piece.

Remove the dough-lined pan from the fridge. Spoon the apple slices into the dough-lined pan.

Carefully place the top crust over that.

Pinch the edges closed.

Use a pastry brush to coat the top crust with milk or cream, but don't brush it on the outer edge (that'll be the first area to burn). Sprinkle liberally with superfine sugar.

Bake the shortcake for up to about 40 minutes, or until it's fully golden and feels firm. Let the finished shortcake cool on a rack until it's no longer hot.

Good served warm or cold, with sweetened whipped cream.

(If you'd like to comment on this post, or to read any existing comments, please click on the purple COMMENTS below!)


Two Minute Takes said...

You see, there was a reason the bookshelf collapsed. What a beautiful looking dessert you discovered!

Nisrine said...

Gorgeous and perfect for fall. I need to buy some apples and make this.

june in ireland who loves to bake said...

Sounds like serendipity that it happened the way it did, just so the universe could treat you to the perfect comfort food to enjoy when life dishes out little (or sometimes big) annoyances like a collapsed bookshelf...or, in my case, when our washing machine finally packed up, but not without half-flooding two rooms in the process...sigh...

The only thing for it? A gorgeous and tasty recipe like this one, of course. I've never heard of Sweet Tango apples, by the way, although they do sound like a cross between Granny Smiths and Pink Ladies. The brown sugar and cream cheese crust sound like wonderfully delicious variations on the theme, especially when you go on to say you added a nice dollop of whipped cream. Heaven on a plate!

Thanks for sharing, Jane.

teawithhazel said...

this recipe reminds me of my grandmother hazel's apple cake which was one of the best apple related pie/cakes ever..

Chelsea said...

I love your bookshelf story. That sounds so stressful! And this recipe... my goodness. It sounds so amazing. A nice change from the usual apple pie.

Chele said...

I hear your pain! I have a very similar sounding situation forming myself. Mind you, the result of your collapsing bookshelf seems pretty fine to me ... and quite frankly I am more than a lottle bit in love with Nigel ;0)

wefamlee said...

The little bit of cream cheese in the crust was delicious! I reduced the sugar & added soft caramel to the apples (from the Samoas recipe I linked too from here!) It baked into the crust and caramelized the apples perfectly. Lovely recipe :)

Nessa Robins said...

This recipe sounds really delicious! I've never seen cream cheese being used in pastry. Your photographs are really beautiful!

The Experimental Cook said...

What an interesting way to end up with a dessert ! Enjoy reading this post ;-) said...

This apple cake looks awesome. I could so have a huge piece right now!! or maybe I will just make my own :-)

Unknown said...

This looks fabulous and great photos also!

Karen Harris said...

Oh goodness, now I am really concerned about my overburdened pantry shelf. At least I now have hope that something wonderful might be discovered if it should collapse. Beautiful recipe and beautiful photos. I am totally charmed by your blog.

Natalie said...

What a wonderful recipe!!
Just made this today and it's a keeper. I didn't have enough apples on hand so I made up the difference with some fresh pitted cherries. In order to compensate for the additional juice made from the cherries I added about a tablespoon of cornstarch to the fruit mixture and reduced the granulated sugar a bit to compensate for the sweetness of the cherries. It turned out beautiful and just like your photos but more colorful because of the cherries. I can see this made with fresh peaches or really any fruit that's in season. Thank you so very much for sharing this super recipe. Love your blog!

Unknown said...

This looks so so so delicious! I'm gonna get my mum to go to the grocery store and get some cream cheese and apples :)

Jane said...

Hi Vanilla Bean,
Yes, I thought the same thing. Every bookshelf collapses for a reason! ;)
Thanks very much,

Hello there Nisrine--
I agree, and I can't get enough of apple desserts in the fall! I'm crazy about them.
Keep on baking,
Jane :)

Dear June,
You always say the nicest things! What would I do without my American/Irish expatriot pal?
Jane :)

Hi Teawithhazel,
You know, grandmothers do seem to have the best recipes. Some things never change in that respect!
:) Thanks,

Hello Chelsea,
Glad you liked that story! At least I got a good tale out of it, along with a good recipe.
Thanks for visiting,
Jane :)

Hi Chele--
Well, don't do what I did and wait until the big event! Take your bookcase's warnings seriously (ha!). So you're a big Nigel fan, eh? He does seem charming, at least in writing; I've never seen him on TV etc.
Jane :)

Dear WeFamLee (Karen!),
I love your variation. The caramel was a fabulous idea. I am going to have to try that. Hope all is well with you, lady!
Your baking pal,
Jane :)

Hi Nessa,
Thank you so much! I think I love taking pictures of bright red fruit. It's just so photogenic! Isn't that funny? ;)
Jane :)

Hello Experimental Cook--
I am pleased to hear that! Thanks so much for stopping by.
:) Jane

Hi EatGood4Life,
I will be sending a huge slice of it over to you right away! (Wish I really could do that, right through my computer screen. I guess that's the next technology frontier! Ha!). You've been posting some great stuff on your blog lately. Thanks for visiting here again!
Jane :)

Hi Cafe Sucre,
Thank you so much!
Jane :)

Dear Karen Harris,
Many thanks for those warm comments! You've just made my day.
I'm glad you visited!
Jane :)

Dear Natalie,
Wow, that's great to hear! I love the use of cherries along with apples. That's a fabulous combo. I'm so happy to hear you liked the basic recipe. Thanks so much!
Keep your flour dry,
Jane :)

Hi there Grace,
I see you peeking out from behind those leaves. I visited your blog today and I hope it brings you a lot of joy as time goes on. Thanks so much for visiting mine!
Jane :)

Ioana said...


Patricia Scarpin said...

How do you like this book, Jane? I've been meaning to buy it and would absolutely love to hear your thoughts about it, please.
As for the shortcake - I love the crust! And give me anything with apples and I'm a happy girl - too bad fall has gone away now. :)

Anonymous said...

Hi Jane, I discovered your blog via a comment you left on another one...I was drawn to it because I work in publishing and would love to eventually pursue a career in food - very pleased to see that someone has done it before! Your blog is fantastic - and this shortcake looks delicious. I have a well thumbed copy of The Kitchen Diaries too - it's a great book.

Jane said...

Hi loana,
Thanks very much!
Jane :)

Hi Patricia,
I really like the book. It's not written as a conventional cookbook. There's a lot of casual prose, and it's arranged chronically to flow over the course of a year, as Slater prepares seasonal dishes at home using mostly fresh local ingredients. The photos are also his own and they're beautifully rustic and simple,not printed on glossy inserts but just integrated along with the text. It's a book worth buying, in my opinion. I bet you'd like it a lot. As always, I still LOVE your blog. Hope all is well with you in Sao Paulo!
Jane :)

Dear Little Loaf,
I'm so glad you stopped by! I peeked in on your blog yesterday and it's quite wonderful. You're very talented. Thanks for your nice comments. I sincerely appreciate them.
Keep on baking,
Jane :)

Cooking-love said...

Una delicia de tarta...y ademas las fotos preciosas.

Cathy Pieroz said...

Mmm this certainly looks and sounds like the perfect recipe to test out the new pie maker I got for Christmas :) Thank you so much for sharing this recipe! - Cathy Pieroz at Ray White Alexandra Hills