Traverse City Record-Eagle

November 15, 2012

Sweet endings: Homemade dessert ideas

By ALISON LADMAN
Associated Press

---- — Dessert should be one of the highlights of the Thanksgiving meal.

Here, we offer two choices: a flan and a twist on apple pie.

For the flan, a rich, creamy custard with caramelized sugar is topped with sugared rolled oats and dried cranberries that take a long bath in apple brandy.

Though the recipe comes together easily, the first step begins the day before. Just dump the dried cranberries in a bowl with the Calvados, then go on with your life.

By the time the cranberries are ready the next day, you've got just an hour of work left. Just be sure to let the flans cool completely before trying to unmold; they slip out of the ramekins more easily when cool.

As for this Thanksgiving pie, we decided to see what would happen if we transformed that classic treat of autumn — the caramel apple — into a pie. The result was a crazy good no-bake apple pie.

It's also totally versatile. We opted to top our pie with a blend of crumbled shortbread cookies, chopped toasted peanuts and mini chocolate chips. But feel free to cater to your crowd and top the pie with whatever you prefer to coat your caramel apples with. Just aim for about a total of about 1 cup of toppings.

This pie should be assembled just before serving. The apples can be cooked ahead of time. Then when you are ready for dessert, it will take just 15 minutes to finish the recipe and get it to the table.

Caramel Apple Pie

6 baking apples (such as Fuji or Gala), peeled, cored and sliced

1 T. cider vinegar

14-oz. package caramel candies, unwrapped

½ c. half-and-half

1 t. apple pie spice

Pinch salt

9-inch prepared graham cracker crust

½ c. crumbled shortbread cookies

¼ c. chopped toasted peanuts

¼ c. mini chocolate chips

In a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat, toss the apple slices with the vinegar. Cook until the apples are tender, about 10 minutes. Transfer the apples and any juices in the pan to a large bowl. Set aside.

Return the skillet to the heat. Add the caramel candies, half-and-half, apple pie spice and salt. Heat, stirring constantly, until melted and smooth. Pour the caramel mixture over the apples and stir until well coated. Spoon the apple-caramel mixture into the graham cracker crust. Sprinkle the top with the cookies, peanuts and chocolate chips. Serve immediately. Makes 8 servings.

Ginger Flan

For the Calvados cranberries:

1 c. dried cranberries

½ c. Calvados (apple brandy)

For the caramelized oats:

¾ c. extra-thick rolled oats

½ c. sugar

Pinch of salt

1 T. unsalted butter

For the custard:

1 c. heavy cream

¼ c. sliced fresh ginger

14-oz. can sweetened condensed milk

12-oz. can evaporated milk

Pinch of salt

2 whole eggs

3 egg yolks

2 t. cornstarch

⅔ c. sugar

In a small bowl, combine the cranberries and Calvados. Cover and let soak overnight.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a medium skillet over the medium-high heat, toast the oats, stirring often, until fragrant, about 5 minutes. Add the sugar and the salt, then stir until the sugar melts and turns golden brown. Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the butter. Spoon onto the prepared baking sheet and set aside to cool.

Heat the oven to 350°. Line a 9-by-13-inch pan with a kitchen towel. Have ready eight 4-oz. ramekins that will fit in the pan.

In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the cream and ginger. Bring to a simmer, then turn the heat off and cover. Let sit for 15 to 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a kettle of water to a near boil.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, salt, whole eggs, egg yolks and cornstarch.

When the cream has finished steeping, strain it into the egg mixture, discard the ginger. Stir together the eggs and cream.

In another small pan over medium, heat the sugar until it melts and turns golden brown. Pour a small amount of the caramel into the bottom of each ramekin, swirling to coat the bottom. Divide the custard mixture between the ramekins, then place the filled ramekins into the towel-lined pan.

Place the pan in the oven and carefully pour enough hot water from the kettle around the ramekins to come halfway up the sides, being careful not to get any water in the custards. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until the custards are just set. Remove from the pan of water and let sit at room temperature until the ramekins are cool enough to handle. Refrigerate at least 2 hours.

When ready to serve, run a paring knife around the edges of the ramekins. Place a dessert plate over the top of a ramekin and invert. Lift the ramekin off the plate, allowing the custard to slide out. Spoon some of the soaked cranberries onto the plate around the custard, then top with the caramelized oats. Makes 8 servings.