From this . . .

. . . to this, in less than an hour. Oh, and your kitchen will be filled with an amazing welcome-to-autumn scent.

By Rick Nelson

My friend said what so many have of us have probably thought but few have had the courage to admit: “I’m afraid to make pie crust,” he said.

I get that. My pie crust failure rate resides somewhere north of 50 percent. Believe me, I’ve tried all the variations: lard, butter, Crisco. A pastry cutter, a pair of knives and a food processor. Rolling out the dough between sheets of waxed paper, or with a straight-up floured rolling pin. 

About half the time the results are a thing of beauty. The other half? Send me back to the pages of "Betty Crocker's Cookbook for Boys and Girls" for a remedial tutorial.

A group of us had gathered for supper at a western Wisconsin farm, and we'd just returned from the orchard, armed with brown paper bags piled to the hilt with McIntoshes and Haralsons. That's when the conversation turned to plans for our mini-harvest, and the pie crust admission.

"So make a crisp instead," said another pal. Genius. The basic crisp formula -- peeled and cut fruit, spread in a pan and finished with some kind of flour-sugar-butter topping -- is simplicity itself and yet still manages a major apple dessert payoff. It's easily dressed up -- add cranberries or golden raisins, for example -- but it's just as good with a handful of ingredients, warm out of the oven and served with whipped cream, ice cream, or straight up. It helps that this season's local apple crop is a bumper.

Back home, I dug through my kitchen library and found two frequently-prepared recipes. The first, which I believe originated with my Auntie Susan, one of the best bakers I know, might be the easiest crisp I've ever made -- and, like many simple cooking exercises, totally delicious. While the second is a tad more complicated, its granola-like topping is worth the hassle of hauling out the food processor, tracking down the extra ingredients and dealing with the clean-up. Try both and fill your kitchen with the glorious autumn scent of apples and cinnamon.

Oh, and don't forget to share your feedback. And who knows? Next time, you might make a pie. Although when dessert is this easy, you just might not.


Serves 6 to 8.

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/2 c. granulated sugar

8 apples of mixed parentage, peeled, cored and sliced

1 c. flour

1/2 c. packed light brown sugar

1/2 c. (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, plus extra for pan


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter bottom and sides of an 8 x 8-inch baking pan. In a medium bowl, whisk together cinnamon and granulated sugar. In a large bowl, toss apples with cinnamon-sugar mixture and transfer to baking pan. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour and brown sugar. Using a pastry cutter, cut butter into flour mixture until butter resembles size of peas. Press butter mixture on top of apples and bake 55 to 60 minutes, until topping is browned and apples are tender. Remove from oven to a wire rack and serve hot, warm or at room temperature.



Serves 6 to 8. 

Note: From "How to Cook Everything" by Mark Bittman (Macmillan, $35).

6 c. peeled, cored and sliced apples

1 tsp. ground cinnamon, divided

Juice of 1/2 lemon

2/3 c. brown sugar, divided

5 tbsp. cold unsalted butter, cut into bits, plus extra for pan

1/2 c. rolled oats

1/2 c. all-purpose flour

1/4 c. shredded unsweetened coconut (optional)

1/4 c. chopped nuts (optional)


Preheat oven to 400 degrees and butter bottom and sides of an 8 x 8-inch baking pan. In a large bowl, toss apples with 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, lemon juice and 1 tablespoon brown sugar. Spread apples into prepared baking pan. In bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade, combine remaining cinnamon, remaining brown sugar, butter, oats, flour, coconut (if using) and nuts (if using) and pulse a few times, then process a few seconds more, until everything is well-incorporated but not uniform (to mix by hand, soften butter slightly, toss dry ingredients together then work in butter with your fingertips, a pastry blender or a fork). Spread topping over apples and bake 30 to 40 minutes, until topping is browned and apples are tender. Remove from oven to a wire rack and serve hot, warm or at room temperature.

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