Accidentally Cooking

Documenting my mistakes in the garden, kitchen and pantry


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2013 Apple Retrospective

Apples are extremely versatile, and I’ve been able to use them in many ways this year. Most of my work with apples is done now, although I do have two batches of hard apple cider in process still. I feel like they aren’t as versatile in jams and jellies (my favorite things to make and preserve) because apples don’t soften or break down as much as, for example, stone fruits when heated or macerated. I do have the Caramel Apple Jam recipe and Apple Cider Jelly, which definitely fill in this gap a little bit.

Many apple products require multiple stages of processing, with several things requiring cooking down to apple sauce, or pressing into cider first. You’ll end up with big batches of both these intermediate products before you end up with what you really want. Here’s a little flow diagram I’ve created to show how I’ve processed apples this year:

Apples

I don’t have a cider press [1], so the cider I get comes from the market. We don’t tend to eat apple sauce plain, so we create a lot of that and end up having to store big batches in the fridge while waiting for the next step in the process. This can be inconvenient on occasion, and often turns a simple recipe into a multi-night affair.

Oh, and boiling apple sauce can give you second degree burns if some of it splatters on your hand while you’re stirring it. Just saying.

Next year I’d like to experiment with some apple sauce recipes, to make it a more exciting product and encouraging us to eat it as-is, without needing additional processing steps. Mixing in other types of fruits and seasonsings (cinnamon?) may help with this.

Very fresh, crunchy, hand-picked apples are really a necessity when eating raw or making pie filling. After a week or more, depending on the variety, apples start to get softer and more mealy. When this happens I like to boil up a big batch into apple sauce where texture really doesn’t matter. Most of the apple chips I’ve made this year are with fresh, crunchy apples but I’ve heard that less-fresh ones work just as well in the dehydrator. Next year I may also try that as an option for using up old apples.

The biggest problem with apples and cider is keeping them out of your mouth long enough to use them in recipes. We end up buying apples in bags of 10-20lbs each, often a few of these bags in a single weekend when a good variety comes in. Cider is the same, we end up buying several gallons of the stuff at a time from the market (and a few cider donuts, to go with it!), so that we have a gallon or two for straight drinking and the rest of the gallons for making various products. I’m not complaining, of course. Apple season, with all the amazing ways to eat them, is one of my favorite times of the year.

Notes

  1. At least, I don’t have one yet. As soon as I have a few hundred dollars to spare, and enough storage space to hold a nice press for 9 months out of the year, I’ll probably get one. Don’t tell my wife I said that, because she would be pissed and say “no”.


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Apple Cider Syrup

I’ve seen this concoction called many different things on the interwebz: “Apple Molasses“, “Apple Cider Molasses“, “Boiled Apple Cider“, “Apple Cider Syrup” and even “Cider Jelly“. I’ve found the last name to be particularly problematic because the taste and appearance of the final result is very different from the Apple Cider Jelly I’ve made in the past (and plan to make again soon!).

I’m going to call it Apple Cider Syrup. I think it’s the most accurate name for the final product I ended up with, having a color and consistency very similar to Maple Syrup. If you boil the cider longer than I did, you may end up with a product much closer to molasses, so you will probably want to call it that instead.

Apple Cider Syrup

  • Apple Cider [1]

Put apple cider into a large stock pot. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Continue boiling [2], stirring occasionally and skimming foam off the top if necessary, until the cider has been reduced to a thick syrup. Expect to reduce the cider to an eighth or a tenth of its original volume, at least. Depending on the desired consistency, you probably want the cider to coat the back of a clean, cool spoon before you’re done.

Allow the syrup to cool, put into suitable containers and store in the fridge (indefinitely). You can also ladle it into prepared jars (quarter- and half-pint work fine, if you have that much) and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. If your cider is very sweet and not at all tart, you may want to add some lemon juice to the mixture as it’s boiling down, to ensure shelf stability [3] .

