apple pie with salty browned butter crumble
My mother, surprisingly, is not much of a baker. It’s the one thing that bothers me about my love of pastry: I feel like I stole something from her. I feel like I sucked the passion out of something that she took so lightheartedly and which I take so seriously—as a means to survive, really. When I was very young, she had her signatures: strawberry jam thumbprints for my father’s tea; banana bread, a long time favorite of hers; almond danish ring, her most challenging recipe; haystacks, made with peanut butter and those same butterscotch chips I railed against in the last post. Simple things but signatures nonetheless.
Sadly, the last thing I remember her baking was a cake from a mix one year when I was in college and couldn’t make it back in advance of Christmas to construct a meal-ending dessert, save for a humble apple crisp. Mom’s cake was a carrot cake—a cake that everyone loves for its moisture but which can be oily and just too moist when it comes from a box. The carrots came compressed in a tin, the raisins in a pouch, and the whole thing was slathered in canned cream cheese frosting that was more sugar than cream cheese. I cringe. I certainly acted like a brat that holiday, defiling the cake in front of my grandparents and making every effort to dissuade family members from eating an artificial confection. It may have looked fancier than my homey little dessert, I thought, but at least the crisp was made with real, wholesome ingredients and fresh fruit. Why couldn’t I have just kept my mouth shut?