November and December bring on an interesting hunger. A hunger for years and experiences that happened long ago, people, a certain smell in the air…for a taste of something old and familiar. It intensifies each year — the feelings involved do, too. Currently, I’ve gravitated toward the kitchen as a sort of sanctuary for getting to know this hunger I speak of. I can also choose to let everything go, and focus on nothing more than producing forth a dozen or so delicious, nutty cookies or an ugly, albeit moan-inducing cake. Either way, I like it there.
Over the Thanksgiving holiday, my kitchen produced quite a few delightful dishes, and I emerged from it in a delightful, far less melancholic state than what my writing might otherwise suggest. Our holidays are busy. We celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas about three times each, which is not as tiring as it sounds. This year, I decided to bring a few new dishes to the table, which included: roasted Brussels sprouts with a maple vinaigrette; a bread-less stuffing, which was basically roasted winter vegetables and herbs typically found in stuffing; a cranberry chutney that my family swooned over last Christmas — it comes from the blog Orangette, authored by Molly Wizenberg (if you haven’t noticed, I am a tried-and-true reader of a handful of food writers. Not only do I savor what they write, but the recipes shared are just as worthy, and never, ever disappointing. Molly is one of those writers.); and an applesauce cake that I also read about on Molly’s blog, the original recipe coming from Food52.
It was one of the most enjoyable Thanksgivings I’ve had in, well, maybe ever. For the cake, which called for unsweetened apple sauce, I decided to try a roasted applesauce recipe from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook by Judy Rodgers, who is another lovely food writer and chef. Her recipes are simple, but special and very worthy of your time. Her instruction feels equally satisfying. That’s the kind of food writing I love the most — the kind that draws you in and makes you eat up every last word. The kind that seduces you into your kitchen. The kind that encourages you to get to know your food and appreciate the art of cooking and eating, too.
This particular recipe reminds me more of the apples that go on the inside on a pie than of an applesauce. Then again, the only applesauce I have experience in eating comes from a jar and is shelf-stable. The recipe is wonderful on its own, and, of course, would also be great with a bit of cinnamon and vanilla. The peeling might seem tedious, but paired with a good podcast it can actually be quite relaxing.
From The Zuni Cafe Cookbook by Judy Rodgers
Judy recommends using crisp eating apples for the applesauce, instead of baking varieties. I think I used galas for this particular version, but you can also use Sierra Beauties, Braeburns, Pippins, or Golden Delicious. I used this batch of applesauce in the making of the cake, on top of roasted chicken, as a topping for a pumpkin muffin, and straight off of a spoon while standing, with the door open, in front of the refrigerator. It made roughly three-and-a-half cups.
3-1/2 to 4 pounds of apples
Pinch of salt
Up to 2 teaspoons of sugar, as needed — I used organic cane sugar, but I do wonder if a richer, darker sugar would have been better.
About 2 tablespoons of butter
1 splash of apple cider vinegar, if needed
Peel, core, and quarter the apples — take a small bite to determine how sweet they are. Toss the apples with a bit of salt and a bit of sugar to taste — if your apple is very sweet, you can choose to skip the sugar. As Judy says, if they are tart enough to make you squint, add the full amount of sugar. Spread the apples in a single layer in a shallow baking dish. Place slivers of butter on top of the apples, cover tightly with foil, and bake until the apples begin to soften. This will take 15 to 30 minutes and depends on the apples.
Once the apples have softened, remove the foil, turn the oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit, and return the dish to the oven. Leave the apples to dry out and get a bit of color for about 10 minutes. You’ll know the apples are ready to come out of the oven when they tips of the apples become golden and the fruit is tender. When they are done, place the apples in a bowl and stir into a chunky mash. Taste and season with salt and sugar, as needed. You might consider a splash of apple cider vinegar if the flavor needs brightening. Rodgers recommends removing a small amount of the mash, adding the apple cider vinegar, and tasting to see if you like it before brightening the whole batch.
This is the first time I’ve made this recipe, so I’m still not entirely sure of it’s lifespan; but, stored in an airtight container in the fridge, this applesauce has lasted well over a week.