Pas de Deux: douillons aux pommes (apples in nightdresses)
Like many people this time of year, one of the traditions in my family is to attend a performance of The Nutcracker. In sum, it is a story of a young girl, Clara, who is given a nutcracker as a Christmas gift. The nutcracker turns into a Prince who takes Clara to the Kingdom of Sweets where the Sugarplum Fairy and various treats (Spanish Chocolate, Peppermint Candy, etc.) perform for Clara (still in her nightdress) and the Prince. At the end, the Sugarplum Fairy and her Cavalier perform the Grand Pas de Deux (“steps of two”). As I watched the Pas de Deux, I thought of … food. The combination of a kingdom filled with dancing culinary specialities, Clara’s nightdress, and the “deux” (the collaboration of two) reminded me of the French classic dessert douillons aux pommes (apples in nightdresses). Inspired by the ballet, douiillons aux pommes is this week’s simple pleasure.
Douillons aux pommes is popular in the Normandy region of France (which is no surprise because when you live in a region that is full of apple orchards, you create numerous ways to prepare them). Douillons aux pommes is really its own Pas de Deux because it combines two very different ingredients – buttery puff pastry and whole, juicy sweet apples – which together make something wonderful.
The recipe is simple and perfect for this cold weather. You partially cook the apples on the stove in some butter and sugar creating an apple-infused caramel and then wrap the apples in puff pastry and bake them. The pastry shell traps the moisture from the apples (so they cook further) and when you cut it open, the apple-caramel aroma and steam escape the flaky shell and fill the chilly air.
You can make the dessert a little more fancy by stuffing the cored interior with things such as currants, raisins, or cheese (brie and camembert work well). If you do, add the stuffing to the apple centers after you braise them on the stove and place a piece of the apple (which you removed when coring the apple) to the apple base so the stuffing does not run out of the bottom and make your pastry a mushy mess. Serve the apples with the extra caramel sauce or serve them with ice cream if you choose (but they are great without the embellishment).
Keep in mind that when you bake food wrapped in puff pastry, moisture is your enemy so you need to take steps to be sure that the pastry dough cooks. First, I find it best to use smaller apples (about 2½ inches in diameter is a good size) because less moisture is involved (it is also a good size for dessert). Second, do not overlap the dough when you wrap the apple otherwise the inside layer may not bake and you will have raw dough. Third, cut darts in the dough and remove extra dough which will minimize, if not eliminate, the raw dough danger.
Douillons aux pommes are simple and fun to make and may just inspire you to play some Tchaikovsky and plié, piqué, and pirouette your way throughout the kitchen knowing that your dessert — this Pas de Deux on a plate — will no doubt send your family and guests to bed with “visions of Sugarplum fairies dancing in their heads.”
Je vous souhaite un bon appétit !
douillons aux pommes (apples in nightdresses)
what you need:
1-2 sheets of frozen puff pastry, thawed in the refrigerator
water as needed
juice from 1 lemon
4 small apples (gala, fuji, reine des reinettes, or jazz)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon Calvados (optional)
pinch of fleur de sel
1 egg, mixed
- Preheat Oven. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Prepare The Puff Pastry. Place a sheet of puff pasty on a lightly floured surface. Cut into squares about 6 x 6 inches. Using a knife or kitchen shears, cut darts in the dough so you have 8 strips (as shown in the photo). Once cut, wrap the puff pastry in plastic wrap and return it to the refrigerator.
- Prepare Apples. Place water and lemon juice in a bowl. Use an apple peeler or a paring knife to peel the apple. Remove the core and seeds from the center. Place the peeled and cored apple in the bowl of water and lemon juice. Repeat for the remaining three.
- Par-Cook Apples. Place a large sauté pan over medium heat. Once the pan is warm, melt the butter. Add the sugar, water, and salt. Add the apples and gently toss the apples in the caramel. Use a large spoon to baste the apples with the caramel sauce. Cover the pan with a lid and let the apples simmer for about 5 minutes (continue to quickly baste the apples every couple of minutes).
- Flambé. When you can insert a fork into the apple, remove the pan from the heat. Add the Calvados to the caramel, return the pan to the burner, and turn the flame on high. Tip the pan’s edge so the flame dips into the pan catching the Calvados on fire (DO NOT put your face into or close to the pan and keep your hair AWAY from the stove and the pan. DO NOT add anymore Calvados). Tip the pan back upright and let the fire self-extinguish. Turn off the heat. Remove the pan from the stove.
- Dress Apples In Their Nightdresses. Remove the apples from the caramel and let them cool slightly. Remove the puff pastry from the refrigerator. Place a cored apple upside down in the center of a cut square. Fold the strips over the apple and close at the bottom of the apple. Gently pinch the seams together and fold any creases around the apple. Repeat for the remaining three.
- Eggwash. Turn the wrapped apples right-side up and use a pastry brush to brush the pastry with the eggwash.
- Bake. Place the apples on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake in the preheated oven until the puff pastry is golden brown on all sides (about 12-13 minutes). Remove apples from the oven.
- Serve. Serve apples immediately while hot with the extra caramel.
food for thought
Ballet and cooking use many of the same French words. For example, Pas de Poisson (step of the fish) is a ballet jump, sauté is to jump, and fondu is the bending (a plié) with one leg.