Though I love bread, I've never been terribly excited by its dessert possibilities, which are usually variations of soggy-sounding puddings. But this - the superlative brown betty - is made with fresh crumbs (rather than stale slices) tossed with (rather than soaked in) butter, brown sugar and cinnamon. When they're popped into the oven atop of a layer of fat apple slices, they crisp. While cooking, they crackle, and, when bitten into, crunch - a lovely contrast with the tender apples beneath, and the silkiness of the ice-cream melting into a milky pool beside it.
There are many different recipes out there - the brown betty dates back to the 1800s - but this one uses a combination of apple slices and puréed apple, which gives the filling a nice body and added texture. And the layer of crumbs on the bottom of the dish handily soak up any excess water from the fruit. It's best eaten with Edie's vanilla bean ice-cream but if you don't have the very good fortune to know Edie, then the stuff you buy at the supermarket (or make yourself!) will do nicely.
Apple brown betty
Adapted from a recipe in Gourmet
I used a combination of sliced multigrain sandwich bread and a loaf of dark rye (crusts and all) but I imagine this would adapt nicely to whatever you have to hand - a baguette, sourdough, white, brown, whatever...
4 tablespoons butter
1 heaped teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons packed brown sugar
4 cups coarse fresh bread crumbs
6-8 large crisp apples such as Granny Smith or Gala
1 3/4 cups water
Preheat oven to 375°F.
Melt butter in a saucepan or large nonstick skillet and remove from heat. Stir in cinnamon, salt, and 2 tablespoons brown sugar, then stir in bread crumbs. Sprinkle one third of crumbs over bottom of a shallow baking dish.
Peel and coarsely chop half the apples. Cook with water and remaining brown sugar in a saucepan, covered, over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, 10 minutes. Purée chopped apples with cooking liquid in a blender or food processor.
Peel remaining apples and cut into wedges. Arrange wedges over crumbs, then pour hot purée over wedges. Sprinkle with remaining crumbs.
Bake in middle of oven until top is golden brown and apples are tender, about 40 minutes.