Results

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Wow. Talk about flavor explosion. All the sugar but also all the acidic tartness are reduced into a small amount of extremely flavorful syrup. I stopped the boiling when the cider reached a consistency similar to maple syrup or honey, but some people on the internet take it all the way down to the level of thick molasses. I also suspect that, like maple syrup, we could dehydrate the result into crystals of apple cider sugar, but I haven’t attempted that just yet. The cider that we used was fresh and very sweet, but the resulting syrup was surprisingly bold and tart.

On french toast, with some fried apples, this syrup was fantastic. We mixed it with a little bit of maple syrup as well, and some melted butter, and it was total heaven.

I stopped boiling as soon as the syrup coated the back of a spoon. Any earlier and I would have had something more like “Cider Concentrate”, which would also be worthwhile to make and preserve, just not what I wanted today.

Keep in mind that when it’s hot on the stove the consistency will be much thinner than when it cools down or is refrigerated. The spoon test or other tests for thickness will be required to figure out how thick the final product will be.

Other Possible Uses

As a syrup on french toast, this is an obvious choice. But where else could this be used?

I had originally thought it might be good as a substitute for white sugar when baking, but the robust tart flavor makes me think twice about using it without careful forethought. Mixing some in with oatmeal might be nice, as would mixing it in with some kind of warm beverage. I might try it with some tea. An “Apple chai latte” sounds particularly good to me right now, and will give me a tasty seasonal alternative when my wife is drinking one of her pumpkin-themed fu-fu coffee drinks.

A small amount of this syrup would add big apple flavor to a mixed drink or cocktail.

We don’t do baked beans often, but I imagine it would form a great base for a ham or chicken glaze, it might go good on brandied carrots, or with some good aged Gouda on a cheese plate.

Notes

  1. You’re going to want a really good quality cider to start with. We’re concentrating it, so anything that is bad about the cider will be concentrated to be more bad. I recommend you pick something fresh, sweet, not too tart and not at all bitter.
  2. Once the mixture reaches a boil, you can adjust the temperature down so it doesn’t bubble up and get out of control. I found medium-low to work well for much of the reduction, though sometimes the boiling stopped and I had to turn it up a bit. The only part that really matters is towards the end when the syrup is thick and prone to burning. At the final stages you shouldn’t have it much hotter than medium-low to prevent burning.
  3. In reality, the acid from the apples already (especially if your cider is at all tart), combined with the high sugar and low moisture should be enough to suppress most pathogens. A little lemon juice and a boiling water bath are just a belt-and-suspenders way to stay safe. Refrigeration should also be sufficient to keep it safe indefinitely, so long as you don’t add moisture.


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Hard Apple Cider: Second Batch

With my first batch of cider in a recycled wine bottle for secondary fermentation, my one glass jug is suddenly empty and in need of more love.

We had bought three gallons of cider last time we went to the market. One was boiled down into syrup, one was drank outright. I was trying to make plans for the third gallon, slowly drinking a glass at a time, until it started fermenting. Every time I had a glass it was a little bit more fizzy and alcoholic. Finally I decided not to fight with nature, and realized that the decision had been made for me. Pouring the rest into my glass jug, I started my second batch of hard apple cider.

For this second batch I tried a more “complicated” recipe: To a half-gallon of already-fermenting cider I added a half-cup of brown sugar, a heaping spoonful of locally-sourced honey, and a half-teaspoon of “yeast nutrients”. The nutrients, I’m told, help the yeast to be healthier and happier, and to make a better-tasting beverage. Since the cider was already half fermented when I got to it, I clearly didn’t need to add any more yeast. This round, apparently, was going to be au naturale.

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I’ve been told that something like Pectic Enzyme and a few other additives could help precipitate some of the solids and clarify the cider. I honestly don’t care about those kinds of things at all. So long as the cider tastes good, I don’t care what it looks like (and anybody who does care doesn’t have to drink it!).

Similarly to my first batch, I’m intending to make a “still” cider (without carbonation). It will be like an apple wine, and should have much higher alcohol content than my first batch because I added so much extra sugar.

