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Lost and found

Sometimes the best hidden treasures are the ones that I hide from myself. While it might be fun, in theory, to stumble upon a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow or, say, a wooden chest with a pirate’s cache of jewels and coins, there is a special satisfaction reserved for the finds that are familiar—the old, forgotten-about something that resurfaces, resplendent, when I least expect it.

Take, for example, that tube of Chanel “Vamp” lipstick, ten years old but barely used, unearthed last week from an early grave beside my bathroom sink. A color somewhere between blood and black, it made me feel daring and dangerous at seventeen, and at twenty-seven, dangerously nostalgic. Then there’s The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, a plain white paperback with a title scrawled in color and a coming-of-age hero—a novel I read at age sixteen, then wedged on the shelf between Wise Blood and Beloved and nearly forgot until last December, when I found it again and devoured it whole for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And then, of course, there’s dessert: a slip of paper that fell not long ago from the dark, forgotten recesses of my recipe file, a sketch of ingredients for applesauce with a crunchy meringue cap.

Like a few other notable food finds, this one comes from the table of my host family in France. On the occasional lazy evening, my host mother would open a bottle of applesauce, set her beaters to a bowl of egg whites, and, in doing so, make her children very happy. She would spread the applesauce into a baking dish; smooth it with a sweet, pearly layer of meringue; and slide the whole snowy mess into the oven until its top was crisp and laced with fissures and fault lines. It cracked under the spoon like crème brulée, a crunch giving way to silken and soft.

One night, after a bowlful or two, I jotted the concept on a piece of paper, folded it up for safekeeping, and promptly forgot about it.

But six years later and five thousand miles away, it fell into my lap—as all the best things do—when I was looking for something else. And once flushed from hiding, it crawled free from the bars of its Clairefontaine paper and onto my kitchen counter. With a nod of gratitude to the recipe’s Gallic origins, I politely swapped the store-bought sauce for my own homemade stuff, a simple, softly tart mash of apples with a smoothing, softening slip of vanilla. Tucked beneath a blanket of meringue and sent away for a good, long bake, it came back sweet and sour, satiny inside and shatteringly crisp on top, at once old and new, a little retro, rustic-chic. Something tells me that I might have to hide it from myself, just for safety’s sake.

Vanilla Applesauce with a Crunchy Meringue Cap

Store-bought is alright, but by my watch, the time has come for a revival of good, old-fashioned, homemade applesauce. Not only is it remarkably easy and quick to make, but it has a lively, full-mouthed flavor that the vacuum-sealed stuff—even organic brands—can never match. And with a cap of sweet meringue and a couple of hours in the oven, it makes for a surprisingly sophisticated dessert. Should there be any leftovers, seal them airtight and tuck them into the refrigerator: although the meringue will soften to a more spongy texture, it still tastes delicious for a day or so.

For applesauce:
3 pounds apples, preferably a mixture of Granny Smith and Golden Delicious, peeled, cored, and cut into ½-inch-thick slices
½ cup good-quality apple juice or cider
1 Tbs fresh lemon juice
Scant ½ cup granulated sugar
½ tsp pure vanilla extract

For meringue:
½ cup egg whites (about 4 large whites)
A pinch of salt
1 cup granulated sugar

In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, combine the apples, apple juice, and lemon juice. Cover the pan, place it over low heat, and bring the mixture to a simmer. Cook, stirring often, until the apples are tender and beginning to fall apart, about 20 minutes. Stir in the sugar, and cook until it dissolves, stirring, about 1 minute. Remove the pan from the heat, and using an immersion blender, puree the mixture to a smooth sauce. Stir in the vanilla extract; then set the applesauce aside while you prepare the meringue.

Preheat the oven to 225 degrees Fahrenheit.

Pour the egg whites into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment—or, alternatively, a medium mixing bowl. Add the salt. Beat the egg whites at medium speed until they are opaque and loosely foamy. Increase the mixer speed to high, and add the sugar in a very slow, very gradual stream; do not rush. Beat until the meringue is glossy and bright white and holds very silky peaks.

