When I was back in grade school, I used to see articles - in the Weekly Reader or the National Geographic - with pictures of mammoth fruits and vegetables that were grown in Alaska. Strawberries like my fist, cucumbers that resembled baseball bats, and watermelons the size of small cars. Surely you've seen those pictures? Anyway, when I hit the Publix produce section this week I was transported to Alaska. The Granny Smith apples were enormous! Honestly, they looked like green grapefruits. I knew that I needed 4 apples for a double batch of this week's Sweet Melissa recipe, Caramel Apple Turnovers, but that's all the detail Melissa provides. No volume or weight measures. I was pretty sure Melissa didn't intend for us to use mutant-sized apples, but I was stumped as to how many of these babies to buy. After I spent a ridiculous amount of time debating with myself what the equivalent amount of Alaska-type Granny Smith apples to Lower-48 apples would be, I turned around and spied a pile of already-bagged Granny Smith apples. No Alaska effect here: these looked smaller than usual Granny Smiths. (Why did I suddenly feel that the Three Bears were about to jump out from behind the lettuce display?) I finally gave up on "just right" apples and grabbed the pre-bagged apples. I figured I could deal with too small easier than with the mondo ones.
- Sweet Melissa's turnovers are squares of puff pastry folded around two fillings, one a sweetened ricotta mixture and the other a caramelized apple concoction.
- Apple Caramel filling:
Melissa says to cook the sugar over low heat until it caramelizes. It took forever for the sugar to turn amber, even after I turned the heat up to a strong medium. If I'd left it on low, I think it might still be simmering away. Finally it was the proper deep golden brown color. When I added the apples the molten sugar immediately seized into a hardened ball. With continued heating and stirring, the caramel eventually dissolved into the apple liquid.
- I used 4 1/2 quite petite apples, but I think 4 would have been better.
- As I cooked the apples I remembered a conversation that I'd had with JT, a member of our book group, about apple pie. "I just hate it when apples are still crunchy in a pie," he'd said. I wanted these apples to be nice and tender; after half an hour the apple mixture was appropriately saucy. I sampled a little spoonful, and what I tasted was... apple. To me the caramel flavor didn't carry through to the cooked apples. That's discouraging. If I'm going to brave the molten sugar process, I want to taste it in the finished product!
- Ricotta filling:
We had to put the ricotta in cheesecloth in a sieve, weight it and leave it overnight to drain. About a tablespoon or two of liquid came out (for my cup of ricotta). I thought
the ricotta filling was very tasty - the orange zest is quite prominent. I wasn't sure how that would pair with the (caramel scented) apples.
- There is almost too much filling for the turnovers. The ricotta kept trying to leak out and even though I crimped them with a fork, they didn't want to stay closed.
- I made a double recipe, but only baked off 4 of the turnovers, freezing the other four for later. I only mixed up enough egg wash for a single recipe, but there was a ton of egg wash left over after sealing 8 turnovers and brushing the tops of 4.
- I forgot all about the cinnamon sugar that was supposed to go on top.
- My turnovers stayed in the coldest part of my fridge for at least an hour. They were chilled solid when they were ready to bake. I put them on a layer of baking parchment on top of a cookie sheet. They cooked faster than 45 minutes; turning very dark brown in less than 40 minutes. The edges stayed sealed, thank goodness.
ready for a stint in the freezer!
I baked up four of the turnovers and served them at book group (along with a chocolate cream tart that will be posted a week from Tuesday) I cut each of the turnovers in three pieces so that everyone could get a little serving (or two). They were a huge hit with the group!
My corner piece of turnover was mostly puff pastry and not much filling. From the little bit I could taste I liked the way the ricotta tasted with the apple more than I thought I would. But for the life of me I could not taste the caramel in the apples. And I'm not sure my tasters could either.
I wish I had a video of all of us chewing bites of turnover and concentrating; trying to see if we could detect any caramel! A few of the group said that they thought they caught some caramel flavor.
My husband said he liked them even better than apple pie, which if you know the man at all, is saying something serious. He had the leftover pieces of turnover the next morning for breakfast.
I'm glad I doubled the recipe so there will be more available for him when I'm baking some form of chocolate (which he can't eat). I thought the recipe was pretty time consuming, especially making the caramel that couldn't really be tasted. I'd personally much rather have a pie. But I was in the minority here; the book group really seemed to like these. Next time I might skip the caramelization step and just cook the apples in some cinnamon sugar, and mix up the ricotta with a bit of lemon zest in place of the orange. Alternatively, I think fantastic turnovers could be made with the orange-ricotta filling and caramelized peaches.
Since I've never made turnovers, these are by default the best version I've baked! As for all apple desserts, although I'd choose a pie or a crisp first, my husband and the book group folks would no doubt grab one of these!!
Thanks, Tracey, for choosing this recipe; it made my tasters - and my husband - very happy! If you'd like to see what all the fuss is about, you can find the recipe on Tracey's blog post. Or you could purchase the Sweet Melissa Baking Book and join in the weekly fun.