The Fall season is officially in full swing and everywhere I look home cooks are wanting to cook and bake with apples. (Pumpkin, too. But, we’re talking apples today.) In fact, last week was an extremely busy week here at Wicked Good Kitchen as I have been working hard on developing and testing paleo baking recipes for my cookbook as well as creating a special pre-cooked apple pie filling for a loyal Twitter follower who must follow a very strict low-histamine and gluten-free diet.
Last week, I had strived to publish three (3) posts; one for our apple orchard visit to pick apples, this fabulous recipe and a cocktail recipe. Originally, I thought I would have my work completed for this recipe for a Thursday post so I could post the cocktail, Sparkling Apple Cider Margarita, on Friday, as part of our rotating feature, Feature Fridays, for Cocktails A-Go-Go. However, in the midst of working on this wonderful cobbler recipe, I decided to offer two (2) special toppings and photograph both as well as write a compelling and informative article to accompany it. Why? Because the filling is so incredibly special and tastes like apple pie should. Seriously. I think you will agree as you read through the article. Furthermore, I hope you will actually make our recipe for Best Ever Apple Cobbler because you will be so glad you did!
Deciding to call a recipe “best ever” takes not only courage, but an immense amount of confidence. (Please do not mistake this as being arrogant. Although there is a fine line between the two traits, I’m just a humble baker eager to share what I have learned with others.) There exists an innate desire within me to teach and I admire the “Cook’s Illustrated approach” to recipe development. Serious bakers and recipe developers strive to improve recipes from the ground up, so-to-speak, from the ingredients used to employing new, best and/or unique methods, to achieve the “ideal” (at least in our own minds!) or quintessential recipe.
As I mentioned in a previous post, reading Christopher Kimball’s first cookbook, The Cook’s Bible, back in 1996 as a new bride, changed my life. Ever have a book or cookbook you’ve read change your life? Fortunately, it has happened to me a few times—that is, a major paradigm shift. In fact, I could write a series of posts and share those books with you. However, Kimball’s book did that for me.
For the first time, I realized there was this incredibly cool way to approach recipes and write about food—that is, to set out to conquer the definitive champ for each classic recipe. Wicked concept, I tell you! As I have shared before, it was an eye opener and I soon got the “bug”. This realization convinced me that writing a cookbook would be natural for me—especially in this manner. Why, you ask? Because I enjoy “concocting” as well as a good challenge—especially with baking.
Immediately, in 1996, I started such a project—a baking cookbook. The recipes from the original manuscript, one by one, will be published right here on this blog to share with you. And, one by one, I will be creating gluten-free and/or grain-free versions of them whenever possible. There will even be dairy-free (paleo and vegan) recipes as I have recently learned I am severely allergic to dairy. (No fun.) A life without cheese? I cannot even bear the very thought of it. But, more on that later. Let’s talk about this cobbler situation.
As I mentioned in my post for Best Ever Blueberry Cobbler, bakers face challenges when baking cobblers. Recipes need not be fussy, but they should deliver. Results should not suffer from the common problems. Fortunately, those who have tried my blueberry cobbler recipe have posted rave reviews in the comments section and it just makes my day when I receive such positive feedback from readers.
Let’s revisit the common problems when making cobblers for a moment, shall we?
Per Cook’s Illustrated, Published July 1, 2002.
Best Blueberry Cobbler
“The Problem: Too often, blueberry cobbler means a filling that is sickeningly sweet, overspiced, thick, and gloppy and biscuits are undercooked or overcooked, doughy or dry.”
“The Goal: The biscuit should stand tall with structure, be crisp on the outside and light and buttery on the inside, and complement a lightly thickened, lightly sweetened and spiced filling. Most important, the cobbler has to come together easily.”
However, I would add three (3) of the most common problems specific to apple cobblers and even apple pies. 1) Often, recipes yield a very soupy, watery or overly juicy filling which is not desirable as it can cause a soggy topping. 2) Apples are sometimes sliced far too thinly and turn into mushy applesauce during or after baking and do not stand up well to the hearty biscuit toppings. 3) Fillings and toppings sometimes lack good flavor.
