If you have ever attempted the Chinese restaurant dessert of caramelized apple wedges, whereby the already-tired cook runs to the stove, batters and deep-fries the apples, simultaneously caramelizes the sugar, coats the apples, prepares ice water, and sprints to the table before the apples cool and the water warms, then you will doubly appreciate this luxurious, leisurely alternative. It is the recipe of my French-cooking friend,
Peel the apples, halve them lengthwise, then remove the stems and cores. Slice neatly into wedges ¼ inch thick. Arrange the slices on the baking sheets in a single layer. Sprinkle evenly with the sugar, then dot with the remaining butter.
Bake the apples for 20–30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tender and nicely caramelized. Rotate the sheets back to front and top to bottom in the oven once midway through baking to insure even browning. Do not worry if some of the bits become quite dark; they will inspire a rich flavor. Do not, however, let the sugar bum.
Remove the apples to a large oval gratin dish (you may substitute a 9 × 13 rectangular pan), or to individual porcelain gratin dishes, spreading them in a not too thick layer. Put the baking sheets over low heat until the sugar softens, sprinkle with a few tablespoons of the Armagnac, then scrape up any good (that is, not blackened) caramel with a wooden spoon or spatula. The alcohol will evaporate while you scrape up the sugar. Pour the deglazing juices over the apples.
The apples may be kept at room temperature for 2–3 hours, loosely covered, before completing the dessert. Or, seal and refrigerate them once cool, for up to 24 hours. Bring to room temperature before finishing.
As much as 2 hours before finishing the dessert, warm the Armagnac in a small heavy saucepan over low heat. Do not let it boil. When the brandy is well heated and fragrant, avert your face and put a match near the surface to set it alight. When the flame is nearly out, signaling that most of the alcohol has evaporated, add the cream, stir to combine, and bring to a simmer over moderately low heat. Allow the cream to reduce to about ½ cup. Keep a close eye on it, and do not let it boil.
To serve the apples hot, finish them just before serving. To serve warm, finish them just before sitting down to dinner, up to 2 hours in advance.
Sprinkle the apples with 1–2 tablespoons of the powdered sugar, then run the dish under the broiler to brown it lightly. For a final touch, dust the edges of the dessert with a pretty hemline of powdered sugar.
Serve immediately, portioning the apples onto warm serving plates if you have baked them in the large dish.
Or, if you are serving them warm, remove the apples to a rack in a warm comer of the kitchen for up to 2 hours. Do not hold them longer; they are not good cold.
© 1982 Barbara Tropp estate. All rights reserved.