It’s hard enough to pass up any old apple crisp recipe, even when it’s not called “The Best Apple Crisp You’ll Ever Have.” If I ever see a recipe entitled “the best [anything] you’ll ever have,” I feel compelled to make it, regardless of whether or not [anything] is something I would normally want to make. Otherwise, I would clearly be missing out. I bookmarked this recipe when I first came across it in November of 2012, and for some reason it’s taken me almost a full two years to make it – which is a shame, because it really might be the best apple crisp I’ll ever have. I hate to think how many apple crisps I’ve eaten in the past two years that weren’t this good. So many wasted calories. Don’t get me wrong – even your average apple crisp is usually pretty yummy. Apples, sugar, crumble topping, ice cream – it’s hard to go wrong. But this one has brown butter – vanilla brown butter, no less – and bourbon, which makes it pretty much spectacular.
This recipe is a bit more involved than your average crisp, but I promise you it’s worth it. The topping is crunchy and buttery and delicious – I especially loved the big chunks of almonds. I didn’t really taste a ton of vanilla, so you could probably skip that part (especially when a vanilla bean costs $10!), but it was pretty fun to scrape the seeds into the butter, and it smelled amazing. Fun tip, if you do use the vanilla beans: save the pods and use them to make vanilla extract, vanilla sugar, or vanilla salt.
Re: what type of apples to use. The recipe calls for Granny Smiths, but when I asked the guy at the farm stand (that’s right, this is literally a farm-to-table crisp) he emphatically informed me that Granny Smiths are the “styrofoam of apples,” and that I wanted to use Newtown Pippins. He didn’t have any that day, so I trekked to another farm stand where a helpful woman told me that I actually needed a mix of all different types of apples. I went a little crazy and got Newtown Pippins, Crispins (aka Mutsus), Honeycrisps, Fujis, and a couple Granny Smiths just in case (a combination of everything she recommended and everything I had read online during my quick google search between farm stands). Five varieties is probably excessive, but I found a number of articles that recommended using at least two or three. Different textures, levels of sweetness/tartness, etc. I couldn’t say for sure that it made that much difference (it could have been the brown butter or the bourbon), but the crisp was so amazing that I’m officially an apple snob now.
The peeling/coring/slicing of the apples takes awhile, although I doubled the recipe so that probably didn’t help. I used my mandoline for really thin, uniform slices, but you could easily use a knife. I loved the look of the slices once the apples baked down, but you could do bigger chunks or a dice as well. The recipe has you mix a little of the topping in with the apples before you pour everything into the pan, so there were little flecks of nuts and oats in every bite – so brilliant. Why have I never thought of this before? Sidenote: I bought this bakeware set (similar here) as a shower gift for someone last summer and then decided to keep it for myself. Probably one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, because the different sized pans are all adorable, but especially the mini one. The best apple crisp you’ll ever have, for two!
One year ago: Pumpkin Black Bean Soup and Pumpkin Bread Pudding
For the topping:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup old fashioned oats
1 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup chopped almonds
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened and cut into pieces
For the filling:
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
6 medium-sized apples, peeled, cored, and very thinly sliced (recipe recommends Granny Smith, I used Newtown Pippin, Honeycrisp, Crispin, Fuji, and Granny Smith)
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon bourbon
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Generously grease an 8×8 baking pan (or a pan of similar size).
Make topping: Toss flour, oats, brown sugar, and almonds in a large bowl until well-combined. Add in butter pieces and use your hands to squeeze and combine until the mixture becomes crumbly and resembles wet sand. (You could also use a pastry cutter here, or place all of the topping ingredients in a food processor and pulse until just blended. I usually would use my food processor, but the recipe recommends hands so I did it that way and it turned out great – and I didn’t have to clean my food processor!). Let topping chill in the refrigerator while you prepare the apples.
Make filling: Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat, and add vanilla beans (not pods). After a couple of minutes the butter will begin to crackle and foam – make sure to whisk constantly. Let butter cook for another minute or two, until it starts to turn a slight brown/caramel color on the bottom of the pan; continue to whisk and remove from heat as soon as the butter begins to give off a nutty aroma. Immediately transfer the butter to a bowl to prevent it from burning; set aside to cool.
While the butter is cooling, combine sliced apples with brown sugar, cinnamon, and bourbon in a large bowl and toss to combine. Pour the brown butter over the apple mixture and toss again until the apples are well coated.
Remove topping from fridge. Take about 1/2 cup of the topping and toss with the apples. Pour the mixture into your prepared pan and sprinkle evenly with the rest of the topping (it will seem like a lot of topping, but it’s ok).
Bake the crisp on a baking sheet (in case it bubbles over) for 55-60 minutes, or until topping is golden brown and filling is bubbling. Remove from oven and let cool for 10-15 minutes. Serve warm, ideally with vanilla ice cream.
Notes: Feel free to use different nuts instead of almonds – walnuts or pecans would be delicious – or you can leave them out entirely. If you don’t have bourbon on hand, you can replace with ½ teaspoon vanilla extract (bourbon is pretty dang good though).