Well, my friends, I am excited (read: ecstatic) to share with you how to improve your apple cobbler by using two extra steps whilst employing a new technique for making the filling and selecting the very best in ingredients from the apple cultivar (variety) and ground cinnamon to a choice of two (2) toppings to not only satisfy your urge for an exceptional apple cobbler, but will actually knock your socks off!
Just as with how I pressed on to improve strawberry cobbler with our Very Berry Strawberry Cobbler, I pressed on with apple cobbler to create our recipe for Best Ever Apple Cobbler. Why? Because my friends, as I have stated before, she deserves better. She really does. Having nailed down the buttery biscuit crumble topping in my Best Ever Blueberry Cobbler recipe years ago, the goal was to create a fresh and flavorful homemade apple cobbler filling bursting forth with “classic apple pie” flavor that is both juicy and delightfully thickened with a glossy sheen.
Let’s break it down to the nitty gritty:
Apples: Honeycrisp is the ideal choice here. They are my favorite apples to eat, bake and cook with. I call them “Apple Cider Apples” because they are very juicy and packed with flavor just like apple cider as well as having a perfect balance between sweetness and tartness. Honeycrisp apples hold up well during baking which makes them especially ideal for crisps, crumbles, cobblers, pies and tarts. You will love them! I promise.
Apple Cider: Fresh apple cider is used to create a reduction and a caramelized syrup to drizzle over the apples before baking. Ever since 1990, when I spotted a phenomenally good recipe in Bon Appétit magazine, I never looked back. To this day, I use an apple cider reduction in all of my pies and tarts as well as crisps, crumbles and cobblers to “kick up” that good old-fashioned “apple pie flavor”.
Allspice: Fine-quality ground allspice is included in the filling along with ground cinnamon to lightly spice the filling so as not to overpower it. The allspice marries swimmingly with the cinnamon and Honeycrisp apples for a perfectly spiced filling. A hint of ground ginger and freshly grated whole nutmeg are reserved for one of the biscuit toppings as is nutmeg in the other.
Brown Sugar: Brown sugar is reserved solely for the topping so as not to overpower the apple flavor in the filling. One topping recipe uses it in the “cinnamon swirl” and the other provides for an option of using part light brown sugar and sugar in the crumble biscuit topping. If you are a cookie dough lover, go for using light brown sugar and granulated sugar in a 1:1 ratio, or in your favorite ratio.
Butter: Butter is used in the caramelized apple cider syrup to drizzle over the apples before baking for added richness. And, it is used in the “cinnamon swirl” for one of the biscuit toppings.
Cinnamon: Penzey’s Ground Cinnamon (4-ounce bag for about $7.99 at the time of this writing) is what you want. One whiff and taste of this cinnamon will have you swooning—let alone from how fragrant your kitchen will become when baking with it! The taste experience is phenomenal and it will delight your senses. I use it to make cocktails truly exceptional, as with our recipe for Sparkling Apple Cider Margarita in the salted rim garnish, as well as in all of my coffeecakes, muffins, other quickbreads and yeasted breads such as cinnamon rolls, sticky buns and cinnamon raisin swirl bread.
Tapioca as Thickening Agent: Tapioca (flour/starch), such as Bob’s Red Mill®, is used versus either flour or cornstarch to create a perfectly thickened filling with a clear and glossy finish while not overpowering the apples and their juices thus blunting the flavor profile. You want all the filling flavors to come shining through!
Tapioca is superior to cornstarch and flour when thickening fruit with plenty of juice. Using flour to thicken the especially light juices of apples greatly overpowers the flavor and the result is a “gluey” filling. Not good. However, tapioca creates thickened juices that are clear and glossy in appearance as well as maintains the fresh fruit flavor. To read more about thickening agents used in pies and cobblers, visit Cook’s Illustrated for the article, How to Thicken Fruit Pies, from July 1, 1995.
