Monday, October 25

Ode to Calvados

Fern Glen Inn •

Autumn is a season to inspire poetry. In all times and all places, poets have been moved to capture the colour and beauty of the foliage in verse. Outdoor splendour aside, it's the flavours of fall that make me want to sing praises and put rhymes to rhythm.

The rich, deep flavours of late-harvest fruits and vegetables could fill stanzas, not just farm stands. Sonnets could be written about apples, which, when cooked until tender and mellow, are perfectly set against the brisk autumn weather. Odes could be penned to one of my favourite flavours of fall: Calvados.

In basic terms, Calvados is an apple brandy. It's a distilled spirit (or eau de vie) made from apple cider—which itself has been made from over 100 varieties of apples—and aged in oak casks, produced in Normandy, France, since 1825. Honey-coloured in the glass, velvety smooth over the tongue, warm in the belly, Calvados is best experienced in this golden season. The aroma is heady, earthy, intoxicating, apple. It is autumn in a bottle. 

Cooking with Calvados
Calvados is rather dearly priced—and worth every penny!—so use it where the flavour can really shine through, prepared with few other ingredients so as not to muddy the taste. While spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger go beautifully with the apple essence of Calvados, use a light hand as they can easily overpower the subtle nuances of the brandy. 

A splash of Calvados takes any kind of apple dish to new heights. But it's more versatile than just that. Some ways to use to use Calvados: 
  • Add it to custards when making creme brulée, creme caramel, or ice cream.
  • Spike whipped cream, creme anglaise or pastry cream to serve with apple, pumpkin or ginger desserts.
  • Stir into a pot of simmering diced apples to make a grown-up version of applesauce.
  • Add to fall fruit condiments such as apple chutney or cranberry relish.
  • Use it to deglaze your pan after searing pork tenderloin or chops, add minced shallots and heavy cream to make a delicious pan sauce for your pork.
  • Simmer a splash while sweating the aromatics when making a pot of butternut squash soup.
  • Serve it as a drink neat, over ice or mixed with tonic water, or in an apple martini.

Calvados-Glazed Apples
Few ingredients and simple preparation highlight the Calvados. Measurements are approximate. Use more or less sugar depending on the sweetness of the apples. Use more Calvados for a stronger brandy taste. I use white sugar for it's neutral sweetness instead of a molasses-toned brown sugar.
If you don't have Calvados use brandy, cognac or rum.

2 large apples*
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 to 4 tablespoons Calvados, or to taste

Peel, core and quarter the apples. Slice into 1/2" thick wedges. Heat a 10" skillet over medium-high heat. Add the butter and swirl to melt. Add the apples, stirring to coat with butter, then sprinkle the sugar over top. Leave the apples undisturbed for a minute or two so they can take on a bit of colour. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until the apples are tender but holding their shape, about 5 minutes. 
Take the pan off the heat and add the Calvados. If the apples have released a lot of juice, add just 2 tablespoons; if the apples are quite dry, you can add up to 4 tablespoons of Calvados. Return to the heat and stir until heated through and the apples are glazed and syrupy. 
Remove from heat and serve immediately. Apples can also be cooled and stored, covered, in the fridge for a day. Reheat in the microwave before serving.

* I used one Gala and one Granny Smith but you can use just one type for a single note of apple flavour. Be sure to use varieties that hold their shape or you'll end up with applesauce. Northern Spy, Empire, and Crispin are good choices.

Serving Suggestions for Calvados-Glazed Apples
  • Serve over ice cream (vanilla or butterscotch ripple), pound cake or gingerbread. 
  • Roll inside crepes. 
  • Top with crumbled amoretti biscuits and Calvados-Spiked Whipped Cream. 
  • Use with puff pastry to make simple tarts and galettes. 
  • For an autumn riff on strawberry shortcakes, split sweet flaky biscuits (add cinnamon to the dough if making from scratch) and fill with the apples and spiked whipped cream. 
  • Make Apple Clafouti (recipe below).

Apple Clafouti
What could be a better match for French apple brandy than this classic French dessert? Clafouti is a creamy, thick-set custard baked with fruit. It's traditionally made with cherries, but glazed apple slices are the perfect autumn twist.
This is an easy dish to make, but it needs a bit of advance planning. The batter needs to rest for at least an hour before baking, or it can be prepared a day in advance. Serves 6.

3 eggs
1 egg yolk
1/3 cup sugar
pinch salt
1/2 cup flour
3/4 cup milk
2 tablespoons heavy cream
2 tablespoons Calvados (or brandy, cognac or rum)
butter for the baking dish
1 recipe prepared Calvados-Glazed Apples
icing sugar for dusting

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, yolk, sugar and salt. Whisk in the flour. Slowly add the milk, whisking, then the cream and Calvados. The batter should be smooth and lump-free. Another method is to prepare the batter in a blender. Add all ingredients to the blender and process until smooth. Allow the batter to rest, covered and refrigerated, for at least an hour or up to 12 hours.

Remove the batter from the fridge. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9" round deep pie dish (or an 8" square by 2" high ceramic or glass baking dish). Prepare the Calvados-Glazed Apples according to the recipe above, then set aside.
With a rubber spatula, gently stir the batter to recombine it. Pour it into the buttered dish. Using a slotted spoon, distribute the apples over the batter—they'll sink and float as it's a runny batter; that's fine. Reserve any syrup from the apples in the skillet.
Bake the clafouti until puffed and golden and a knife inserted in the centre comes out clean, about 35 minutes.
Brush or drizzle the reserved syrup over the clafouti. If the syrup has thickened too much, warm it gently along with a splash of Calvados.
Dust with icing sugar and slice into six wedges. Serve warm, with Calvados-Spiked Whipped Cream if desired. Reheat any leftovers in the microwave and top with a ladleful of hot oatmeal for rich breakfast.

Calvados-Spiked Whipped Cream
1 cup whipping cream, chilled
1 tablespoon icing sugar
1 tablespoon Calvados

Using chilled beaters and a chilled bowl, beat or whip all the ingredients together until the cream holds soft peaks.

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