Monday, January 8, 2018

Baking Apple Crisp in a Woodburning Cookstove

As the new year begins and much of the nation is experiencing cold weather--and since some people have undoubtedly received new wood cookstoves for Christmas :)--I thought there might be quite a few people who are learning how to bake in their wood cookstoves right now.

If you are new to baking in a woodburning cookstove, there are two different treats that I would suggest baking first to get a feel for how your oven works.  The first would be a batch of cookies.  The reason I suggest cookies is because you will be able to determine where your oven's hot spots are by examining the various doneness of the cookies on each sheet.  You can also determine if the bottom of the oven is cooler or hotter than the top by noting whether each individual cookie is cooked evenly on its top or bottom.  Obviously, you should not bake chocolate cookies for this test because you will not be able to see the browning sufficiently to learn anything.

Baking cookies will help you to figure out whether you will need to rotate foods midway through their baking time to ensure even cooking and browning.

Of course, you may discover, as I did, that your oven bakes very evenly.  If so, all the better!

This was the first sheet of cookies baked in the
Margin Gem back in 2012.  You can see that
they are very evenly browned.  Hmm--I wonder
where those missing three cookies went!
The second thing I would suggest baking is an apple crisp.  The reason I would suggest this particular dish is because it is very forgiving of uneven oven temperatures, so you will be able to practice maintaining an even oven temperature without having to worry about ruining your finished product.  (One time, I baked an apple crisp in a Dutch oven using coals from a wiener roast fire.  It had been years since I had baked in this manner, and I got a little over-zealous with the coals.  I pretty much burned the apple crisp, but my sister carefully scraped the top off and ate it anyway, declaring that it was still good.)

1. As always, the first thing to do is build your fire in such a way that you will have a moderate oven when you are ready to bake your apple crisp.

2. Choose your baking dish and butter the bottom and sides.  If I am using purchased butter, I like to just unwrap one end of the stick of butter that I will be using in the topping and rub it on the pan.  This way, I save unwrapping an extra stick of butter just for greasing the dish, and I don't get my fingers messy, either.  When we are milking, this is also a great recipe for using homemade butter.

A word about choosing your dish: I like to use a glass or ceramic baking dish for apple crisp due to the fact that the acid in the apples will not react with it, thus increasing the shelf-life of the finished product.  If you are new to baking apple crisp, I would suggest using a clear glass pan if you have one because it will allow you to easily see how the apples are cooking.

3. Next, make your topping.  The recipe that I use is for either a 9 x 9 or 7 x 11 inch pan.  (Double this for a 9 x 13.)

1/2 cup butter
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar

You can vary this in lots of different ways:  

a) You can use stick margarine if you prefer, but I never think it is as good.
b) Instead of 1 cup of all-purpose flour, use 1/2 cup whole wheat flour and a 1/2 cup all-purpose.
c) Instead of 1 cup of all-purpose flour, use 1/2 cup oatmeal and a 1/2 cup flour.
d) Instead of 1 cup of white sugar, use 1/2 cup brown sugar and a 1/2 cup white sugar.

This could go on forever, but you get the idea.  Keep the same proportions, just vary the ingredients to suit your taste.

Cut the butter into the sugar and flour until well blended and crumbly.  I like to use a pastry blender for this, but I've seen my grandma just use her fingers.

The prepared apple crips topping.  This was a combination of
whole wheat flour, oatmeal, and brown sugar.  It was quite good.
4. Now you are ready to peel, core, and slice the apples.  Since we always do this with homegrown apples of various size and quality, I couldn't give you a certain number of apples to use.  Just cut up enough apples to fill your dish 2/3 to 3/4 of the way to the top.  Use whatever apples you like to bake with.  My preference is the Jonathans that grow in the southeast corner of our orchard.  They are firm fleshed and have a flavor that is second to none.

5. This step is optional.  I like to spread just a little bit of white or brown sugar over the apples.  I do this because the sugar draws the juice out of the apples and causes them to cook better.  I don't put so much sugar on them that I notice a difference in the flavor.  My mom has baked hundreds of very delicious apple crisps and does not do this, however.  My grandma would sprinkle a little cinnamon on the apples at this time, too.  Sometimes I do, and sometimes I don't.

6. Spread the topping crumbs on top of the apples.

The assembled apple crips ready to go in the oven.
7. Slide the assembled apple crisp into a moderate oven.

The apple crisp in the oven of the Margin Gem cookstove.
8. Bake as long as you like.  I've seen recipes that say as little as 35 minutes, but I like my apples to be thoroughly cooked, so I generally leave it in for at least 50 minutes.  Of course, as in all baking in a wood cookstove, you have to watch the food and the oven temperature and adjust baking times accordingly.  I suggested a clear glass pan above because I don't think an apple crisp is any good until the apples are bubbling quite a bit.  You can see that I didn't use a clear pan to bake the crisp in the picture, though.

9. When done, remove from the oven and cool for a little while before serving warm with whipped cream or ice cream.  You could serve it plain, but what is the fun in that?

The finished apple crisp.  I think this one is a little too dark on top,
but it tasted very good anyway.
There you have it.  You'd have to work pretty hard to ruin this one badly enough that you couldn't eat it, and you'll have the rewarding experience of pulling a delicious dessert out of the oven of your wood cookstove.  Enjoy!

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