A Dessert for a Lonely Evening

"Such a good dessert on a lonely evening," says Irma Rombauer of Apple Custard in The Joy of Cooking (my book doesn't have a publication date, but it's the volume done by Becker and Rombauer after the 1943 edition).

Not a lonely desert, but a lonely dessert. You wouldn't be too off base in the assumption that I got it wrong. Champeen speller that I am, I did misspell the word wish twice earlier today, but first, I have the excuse of a poor. addled brain, at least for a few more days, and second, it looks better that way. Reminds me of Ben and Jerry's Phish Food.

Yes, this will be a post about food. Food is a really big deal - and I promise that I'll not say this again in 2007 - especially at this time of year. No, not Christmas or Hanukkah. Winter! It's dark out there. It's cold. It's dreary. It's grey. You have to get all bundled up and stick a hat on your wet head and then you end up with weird hair and you can't find a matching pair of mittens without holes to save your life. And, oh, the thoughts of the ocean and the beach and the sun. I need to invest in a sound CD of the ocean. Now, or I won't make it through the winter.

And while I lie on the couch, imagining the whoosh of the waves and the sound of the tides coming in and out and the seagulls but watching the finale of Dancing with the Stars, I'll be eating Apple Crisp. The Apple Custard moved to the sidelines when I started thinking about my tradition of fruit crisps in fall and winter. Every year I make a double or triple recipe of the Apple Crisp topping from Chez Panisse Desserts (by Lindsey Shere). I use about a third on top of apples and pears growing tired in the fridge, and put the rest of the topping in the freezer so that we can make crisp easily and quickly on a few more winter evenings. This topping works with apples, pears, peaches, plums, almost any kind of fruit but citrus or banana. Or maybe strawberries - they might turn to mush. And you can make as little or as much as you want. As Irma Rombauer says of her Apple Custard, you can even cut the ingredients down to one-third for a single serving. Oh, lonely dessert, you need the friendship of ice cream or even milk out of the fridge, poured over while the crisp is still warm.

Here's the recipe, slightly adapted - go to the source if you want a great book on desserts, from fruits to chocolates to ice creams to the only pastry crust that I've ever mastered.

Mix 1 3/4 cup flour, 2/3 cups brown sugar, 4 teaspoons granulated sugar (add more if you like things very sweet), 1/4 tsp. cinnamon. Work in 2/3 stick of salted butter, cut into chunks, until mixture forms crumbs. Add 1/2 cup walnuts (slightly toasted and coarsely chopped).

Peel, core and slice about 6-8 pieces of fruit. You can mix fruits, or be pristine and stay loyal to just one fruit. If you're using blueberries, add a little flour to them. Place fruit in bottom of casserole or baking dish. Spoon topping over until you have a nice layer about 1/4" thick. Bake at 375 degrees for about 35-45 minutes. Check after 30 minutes. If top is browning, cover with aluminum foil and turn heat down to 350 degrees. Bake until fruit begins to bubble juice up to the topping. Let cool a bit before eating.

This is good warm for dessert, cold for breakfast, and rarely lasts in the refrigerator for more than 12 hours. Whatever topping you have left over, throw in in a covered plastic container and into the freezer until the next dark, dreary evening that calls for dessert. It's not the beach, but almost as soothing and full of promise of the future.