I mixed the cider up last weekend, and I expect primary fermentation to last at least another week or two. After that, I’ll give it a taste and move it somewhere to age until I think it’s ready for serious drinking.


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Hard Cider: First Batch Update

My first trial batch of hard apple cider has finished primary fermentation and has been moved to an empty wine bottle to start aging and mellowing. “Primary fermentation” is the period while the yeast are still actively converting sugar to alcohol and the mixture is producing bubbles.  This batch was an extremely simple mixture: A bottle of apple cider, some Ale yeast, and nothing else. I tasted it after primary fermentation, as I was transferring it to the new bottle, and it’s pretty good. It has a lot of tangy ale flavor, as would be expected from the choice of yeast used, but it also has a decent apple background. The alcohol content isn’t too high, but then again I didn’t add any extra sugar so there’s a limit to how high it could have gotten.

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I’ve opted for a “still” cider for my first batch, as opposed to a “sparkling” one. The difference, of course, is carbonation. This first batch is more like an apple wine than a commercial apple cider or any sort of malt beverage, and I think I like it that way.

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I’ve been told that these things get even better with age, so I’m going to let it sit for a while. In the mean time, I’ve got a second batch started that I’ll write about soon.


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Apple Chips

I keep trying to call them “apple chips” because it flows off the tongue and sounds pretty appetizing. The reality is that I don’t dehydrate them enough to get the crispy chip-like texture. I actually prefer them to be a little bit more leathery and chewy than “normal” apple chips. But then again, calling them “dehydrated apples” doesn’t sound good at all. It conjures images of grey-ish, tasteless flakes in a bag with some unnamed “de-caking agent”. Blech.

So I’m going to call them “apple chips”, even though they probably needed to spend a little bit more time in the dehydrator to really qualify as “chips”.  Whatever. A pedantic adherence to truth in advertising is so bourgeois. This is my blog. I’ll call this shit whatever I want.

Apple Chips

  • Apples
  • Lemon Juice

In a medium-sized bowl, mix together a few tablespoons of lemon juice with some cold water. Just eyeball it. Peel, core and slice the apples. Dip the slices into the lemon juice mixture to try and prevent browning. Spread the apple slices out evenly in the dehydrator, and dehydrate them according to the instructions. You can change the time to get them more or less dry, according to your taste. I never had, but I suspect you could add some cinnamon or sugar or other seasonings if you want. You can peel the apples or leave the peels on. I tend to prefer my apples peeled, but I’ve done a few batches the other way too.

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The recipe isn’t the interesting part of this project. The really interesting part is experimenting to find good apple varieties to dehydrate. Some varieties work well, others not as well. Here are the varieties I’ve tried so far, and how the resulting chips have turned out:

  • Gala: Sweet, a little tart, and a good deep apple flavor that comes on slow. The chips are a little yellowish-brownish, but very tasty. The chips in the top container are mostly Gala and Jonathan. If you make enough gala chips for the whole season, you won’t have missed much. A+
  • Jonathan: Similar in flavor to Gala, though a little less sweet and more tart. Very tasty, and great in combination with Gala chips. A
  • Mutsu: Bigger than the others, and the resulting chips are a more whitish color. The big white chips in the lower-left bag are Mutsu. Mutsu chips are modestly sweet with almost no tartness. Mutsu chips are probably tastier than just eating a raw Mutsu. These go great in combination with Gala and Jonathan A
  • Ida Red: Similar-looking to Jonatha chips, but almost completely flavorless and very bland. The chips in the lower-right bag are Ida Red, Fuji and Braeburn. D.
  • Fuji: Very similar to Gala. The flavor is good, but not quite as good. B+
  • Braeburn: Surprisingly blah. Braeburns are good for raw eating, with a sophisticated tartness and sweetness, but the resulting chips are in competition with Ida Red for the most boring. D+
  • Arkansas Black: Great sweet/tart eating apples with a great crunch. However, they brown VERY QUICKLY. The resulting chips were an unappetizing brown color even after a dip in the lemon juice. The very dark ones in the lower-left bag are Arkansas Black. The flavor wasn’t as great as some other varieties. These apples are much better to eat raw. C+

If you have some Gala, Jonathan or Mutsu apples laying around, I definitely recommend you toss a few dozen in the dehydrator and make yourself a tasty snack that will last quite a long time in the refrigerator.


