Even though Spring Festival has already been celebrated by Asian people more than a week ago, and the weather turns sunny again here too, it is quite an autumnal recipe I’m proposing you this time. It forms a surprising completion to my Valentine’s day menu ! When I saw this recipe in the last number of my favourite food magazine, I immediately new I would share it here. These are apples that were first baked without any flavoring, then finished cooking in a pot with the help of a smoking mix made of tea, sawdust and spices. This is already my third recipe with tea, as I recently got passionate about discovering the culinary uses of this versatile ingredient. This one is however quite different from the two first (the latter not yet in English) ones : it is using black tea instead of green tea, there isn’t any tea flavour, and it is a dessert. But it’s really unusual as a sweet dish, almost savoury at the same time, as we are used to eat only salty foods prepared this way. Though I knew about smoking foods with tea, I would never have thought by myself of applying this method to a fruit. Yet it is interesting ! It’s both rustic (making you feel as if you were warming up near to an old-style stove, in a small mountain chalet surrounded by snow…) and somehow sophisticated. Regarding the taste, well… it has not become my favourite dessert but it has the advantage of emphasizing the apples’ fruity and slightly tart taste and to be quite light if you do not overflow it with sugary toppings.
However, I made some changes in the original recipe, first because I do not own beech sawdust. I had the idea to substitute it with grated liquorice root that I had on hand, which aside from being aromatic, is no less than a kind of wood… I know nothing about the availability of liquorice root in the other countries, but here in France it is sold in confectioneries or in some bakeries ; anyway, I bet it is available on online groceries. But if beech sawdust is more convenient to find for you, don’t hesitate to use it, and at worst, leave both out.
To increase the aroma of the whole, I also added the spices right in the smoking mix instead of putting them in the whipped cream served with the apples in the original recipe. By the way, instead of serving it with this allspice flavoured cream and pistachio slivers, I did it with either brown sugar or a chocolate sauce (a great idea of my almost-hubby, who missed his traditional baked apples, that he likes eating with chocolate). With the latter, I had the idea of adding on top some roughly chopped walnuts to accentuate the autumnal character of this dish. I’m sure you may find some others associations of flavours, adjusting them to your liking : gingerbread, ground spices, cinnamon and sugar, or even flavoured whipping cream if you like it. Likewise, the ordinary English « Breakfast Tea » that I used might be substituted with a tea blend of your choice, and the spices removed or replaced with other ones like star anise or cardamom (ground). You may also consider the idea of adding sugar (cane sugar, 3 tbsp) to the smoking mix, what I’ll surely do next time, wondering if it does or not add a slightly caramelised taste to the apples.
Ingredients (serves 2 to 6) :
- 3 apple, around 250-300g each (Belle de Boskoop variety, or ask your greengrocer or market gardener the best available variety for baked apples)
- 3 tbsp black tea (for me, a simple English « Breakfast Tea »)
- 2 tbsp liquorice root, grated with the smallest-sized grating slots
- 1 tsp allspice (you can make your own by mixing 1/2 tsp powdered ginger, 1/3 ground nutmeg, 1 tsp ground cinnamon and 3-4 ground cloves)
- dressing : 1 tbsp brown sugar per apple or for a chocolate sauce : 100g chocolate, 50g unsalted butter and 3 tbsp icing sugar, plus a handful of walnuts
Wash, pat dry and halve the apples. Place them in a roasting pan, cut face upwards, and bake for 45 minutes (about 30 for smaller apples, like Russet apples) in a 150°C preheated oven. They should be cooked through, but not too tender.
Meanwhile, prepare the smoking mix by combining together the tea, the liquorice and the allspice. Place 2 sheets of silver foil on top of each other and put them in a small bowl, then pour the mixed tea and spices into the bowl-shaped foil. Fold the rim of the foil sheets in order to make the whole more easy to handle.
Put the bowl-shaped foil at the bottom of a big pot (you may also line the bottom of the pot with foil and pour in the mixed tea and spices if it’s more convenient for you), then place over it a fitting grid, such as a wire rack or a frying basket in/over which you could put the apples, leaving room enough for putting the lid on. Some woks with a rouded lid and grid would be fine, as well as a steamer basket with its lid on, if you don’t mind it to get a smoky smell. I was lucky to have an unused frying basket that fitted my biggest pot and which height I could raise thanks to its handles turned-over (see the photos).
Once the apples are finished cooking, place them on the grid or in the basket, put the lid on and place over high heat. As it starts smoking, adjust the heat on low and let it as it is 35 minutes. Don’t forget to air the kitchen, or to use a range hood if need be. At the end, the apples will turn a light brown and look somewhat shrivelled up, as in the picture below. They should then be tender too, as stewed apples. I know they aren’t æsthetically appealing, but don’t judge a book by its cover…
If you’d like a chocolate sauce, start making it about 10 minutes before the end of the smoking process. Combine chocolate and butter in a small saucepan and melt them over low heat. Add in the sugar and whisk until it forms a smooth and bright sauce.
Dress on shallow plates, sprinkle with brown sugar or chocolate sauce and eat while still warm !