Though France has its share of elaborate and technically demanding desserts, every small bistro where the chef is also the pastry chef
tends to serve simple desserts that are easy to execute. Usually that means a chocolate mousse, crepes, a Floating Island (poached meringue with custard sauce, garnished with garish pink candied almonds) and some kind of simple fruit dessert.
When I worked at a bistro in Paris, the pastry chef, a Basque who fancied himself an American-style biker (he was too poor to afford a Harley, but he had a scary-looking leather jacket decorated with chains) showed me this simple apple dessert.
You peel the apples, slice them thinly, sprinkle them with sugar and brush them with butter, bake them, then caramelize them with a blowtorch. Then you garnish the apples with caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream.
A few notes:
When you're making caramel, there are a few things you don't want to do. Don't stick your finger in the sauce while it's cooking to see if it tastes right. Don't stick your face too close to the pot, especially when you add the cream, which will sputter violently.
If you burn the caramel, add water to the pot, then bring it to a boil to dissolve the burnt bits that stick to the side of the pot. Otherwise, you will spend hours trying to scrape the pot clean.
Also, don't skip the salt in the caramel sauce. It adds another dimension to the caramel and to the dessert.
Roasted Apples with Cinnamon Caramel and Vanilla Ice Cream
Recipe serves 4.
2 Golden Delicious Apples, peeled, halved and cored
2 tablespoons superfine sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Raw sugar for caramelizing
Cinnamon Caramel Sauce (recipe follows)
1 pint good-quality vanilla ice cream
CINNAMON CARAMEL SAUCE
½ cup granulated sugar
4 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon corn syrup
1 cinnamon stick, cut in half
¼ cup heavy cream
Place the sugar, water, corn syrup, and cinnamon stick in a small sauce pan and gently stir together. Cover the sauce pan with a clear lid and cook over high heat. Keep a pastry brush dipped in water next to the pot and brush down the sides of the pot every once in a while (this will keep the caramel from crystallizing).
When the edges of the caramel sauce begin to turn golden, start swirling this sauce. Once the caramel turns a deep and amber color and a steam comes off the sauce, add the cream. It will spatter violently, so stand back. Cook caramel until the cream dissolves. Add a pinch of salt. Remove cinnamon sticks. Keep warm.
TO COOK THE APPLES
Preheat oven to 300. Place the apple halves cut-side down on a cutting board. With a sharp knife, slice halves thinly. Carefully transfer apples to a buttered baking sheet, fanning them out neatly and evenly. Brush with melted butter; sprinkle with sugar. Bake for about 20 minutes until tender but not colored. Set aside.
To assemble, reheat apples in the oven for about four minutes. Divide among 4 plates. Sprinkle raw sugar over the apples and caramelize with a blow torch. Top with ice cream and drizzle with warm caramel. Serve immediately.