On friday, I arrived home after a very long week of work, feeling the need to make something simple and soothing. Our produce basket was overflowing with apples, so I started to think about an upside down apple cake. Mark Bittman recently ran a recipe in the Times for a maple pear upside down cake, and it's been on my list to make, swapped out with apples. But the husband really loves apple crisp, and since he'd had a rough week too, that's what I settled on.
I always use the apple crisp recipe from Baking Illustrated and I cannot imagine finding a better one. I'm not sure what makes it so good--if it's the ratio of butter to flour, or the fact that you chill the topping before you sprinkle it over the apples and bake it. Whatever the reason, this recipe is a real winner.
Usually I use walnuts, but as I had no walnuts and plenty of almonds, the almond apple crisp was born. Then, in rummaging around for the cinnamon and nutmeg, I also discovered a little bottle of almond extract I had forgotten about. A splash seemed like it would provide a lovely perfume to the whole dessert.
The crisp turned out exactly as I hoped. The apples were soft but not mushy, and full of warmth from the spices and extract. The almonds made the topping much crunchier than it usually turned out with walnuts--and, we decided, much better. We ate it with vanilla ice cream, which I consider mandatory with fruit desserts. No matter how great a crisp, crumble, or pie is, it's guaranteed to be better with ice cream. Actually, that goes for most things.
If you do not own the Baking Illustrated cookbook, I highly recommend it. It's a cookbook for the very nerdy, containing only a handful of glossy photos and long paragraphs of explanation preceding most recipes. The writers make clear the reasoning behind all of their measurements and directions. While I don't read every word, I do read quite a bit of it, and I appreciate the great care that went into the creation of each recipe. And to date, I have yet to make recipe from the book that hasn't worked out perfectly.
But back to the crisp at hand, or at fork...
The smell of apples baking with cinnamon and nutmeg is irresistible on its own, but if you add almonds, it might just send you over the moon. The crisp was sweet, crunchy, and full of appley goodness--exactly what we needed to smooth the edges of a rough week.