Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Cardamom-Ginger Spiced Apple Crisp

I have fond memories of my mom's apple crisp. She would make them throughout the fall and winter with apples we'd pick up by the 5 lb bag full at the grocery store. One thing we never lacked in Western New York was fresh, local apples available in the grocery store. Yes, we'd go apple picking and get cider and eat doughnuts as well, but mostly we just got them from the store. After she sliced up the apples to make the crisp and popped it in the oven, the entire house would smell like cinnamon and apples. Apple crisp was just a part of life.

As a kid, I would eat apple crisp warm from the oven after coming in from playing in the leaves on a cold fall afternoon. As a middle schooler I would eat warm apple crisp with vanilla ice cream and dream of my first kiss (preferably with a boy named Devon who was a year older than me and the son of one of my mom's closest friends) while reading the same page of Weetzie Batt over and over again: "[it was] A kiss about apple pie a la mode with the vanilla creaminess melting into the pie heart. A kiss about chocolate when you haven't eaten chocolate in a year..."

Yes, apple crisp is a thing of nostalgia. And if I learned anything from the musicology/politics class I took in college it's that nostalgia can be dangerous. (The professor liked to call it  NOstalgia).

Nostalgia, he argued, makes us complacent. It makes us not think about what we like, want, feel, or think--it merely connects us to a place or a time or an experience when we felt something positive.

Nostalgia can make us stuck. It has it's place, but if we rely on nostalgia to tell us what we like or what is good, we never grow and we never learn.

Talk about nostalgia...check out the vintage Corning Ware baking dish handed down from my grandma.
Now, you may ask yourself, how does this connect to apple crisp? Well, now that I'm older, my palate is a bit more sophisticated than it was back in the day (and my book choices certainly are). I still like basic, simple apple flavors, but I've also discovered the joys of spices in desserts. I like chili powder or smoked paprika in my hot chocolate. I adore spiced brownies from Baked. So I decided to take a leap and let go of the nostalgia (or is it NOstalgia?) and make a spiced version of my mom's apple crisp. A new variation on the nostalgic classic. With vanilla bourbon whipped cream instead of vanilla ice cream. But even with all these changes, right now my apartment smells...well...like home. Maybe I'm not totally free of apple crisp nostalgia, and maybe it's not a bad thing.

I came up with a few spice combinations on my own. Then, I got some amazing ideas on top of what I had already come up with both from my go-to cookbook, How To Cook Everything Vegetarian, and from The Flavor Bible (a great resource when you've got what sounds like a great idea or want to try something new with an dish you've made over and over again, and want to make sure that the flavor combination that sounds amazing in your head will actually taste amazing when you bite into whatever you've created).

Originally I had written out a recipe for Apple-Date Crisp. Less refined sugar because dates are so sweet. The addition of a slightly different texture.

Great idea, right? Apples, dates, spices. I'm brilliant.

Well, not that brilliant, because I forgot the dates.

My other brilliant (but forgotten) idea was to use a combination of whole wheat and graham flour for the crumb topping. Again, thought of it just after I poured the flour into the bowl.

There will be plenty more chances for apple crisp. And next time maybe I won't forget to pick up the ingredients for vanilla-bourbon whipped cream. (That would be a dollop of Greek yogurt on top of my apple crisp).

Cardamom-Ginger Spiced Apple Crisp
Adapted from My Mom :) with some additional advice.inspiration from Mark Bittman (HTCEV) and The Flavor Bible

3-4 lbs mixed tart and sweet apples (I used a mixture of RI Greenings, Macouns and Jonagolds), cored and cut into chunks (you can peel if you'd like)
2-3 T sugar, or to taste (it all depends on the ratio of tart to sweet apples and how sweet you like your fruit-based desserts
1/2 T minced ginger
1/2 t cardamom
1/4 t cinnamon
1/4 t ground ginger
a pinch of coriander
juice of one lemon

Crumb topping:
1 stick unsalted butter
3/4 c brown sugar
zest of one lemon
1 c whole wheat flour
1/2 t cardamom
1/4 t black pepper
a pinch of salt

Toss the sliced apples with the lemon juice to prevent browning. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 400 and lightly grease a 9x9 baking dish.

Toss the apples with the sugar, ginger, and spices. Pile the mixture into the baking dish (it should mound over the top a bit).

Make the crumb topping my mixing the butter, flour, salt, spices and sugar together with a pastry blender (or pulsing in them in a food processor). Stir in the zest and nuts. Sprinkle this over the top of the apple mixture. Pop it the oven and bake for 45 min to an hour, or until the top is golden brown and a knife inserted into the center of the crisp goes in with little resistance.

Serve topped with Greek yogurt, vanilla-bourbon whipped cream, or ice cream (Ronnybrook ginger creme brulee ice cream would probably be delicious, or, if you're still a Francesca Lia Block fan, you can go with vanilla).


  1. See, I think nostalgia in this case made you more inventive. And it made you share this fabulous crisp with us - definitely a good thing.

  2. Cardamom and I are BFF's and I never thought of putting it in apple crumble. This looks amazing!

  3. Nostalgia is a beautiful thing, don't you think? This sounds absolutely amazing, but the comforting feeling that it seems to give you is more rewarding, I believe =)

  4. Just came across your recipe, looks unique. I've never seen a crisps recipe that has ginger. Don't know why since ginger goes well. Thanks for the idea


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