Spoon and scrape the applesauce into a baking dish or several individual-size baking dishes; I like to use a 2-quart Pyrex bowl or about 10 ½-cup ramekins. [You may have a tad bit of meringue left over.] Using a rubber spatula, scoop the meringue on top of the applesauce, and gently coax it evenly to the edges of the dish. Slide the dish or dishes into the oven, and bake for about 1 hour and 45 minutes, or until the meringue is firm and feels crisp and dry to the touch. Cool slightly. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Note: The applesauce can be made up to three days before finishing with the meringue.

Yield: 6-8 servings


Anonymous Anonymous said...

D'ya know what other finds are fantastic? The posts you come across at unearthly hours because you're still awake wrapping up loose ends at work before a big ole move. Mmmmm! If only this recipe wouldn't keep me up till dawn this morning -- I wouldn't blink a (very weary) eye at giving it a whirl. Sometime this week then!


12:24 AM, February 21, 2006  
Anonymous Luisa said...

What luck! Just this weekend I was making a lame little pot of applesauce, wishing I had a perfect recipe to turn to, something to make it special. Lo and behold, your post this morning. Perfect! This looks so delicious. I love the "rustic-chic" moniker, too.

7:44 AM, February 21, 2006  
Anonymous sher said...

I think that is genius, so elegant looking! I can almost taste it. And you did a very good job putting on the meringue. I swear, mine would not look that pretty.

8:56 AM, February 21, 2006  
Blogger kickpleat said...

this is pure simplicity! i haven't made applesauce in years and i can only imagine what it would taste like topped with a perfect meringue! excellent idea and a comforting way to delve into the past.

9:06 AM, February 21, 2006  
Blogger Pille said...

Looks elegant and sounds delicious! Definitely a recipe to keep in mind next time I'm entertaining and/or have some eggwhites waiting to be used up! Thanks for sharing, Molly!

9:21 AM, February 21, 2006  
Blogger nosheteria said...

They're like darling, fruity cupcakes (minus the cake of course). These look so simple and delicious. Yum.

9:29 AM, February 21, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Instead of vanilla, try adding 1-2 T of Calvados to the applesauce just a few minutes before you take it off the heat. Then, serve some Calvados along with the dessert.

10:36 AM, February 21, 2006  
Anonymous Liza said...

God, I wonder who your host mother was. I hope your readers are not going to think that all French mothers are that way. My own mother, who was a terrible cook, would never have come up with anything so appétissant. Lucky you ! — I'm making this ASAP.

11:57 AM, February 21, 2006  
Blogger michelle said...

What a wonderful idea - I never would have imagined putting meringue on applesauce! I full-heartedly support a re-birth of homemade applesauce; remembrances of fall on the farm back home, full of nostalgia. I love making my own too, just like mom used to make. And btw - I just have to say: you are SO cute - I loved the stewy post and your descriptions of a proper repertoir to have for marriage (and what us sissies do with big meat)! Lots of good laughs here!

12:44 PM, February 21, 2006  
Blogger Kitchen Queen said...

I've been making my own applesauce and apple butter for years, and I agree with your call for a revival. Thank you for sharing this recipe, it looks divine!

1:43 PM, February 21, 2006  
Anonymous GoobernGrape said...

totally gilding the lily with this one.

i love vanilla like crazy.
a rare part of a rare flower from far away places. it’s warm, spicy, floral. it works with different fruits. and also vegetables like your vanilla-squash soup from last fall-- a top notch cold-weather recipe.

seems like vanilla, as ingredient or subject, has come up a lot lately.

what if the applesauce meringue was made with vanilla sugar?

10:57 PM, February 21, 2006  
Blogger lucette said...

My mother always made her own applesauce (although she served frozen and canned vegetables--who can figure?) and I've followed her habit. Never thought of merinque though--brilliant.
Note--you can use unpeeled apples if you have a food mill (I have my mother's, which is certainly vintage by now, if not an antique). If you use reddish apples, the unpeeled peel makes the applesauce beautifully pink.

