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In this image taken on August 27, 2012, a recipe for spiked side dish applesauce is shown in Concord, N.H. (AP Photo/Matthew Mead)
Applesauce good enough to be at the dinner table
First Published Sep 18 2012 08:31 pm • Last Updated Jan 07 2013 11:31 pm

Each fall, I can’t help myself from buying apples by the bushel. I get so excited by the crisp air and the fresh-from-the-orchard fruit that I inevitably buy way too many.

So I end up baking pies and apple cakes. I even saute fresh sliced apples for breakfast the way my mother did when I was a child.

At a glance

Spiked applesauce

Cook the apples until tender, but still irregular in shape and a bit chunky. Since this is a side dish and not a dessert, don’t use very much sugar, just enough to pull out the flavor of the apples.

4 pounds tart apples, such as Granny Smith or Pink Lady (a combination is great)

1/2 to 1 cup sugar (depending on desired sweetness)

1/4 teaspoon salt

Zest and juice of 1 lemon (about 1/4 cup juice)

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

1/4 cup apple brandy (such as Calvados)

Peel, core and quarter the apples, then place them in a heavy-bottomed Dutch oven or large saucepan.

Sprinkle 1/2 cup of the sugar, the salt, lemon zest and juice, and the cinnamon over the apples. Toss gently. Cover the pot and set over low-medium heat.

Every 5 minutes, stir the apples until they begin to release their juices and start to break down, about 15 to 20 minutes. If the apples seem too dry, add water a couple tablespoons at a time, and continue to cook until tender. Taste. If the apples are too tart for you, add more sugar.

Add the butter and apple brandy. Stir vigorously until the apples are the texture of a rough applesauce. You want it to be chunky. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for 5 minutes. Taste again. Adjust seasonings if necessary, and serve hot, room temperature or cold.

Servings » 8 as a side dish

Source: The Associated Press

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But my hands-down favorite thing to make with my abundance is homemade applesauce. I love to make it when I want to perk up a less-than-exciting meal and impress my dining companions with something unexpectedly delicious.

I remember my first taste of what has become my go-to recipe. My mother was making Julia Child’s French apple tart. Child’s recipe has a bed of well-seasoned applesauce on the bottom and a fan of apricot-jam glazed apples on the top. When I tasted Child’s brandy-laced applesauce, I quickly decided that was the best part of the tart. Since then, I have used a variation of that applesauce as my own.

I love the process of peeling the apples, cutting them into rough chunks and placing them in my heavy enameled Dutch oven. I use whatever apples I have on hand. Sometimes they are all the same variety and sometimes they are a mix.

I toss the apples with lemon juice, a little sugar and cinnamon to season them and keep them from turning brown. I add lemon zest for zing and salt for balance. Then I put the lid on the pot and wait patiently while the apples cook and give up their natural juices. In just 15 to 20 minutes, they are ready to mash and give way easily with a fork or a spoon.

You could serve the applesauce at this stage, but the next step is what makes it exceptional!

Once the apples are cooked down to a rough mash, I add just enough sweet butter to round out the tart acidity of the apples. Then I add a splash of cognac or apple brandy to add a depth of flavor. The mixture is then brought to a boil and simmered for 5 minutes until all of the raw alcohol is cooked away, leaving just the fabulous flavor. And that is the secret to the best homemade applesauce you’ve ever tasted!

It’s old-fashioned and new-fangled all at once and every time I serve it with roasted chicken or grilled pork chops, the resounding opinion is that the applesauce was the best part of the meal.

This recipe is easily halved or doubled. What you don’t eat warm, you can refrigerate and eat "leftover" for a week. It is the perfect recipe for all those leftover apples from your apple-picking adventures.

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Elizabeth Karmel is a grilling and Southern foods expert and executive chef at Hill Country Barbecue Market restaurants in New York and Washington, as well as Hill Country Chicken in New York. She is the author of three cookbooks, including "Soaked, Slathered and Seasoned."

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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