First, I have an admission. References on this site as to how I did not grow up eating homemade birthday cake, how my childhood home never smelled of freshly baked pie, about how I ate Drake’s Devil Dogs and Pepperidge Farm raspberry turnovers and Double Stuf Oreos in abundance, with nary a homemade baked good in sight, are plentiful. And for the most part, I’ve been telling the truth. However, my mom’s apple brown betty was the exception to the rule. She made it from scratch, she made it often, and I devoured it.
But I know what you’re thinking: these pictures are of an apple crisp, not an apple brown betty (the crumble topping of an apple brown betty is traditionally made from bread crumbs) and you’re right. What my mother made for me growing up, and what I have photographed here, is most definitely an apple dessert of the crisp or crumble variety. However, I’m just going to take a bit of poetic license here, in the interest of nostalgia. We called it apple brown betty when I was little, and I’m going to call it that here today (however, if you’re really jonesing for a traditional apple brown betty, check out Martha Stewart or Epicurious).
I used my mom’s recipe as a jumping off point when developing the “apple brown betty (ish)” I present you with here, as her’s is pretty standard: apples, sugar and a bit of water, covered in crumbs of butter, sugar, cinnamon, salt and flour. Although I was pretty sure I knew exactly how I would tweak the “betty” of my childhood, I did check out a couple of crisp recipes just to make sure I understood the apple crumble/crisp landscape. I looked at this apple crisp recipe and got kind of excited about using sugar in the raw in my recipe. And then I looked at a recipe called “the perfect crumble”, and the raw-sugar-writing was on the wall. I mixed my apples with water, but also lemon juice, added a thickener (arrowroot), granulated sugar, and, in addition to cinnamon, a little nutmeg. For my crumb, I kept it simple: butter, flour, and two sugars: turbinado (aka sugar in the raw) and light brown. As I assembled my betty, I kept the crumbs large, as I prefer that to a sandier crumb. And the results? Sublime. The apples tasted of fall and were perfectly toothsome. The topping was not only buttery, with caramel-y tones, as well, but the turbinado gave the crumbs the most wonderful fall crunch. Call it a crisp or a crumble if it makes you happy, but this is a simple, easy, and tasty (betty) worth trying.
Apple Brown Betty
For the apples
- 10 medium apples peeled and cored and cut into 1/2-inch wedges (a variety of types is nice)
- 2 Tbsp water
- 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1 Tbsp arrowroot
- 2 scant tsp cinnamon
- 1/8 tsp nutmeg
- 1/4 tsp salt
For the topping
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 3/4 cup turbinado sugar aka sugar in the raw
- 3/4 cup light brown sugar
- 2 sticks of unsalted butter cold, and cubed
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees and spray a 13-by-9-inch metal baking pan with cooking spray.
T make the topping
- In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and the two sugars. Add the butter, and using your fingers, form medium crumbly clumps of topping. Place the bowl in the refrigerator (or even the freezer).
To Prepare the apples
- In a large mixing bowl, toss the apples with the water and lemon juice. Add the sugar, arrowroot, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt and toss to combine. Transfer to the prepared pan.
- Remove the topping from the refrigerator and cover the apples with it, forming small or medium crumbs with your fingers. As you do so, gently pat the crumble down.
- Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the crisp is browned and bubbling.
- Let it cool at least 15 minutes before serving with a dribble of heavy cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream.