Monday, February 27, 2012

Flaming apples with dates

Flaming food brings out the middle brow philistine in everyone.  I remember being mesmerized by a picture in the World Book Encyclopedia of the Pump Room in Chicago, which used to flame just about everything.  I also recall the classic Peter Cook and Dudley Moore skit, the Frog and the Peach, where the most revolting food was served flamed in boiling Cointreau.  It is an easy way to impress your guests, but it also has legitimate culinary functions.  Flaming is a quick way of burning off excess alcohol that can give food (as opposed to drink an unpleasant taste, and in dishes made with sauteed meats, it is a very efficient way of deglazing the pan.  But, mostly, it is just cool.

A few weeks ago we ran into two friends at a jazz concert near our house.  They gave us a ride home and we asked them in for dessert.  We didn't have much in the house, sothis is what we made:

Flaming apples and dates:

  • 1 tablespoon butter (substitute neutral vegetable oil or margarine for a pareve dessert)
  • 4 apples peeled, cored and sliced lengthwise
  • 5-10 pitted dates
  • 1 tablespoon date honey or brown sugar
  • Cinnamon -- about 1/4 teaspoon
  • 2 tablespoons ice cider 
  • 1/4 cup Calvados, apple jack or rum
  • Vanilla ice cream or coconut sorbet to serve
  • Heat butter in a medium skillet.
  • Add apples and saute on medium high heat until they begin to brown and are tender but not falling apart.
  • Add dates and saute a minute more, stirring.
  • Add the sweetener, cinnamon and ice cider and bring to the boil.
  • Put all but one tablespoon of the calvados in the skillet, and put the remainder in a LONG HANDLED metal spoon.  Touch the metal spoon with the liquor to the flame of your stove, and it will ignite.  (Do not hover while you do this.  The smell of burnt hair is not pleasant.)  Pour it into your skillet, and the entire skillet should flame up.  It should die down fairly quickly, but keep a cover nearby in case it doesn't -- covering it will extinguish the flame.  Stir the contents of the skillet around, and serve.  For full dramatic effect, shut the lights when you flame the dish. 
  • Serve at once over ice cream or sorbet to 4.

The apples:  More than the liquor, this is the key to the dish.  I used a combination of Golden Russets and Crispins.  The best choice are flavorful apples that will hold their shape.  Farmers' markets have a much wider variety of apples than most supermarkets.  You can always use Granny Smiths as a backup though I find that they take a long time to get tender and their flavor is too unidimensional.

The liquor:  Ice cider is roughly the equivalent of ice wine, a sweet relatively low alcohol dessert beverage, but it is made from cider apples rather than grapes.  It is a relatively new product, and was developed in Quebec in the past twenty years.  It is a nice end to a meal, and goes especially well with cheeses and apple desserts.  We happened to have a bottle open so we used some.  If you do not have any, you could use a little regular cider or apple juice.  For flaming, the hard liquor is the key.  An apple brandy, whether calvados or applejack is ideal.  We used Michel Jodoin's wonderful Brandy des Pommes from Quebec.   (I am surprised that the word brandy survived the provincial language police.)  You could substitute rum or cognac if you don't have an apple brandy. 

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