UTUMN will be with us in an instant, and it’s my favourite time of year for cooking. In fact, I’d say it’s probably my favourite time of year full stop.
I love it when the weather turns a little cooler, and the valley is filled with those beautiful autumnal colours: copper, caramel, orange, red and yellow.
There’s nothing like a crisp autumn day, a few clouds in a super-clear blue sky, with the Pennines resplendent in the low sun, shining like gold. For the cook, too, autumn is a great time of year.
We can now start to use up the things we made with those summertime gluts of produce.
The pickles and preserves, the bags of frozen fruit, the jams and jellies.
Picked correctly, we should have pumpkins and squash to last for a few months - remember to always leave the stalk intact and a pumpkin or butternut squash will sit happily on the shelf in a cool place until you both decide it’s time for the chopping board.
I love autumn cooking; not quite as stodgy as full winter dishes, but definitely on the heavier side, as out summer appetites fade and begin demanding something a little more substantial at dinner time. Now the barbecue’s been cleaned and put away for another year, we can start roasting again.
Pot roasts, especially, are great at this time of year – we like to do a lovely slow-cooked leg of lamb with flageolet beans and the last of the greenhouse tomatoes, for instance.
Or perhaps a kleftiko, or baked joints of chicken with yoghurt and olives with crunchy rosemary potatoes, as an edible memory of the summer.
Spices, too, start to make more of an appearance about now, so I’m using cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice a lot more in biscuits, cakes and even many savoury dishes.
Which brings us to this dish, a wonderful way of dealing with a surfeit of apples, something most people with more than a couple of trees will know all about.
As with squash, an apple, picked carefully with its stalk intact will last a good long time in the larder before you need to use it, but as the weather cools, the idea of a hot dessert starts to appeal, and this Normandy speciality is a lovely way to present the fruits of one’s orchard.
A douillon or, technically if one is using an apple, bourdelot, is a pipped fruit, often stuffed with dried fruit, or simply sugar and butter, and baked in a shell of puff pastry. It has the feel of an apple pie or turnover, combining those brilliant flavours and textures of hot apple and flaky, buttery pastry to stunning effect.
Most recipes I looked at called for a raw apple to be used, but I thought that might still be a bit too tough after baking.
Instead, I thought I’d poach the apples in a dark caramel syrup before sealing them into their pastry coats, and it worked wonderfully – the crisp sugar-crusted pastry crackles open to reveal a soft, fragrant apple which in turn releases a little puddle of buttery sauce enlivened with a little prickle of salt.
We add some fresh apple, a scoop of good vanilla ice-cream and a sauce made from a reduction of cider, and there’s a terrific dessert that lifts the humble apple into orbit.