8:02 AM, February 22, 2006  
Blogger Zoubida said...

OMG this is the perfect dessert. Apple sauce and meringue together... It can go at the end of a week-day meal or for the finale of an entertainment one, like those nice dresses you can wear at the office all day and just keep on to attend a cocktail party in the evening.
I too am jaleous of your Chanel find. Sigh... This color would suit my skin tone and hair color perfectly!
Next time you stop at a Chanel counter, I recommend you try my "winter time absolute favorite lipstick" which is "Russet Moon" and my favorite one when I want to feel vamp "Rouge Noir".
Thank you for the great recipe.

9:33 AM, February 22, 2006  
Blogger Sara said...

Looks fantastic! I will have to make this. The perfect combination of elegance and comfort. Mmmm...

11:50 AM, February 22, 2006  
Blogger Nic said...

Delicious and simple - I love it, Molly. And I think I, too, might have a shade of that lipcolor lurking in the back of my medicine cabinet. Oh dear....

7:09 AM, February 23, 2006  
Anonymous keiko said...

Fantastic photos and lovely post, Molly! When I saw the first picture I thought it was vanilla ice-cream, it looks really delicious, thank you for sharing.

6:45 AM, February 24, 2006  
Blogger Molly said...

Lisa, quelle surprise to see (or rather, read) you here! I thought you were long gone, off into the wild blue yonder. Unearthly hours at work or no, I hope you've managed to squeeze in a few spoonfuls of applesauce this week...

Luisa, I love a plain pot of applesauce, but with a little shot of vanilla, it's something else entirely - and definitely qualifies as "special." And "rustic-chic" too, of course!

Sher, you'd be surprised. The sugary meringue is so soft and silky that it looks pretty without much human intervention at all. I swear.

Kickpleat, we all owe a great debt of gratitude to my host mother. This is - dare I use the old hackneyed cliche? - a match made in heaven, or at least somewhere near there.

Pille, it's my pleasure! And yes, this would be wonderful for entertaining, served in sweet little individual ramekins...

Nosheteria, you're right! Baked in a small ramekin, it does look a bit like a cupcake.

What an inspired idea, Anonymous! Calvados would be delicious here. Talk about a "kid food" made sophisticated! Something tells me I'll be heading to the liquor store soon.

Liza, my host mother was really a wonder in the kitchen. Although I didn't know it at the time, in retrospect, I can't even begin to count the ways in which her cooking and her table have influenced me. J'etais chanceuse, I know.

Awww, michelle, thank you! Amen for the rebirth of homemade applesauce, and for cuteness and all that stuff too.

Kitchen Queen, you're a wise woman. The revival is underway!

GooberNGrape, it sounds like a vanilla sugar experiment is in order. I think it could be a winner, although I do love the subtle vanilla flavor in the apples alone. In the mouth, the meringue sort of melts into the applesauce, anyway, so that their flavors meld and mingle together. Hmmm. It's a tough call! There's only one way to find out...

Thank you for the tip, Lucette, on unpeeled apples. A rosy applesauce would be beautiful under white meringue! Why, oh why, do I not (yet) own a food mill? I must, I must, I must.

Zoubida, I love that: applesauce with meringue as the "little black dress" of desserts! I always thought of a good chocolate cake that way, but among fruit-based sweets, this might well be the one. And thank you for the Chanel lipstick tips. "Vamp" had its place in my collection, but "Rouge Noir" might be next.

Sara, I hope you do give it a go. The Silver Spoon is plenty to keep you busy, I'm sure, but a little hop and skip from Italy over to France couldn't hurt, just for one meal...

Nic, it sounds as though it's time to clean out that medicine cabinet! Don't get rid of your "Vamp," though - I mean, every girl needs some crazy-dark lipstick every now and then, right? Right?

Thank you, keiko. With your photography and pastry skills, I'm sure you could work wonders with a few apples and some meringue...

3:52 PM, February 24, 2006  
Blogger Gourmetish said...