Methods or Techniques
Apple Cider Reduction: Creating an apple cider reduction is essential because otherwise too much liquid would be added to the recipe in addition to the naturally occurring juices in the apples which release during baking. It only takes 15 minutes to reduce apple cider and is definitely worth the effort! Just as I used fresh raspberry purée to enhance the strawberries and their juices in my recipe for Very Berry Strawberry Cobbler, the same principle holds true with the apple cider enhancing the flavor of the Honeycrisp apples for truly the “best ever” apple cobbler.
Chopping the Apples: Chopping the apples into pineapple-sized chunks, versus slicing the apples into ¼-inch slices, will prevent the filling from getting too soft and mushy like applesauce. Instead, the tender large-sized apple chunks can be pierced with a fork and enjoyed with the buttery, crunchy biscuit topping.
Macerating: Allowing the apple juices to release, or macerate, during a 30-minute to 2-hour duration, and used along with the apple cider reduction, to make a caramelized apple cider syrup, creates a scrumptious filling thickened with just the right amount of tapioca flour/starch.
Making a Caramelized Syrup: Taking the time to create a Caramelized Apple Cider Syrup, to drizzle over the chopped apples for the filling, is essential in this recipe. It only takes 15 minutes. Doing so, in addition to using a thickening agent like tapioca flour/starch, will prevent a very soupy, watery or overly juicy filling which, again, is not desirable. We are essentially “boiling away” the excess liquids for a concentrated apple flavor sensation and a desirable thickness for the filling.
Topping Recipe Components—A Choice of Two
Buttery Biscuit Crumble Topping: As I have shared in previous cobbler recipe posts, my recipe for Buttery Biscuit Crumble Topping is, “A unique cobbler topping best described as a delightful combination of pie pastry, a buttery fluffy biscuit and a rich, shortbread sugar cookie with a whisper of vanilla and a light sugar topping providing a pleasant crunch.” In other words, a flavorful topping with the perfect crumb.
Cinnamon Roll Biscuit Topping: Expounding upon the description from Epicurious.com, in my own words, this unique “cinnamon swirl” or “cinnamon roll” biscuit topping is made with whimsical pinwheel-shaped biscuits swirled with melted butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg. The crumb texture has more crunch than our Buttery Biscuit Crumble Topping and is a cross between a crunchy sugar cookie and a biscuit, with a hint of vanilla, as to flavor. Plus, there is a spicy surprise when you bite into the “cinnamon swirl”. What’s not to love?
Optional Components—Sauce Toppings
Cider-Bourbon Sauce: Strictly optional, but encouraged. (It’s bourbon we’re talkin’ about here, right?) A special Cider-Bourbon Sauce, made with fresh apple cider, butter, sugar and bourbon can easily be made to serve atop the cobbler either with or without ice cream and/or whipped cream.
Salted Caramel Sauce: Also highly recommended are either homemade Salted Caramel Sauce or Trader Joe’s Salted Caramel Sauce (if you don’t mind that there is dextrose included as an ingredient.) Apple Cobbler and Salted Caramel Sauce have a natural affinity for each other. Serve atop the cobbler with or without ice cream and/or whipped cream.
Now, we really don’t need to explain why our recipe for Best Ever Apple Cobbler is wicked good, do we? Trust us on this one here at Wicked Good Kitchen. When it comes to apple cobbler, we don’t mess around. Our Best Ever Apple Cobbler is indeed, in every sense of the words, wicked good. Make this! You will love it. We promise.
