The smells of warm apple pie or fresh baked bread are two of the pleasures of fall. Especially in today's anxiety-provoking world, there's a welcoming spot at home for cozy comfort foods.
Consider some flavorful twists for making the most of two seasonal staples — in meals, with friends or just because.
(The two even come together in some yummy Thanksgiving stuffing recipes.)
Starbucks, which gave us the pumpkin spice trend, has debuted an iced apple crisp oat milk shaken espresso this fall. Trader Joe’s has a popular, seasonal Honeycrisp Apple scented candle. And there are lots of home and body products that promise fresh, apple-y goodness.
Editors at shelter magazines suggest apple-themed parties as a way to reconnect with nature and celebrate the changing seasons.
Apple Tastings. According to the USDA, there are about 2,000 apple varieties grown in North America. Jenna Helwig, Real Simple's food director, suggests picking about half a dozen and printing out tasting notes for each. “Slice them into wedges, and invite guests to decide which they like best," she says. Varieties like Cosmic Crisp, Ginger Gold, SweeTango, Opal and Lady Alice don’t brown as quickly as others, which makes them good choices not only for a tasting, but for a cheese and apple board, she said.
Cider Bars, spiced or spiced-and-spiked. Helwig suggests heating cider on the stove till it's hot, and then adding cinnamon sticks, star anise, sliced ginger and whole cloves for fragrance and flavor. Let it all steep for 10 minutes, remove the spices, and set the burner to “warm,” or pour it into a slow cooker for the party. Guests can serve themselves with a ladle; place a tray of brandy, rum and bourbon next to the pot for those indulging.
Caramel Apples. A classic that makes a fun party activity, says Southern Living’s senior lifestyle producer Ivy Odom. Use full apples or chunky slices, and dip your knife or the apples in lemon juice to prevent browning. “All you’ll need are tart apples, soft caramels and heavy cream,” Odom says. She suggests setting up a bar with a crockpot of melted caramel and a variety of toppings, including chopped nuts, melted chocolate in a piping bag, shredded toasted coconut and pretzels. For a more grownup affair, consider a caramel apple sangria.
Whether you’re watching your own dough rise into an aromatic pillow or sourcing a lovely loaf from your favorite market, bread is something to savor and share in various ways:
Artisanal: Bread has benefited from a general move toward traditional and handcrafted lifestyle products. A crusty loaf made of minimal ingredients is a thing of beauty and flavor. There’s a growing awareness of non-traditional grains, alternative flours and natural ingredients. “People want to know where their bread comes from, and that someone crafted it,” says Craig Norton, operations director for the Prince George Hotel in Halifax, Nova Scotia. It's gotten easier for those with dietary restrictions like gluten sensitivity to find alternatives that meet their needs.
Community and Creativity: Norton notes the popularity and availability of bread forms used around the world. “People are more open to naan, pita, tortillas, brioche, boules, baguettes and pretzel buns," he says. Or scroll through social media for breadmaking creatives. Coloring the dough for a rainbow-hued loaf. Etching a pattern into the top before baking. Forming dough into flowers and bow ties.
Chandra Ram, Food & Wine magazine’s associate editorial director, likes to make pull-apart breads when people come over.
“They stand out, but it isn’t a three-day time commitment," she says. "Pull-apart breads give you lots of flavor flexibility. You can use herbs, sprinkle in chopped greens or cheese, and you can make sweet versions for brunch or dessert. They’re fun and interactive.”
She suggests making a tasty compound butter to accompany your pull-apart bread.
“Just mix some grated lemon zest and chopped herbs into softened butter, freeze, and take it out when you’re ready to serve,” she says.
Norton also sees bread fusions: loaves stuffed with creamy cooked chicken, or roasted vegetables. Plump fluffy loaves brimming with melty gruyere. Soft French bread full of an oniony spinach-feta mixture. And for game day, maybe chili-stuffed bread balls, or a pan of spicy Buffalo chicken flavored bread bites.
And he notes a revival of bread bowls. Restaurants and home cooks are filling hollowed-out, crusty round vessels with hot stews and chowders. The pairing of bread and soup is eternal.
Got a bread baker on your gift list? Etsy.com has sellers of personalized loaf pans; proofing and baking kits; patterned linen bread bags; and handmade baskets and crockery. Or have your fave bread recipe etched into the bottom of a glass baking pan.
One book that captures the various allures of bread is Malin Elmlid’s “The Bread Exchange” (Chronicle, 2014), which traces her experiences traveling the globe baking and trading bread for recipes, stories and meaningful objects.
New York-based writer Kim Cook covers design and decor topics regularly for The Associated Press. Follow her on Instagram at @kimcookhome.
For more AP Lifestyles stories, go to https://apnews.com/hub/lifestyle.
Kim Cook, The Associated Press