What a fascinating concept. I love meringue but I honestly can't mentally "taste" that combination. Guess that means I'll have to try it myself. Thanks for the great recipe! I'm guessing it wouldn't taste all that great with store-bought applesauce. Do you agree?

6:15 PM, February 24, 2006  
Blogger David said...

I want a 'host mother', especially if she's going to make me desserts like that.

7:36 AM, February 26, 2006  
Blogger karina said...

What a dreamy post. And my - you do have a way with meringue!

12:54 PM, February 27, 2006  
Blogger Molly said...

Gourmetish, I know - it may sound like an unusual combination of flavors, but applesauce and meringue work together like a dream. Give it a go! Oh, and as for store-bought applesauce, it works quite deliciously. Not quite as good, but good nonetheless. Just make sure that you buy an applesauce whose flavor you really love. It should be bright, sweet-tart, and of course, wonderfully appley. But if you have thirty minutes to spare, it's worth it to whip up a batch of the homemade stuff. Really.

David, if I hadn't fallen out of touch with mine, I'd lend her to you. Désolé...

And thank you, karina!

1:39 PM, February 27, 2006  
Blogger cyn the win said...

I just made some chunky applesauce the other day for pork chops and as I ate this lovely combo of sweet and savory I promised myself I would make applesauce more often. Now I have an excuse. Thanks!

5:58 PM, February 28, 2006  
Blogger Molly said...

Ah, apples and pork: a proverbial match made in heaven! Good thinking, cyn. And now, on to dessert...

12:48 PM, March 02, 2006  
Anonymous Gregg said...

What a great recipe!
I was looking at your blog the other day and I thought this looked like a great dessert that I could use after a heavy main course. So I tried it on the weekend and it was a total hit - thanks!

2:28 PM, March 05, 2006  
Blogger Urban Eden 1111 said...

I was spellbound by the lush promise of this recipe, but it left me obsessive about the beauty secrets of pretty meringue. My attempt became cracked, golden, interesting...and then promptly deflated when it began to cool. Sans presentation, my guy loved it! We Ohhed and aaahed between warm spoonfulls cooled inside softened vanilla ice cream.

9:38 AM, March 06, 2006  
Anonymous GoobernGrape said...

gilding the lily, pt II.
always behind,
last week i finally tried the applesauce and meringue both with vanilla sugar. it made the applesauce just about as delicious as i could imagine.
the meringue was good too, like poor man's marshmallows. the cap was nice and crunchy, but because i probably piped the merinque too thick, the stuff on the inside was soft and very marshmallowy-- almost too rich for the applesauce. interesting experiment though.
next time, im going to drape a small square of puff dough over the top of the ramekins instead-- poor man's apple pie?

8:18 PM, March 06, 2006  
Blogger Molly said...

Gregg, you're very welcome! I'm always happy to provide dessert, even from a distance.

Deanna, hmm, I'm not sure why your meringue deflated - where is my kitchen scientist when I need one? - but I'm glad that you persevered at the table! I think it's an ooher and an aaher too.

GooberNGrape, you do not disappoint. And your poor man's apple pie? I can hardly wait for the next installment! In the meantime, I'd better get myself some vanilla sugar...

10:43 PM, March 06, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

molly, i've never made meringue before, should it be stiff enough to hold the peaks? frothy? should it have peaks that dissolve?

5:55 PM, March 16, 2006  
Blogger Molly said...

Anonymous, meringue is really pretty easy. The most important thing in this case is to add the sugar very slowly and gradually - otherwise, the meringue gets very heavy and won't ever reach the right texture. For this recipe, you'll know that your meringue is ready when it is a bright, opaque white; looks quite glossy and silky under the light; and holds peaks that curl over lightly at their tips. This photo is a pretty good guide: click. The meringue should not look dry or at all Styrofoam-y; if it does, you may have beaten it for too long.

I hope this helps at least a little! Be not afraid, and you'll be surprised by how easy it is.

1:48 PM, March 18, 2006  
Anonymous Michelle said...

I am making this right now!!!With homemade applesauce. Meringue topped desserts are the best!

2:43 PM, January 28, 2011  

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