- For the Apple Cider Reduction
- 1½ cups (360 ml) fresh apple cider
- For the Buttery Biscuit Crumble Topping
- 1 cup plus 5 tablespoons (157.5 grams) all-purpose flour, such as Gold Medal®
- 6 tablespoons (75 grams) organic granulated cane sugar
- 1½ teaspoons (7.2 grams) baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon (2 grams) kosher salt
- 6 tablespoons (¾ stick or 84.75 grams) unsalted butter, chilled & cut into bits
- 1 large egg (mine weighed 52 grams w/o shell), slightly beaten
- 1 teaspoon (5 ml) pure vanilla extract, such as Nielsen-Massey®
- 1 tablespoon (12.5 grams) organic granulated cane sugar
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon, optional
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground whole nutmeg, optional
- For the “Cinnamon Roll” Biscuit Topping
- 2 cups (250 grams) all-purpose flour, such as Gold Medal®
- ¾ cup (150 grams) organic granulated cane sugar
- 2 teaspoons (10 grams) baking powder
- ½ teaspoon (4 grams) kosher salt
- ½ cup (1 stick/113 grams) chilled unsalted butter, cut into small bits
- 2/3 cup (158 ml) organic heavy cream
- 2 teaspoons (10 ml) pure vanilla extract, such as Nielsen-Massey®
- ½ cup (100 grams) packed organic light brown cane sugar
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground whole nutmeg
- 1½ tablespoons (21 grams) salted butter, melted
- For the Cider “Apple Pie” Filling
- 6 cups (3 to 3¼ pounds/1362 to 1475 grams) 4 large to 5 medium Honeycrisp apples, peeled, cored & chopped into pineapple size chunks
- ¼ cup (60 ml) apple cider reduction
- 2 teaspoons (10 ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice
- ½ cup (100 grams) organic granulated cane sugar
- ¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon ground allspice
- Pinch of kosher salt
- 1½ tablespoons (21 grams) unsalted butter
- 3 tablespoons (24 grams) tapioca flour/starch, such as Bob’s Red Mill®
- For the Optional Cider-Bourbon Sauce—Makes about 1 cup.
- 5 cups (1200 ml) fresh apple cider
- 5 tablespoons (about 70 grams) unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons (25 grams) organic granulated cane sugar
- 3 tablespoons (45 ml) bourbon, such as Blanton’s® or Maker’s Mark®
Tips:Before starting, read the recipe through entirely. Select which biscuit topping you would like to make for your apple cobbler and follow the directions for the corresponding recipe for assembly and bake times. Variation for Buttery Biscuit Crumble Topping: If desired, use part granulated sugar and part light brown sugar in a 1:1 ratio (3 tablespoons each) for a brown sugary or “cookie dough” flavor. Make Ahead & Leftover Tips: Cider reduction can be prepared up to 2 days ahead. Cover and chill until ready to use. Biscuit toppings can be prepared 1 day ahead. Keep covered and chilled in refrigerator until ready to use. Leftovers can be warmed easily in microwave oven. Serving Suggestions: Strictly optional, but encouraged. Use Cider-Bourbon Sauce (recipe above) to serve atop the cobbler—either with or without ice cream and/or whipped cream. Also highly recommended are either homemade Salted Caramel Sauce or Trader Joe’s Salted Caramel Sauce (if you don’t mind that there is dextrose included as an ingredient). For Gluten Free Options: Gluten Free Option for the Buttery Biscuit Crumble Topping: Replace 1 cup plus 5 tablespoons gluten free flour, such as Cup4Cup (about 168 grams), for the regular wheat all-purpose flour called for in recipe. Gluten Free Option for the “Cinnamon Roll” Biscuit Topping: Replace 2 cups gluten free flour, such as Cup4Cup (about 256 grams) for the regular wheat all-purpose flour called for in recipe. Recipe Source: WickedGoodKitchen.com
Cider “Apple Pie” Filling (method only): Partially adapted from Rose Levy
Beranbaum, The Pie and Pastry Bible (1998).
“Cinnamon Roll” Biscuit Recipe: Adapted from Bon Appétit, August 2002.
Cider-Bourbon Sauce Recipe: Adapted from Bon Appétit, November 1992. Copyright © Wicked Good Kitchen. All content and images are copyright protected unless otherwise stated. Please do not use my images without prior permission. If you want to republish this recipe, please re-write the recipe in your own words. Alternatively, link back to this post for the recipe.