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Beginning Hard Apple Cider

I walked into the market, having just picked a bunch of apples. I looked at the apple cider. It looked good, but we already had half a gallon in the fridge and nobody else was drinking as much as I was. I decided to skip the cider and instead walked directly over to the bakery counter to get what I wanted most: apple cider donuts. I grabbed half a dozen.

At the register there was a problem: I didn’t have any cash on me and the donuts didn’t bring my total over the minimum for a credit card transaction. I had to add something else to my order, and I knew exactly what I wanted.

My wife was pissed because we didn’t have any space in the fridge for another gallon of cider.

Hard cider is quite simple to make [1]: Take some good cider (with no preservatives), add yeast [2] and wait. The yeast eats the sugar in the cider and converts it to alcohol. There’s a lot of room for variation and expertise, but the basic recipe is quite simple indeed. The hardest part is picking the right ingredients to start. You need a cider that doesn’t have preservatives, because preservatives by definition impede the growth of yeast and other microorganisms. You also need yeast, and guess what? There are multiple different types.

Champagne yeast is very commonly recommended to give a good alcohol content and good carbonation. I’ve seen a few places on the internet saying that the resulting cider with champagne yeast was dry and more like wine than beer. Another option I’ve seen mentioned online was to use a lager yeast to get something a little bit richer, sweeter, and more complex. I decided the later was what I would prefer for my first attempt.

So, armed with this scant bit of information, I drove down to the local brewing supply store. I said I wanted to make cider. The guy asked if I wanted Champagne yeast. I said no, I had heard a recommendation for a Lager yeast instead. He asked what temperature I would be fermenting at. I said about room temperature. He said Ale yeast would be better. He asked me a few more questions and eventually I ended up with a small packet of ale yeast  which promised results more sweet and less dry [3]. Perfect. I also bought a cheap plastic air-lock to ferment with, and some other little things for other little projects [4].

The cider I got cost a bit extra, but it came in a big reusable glass jug suitable for fermenting. The brand was called “Amish Wedding” which I thought was pretty ironic considering I am going to turn it into alcohol (and, under the influence thereof, will blaspheme and fornicate). You can’t tell me what to do. It’s a free country. Muh Freedoms!

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On the left side you can see the glass jug with the fermenting cider. You can see the bubbly action of the yeast, and the airlock contraption on top. The big jar on the right is filled with old wine hopefully turning into vinegar (if it works well, I’ll post about it. If not, I’ll pretend this never happened). In the background you can see two bottles filled with red pepper and vinegar. On the far right is a mixture of dehydrated peppers in oil. I’m staying quite busy!

If my vinegar experiment and my cider experiment turn out, I may try to make more cider and turn some of that into cider vinegar. That will be another story for another post.

It’s going to take a little while for the fermentation to complete. I’ll post more when it’s ready.

Notes

  1. Especially if you don’t care about quality
  2. There is naturally-occuring yeast in the air and probably in the juice already (especially if it’s not pasteurized). I’ve seen recommendations all over the map: Some people like to use this natural yeast, other people claim it’s too unpredictable. Some people recommend using a cheap bread yeast from the grocery store (and many many other people say that’s a huge waste because the results will be terrible). For my purposes, I scraped together a few pennies and bought a little packet of real brewing yeast.
  3. I read later that using a Lager yeast, but at Ale temperatures would actually produce a slower fermentation and result in a more complex brew. Next time I may try this option and compare results.
  4. Some things I did NOT buy, but probably will need eventually, depending on my long-term plans are: a syphon, a second glass fermentation container, some non-bleach sterilizing chemicals, some Campden tablets and a hydrometer