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Fast Food My Way: Caramelized Apple-Granola Timbales

It sounds fancy, but it's actually a rather simple dessert or breakfast: individual custard cups are filled with a combination of apples and granola, then topped with a round of buttered-and-sugared bread. After they're cooked, the cups are unmolded, giving you a pretty molded dessert reminiscent of apple charlotte.

That's the theory, anyway. I had a bit of trouble in the execution.

Pépin instructs the cook to unmold the timbales while they're still warm. When I did this, the apples fell apart, losing the pretty timbale shape and giving me just a plate of cubed apples. I had better luck unmolding them once they were cold, but then the bread got soft when the timbales were reheated in the microwave.

Through some trial and error, I've determined that it's necessary to pack the apples into the custard cups really, really firmly. Pépin says "press on the apples to make them fit tightly," but that's an understatement. You need to press the apples down with the back of a spoon until they become solidly entrenched in the custard cups. I had better luck with unmolding them after I started buttering the custard cups, as well.

I also thought that the timbales could use more than just one slice of bread. In my original test of this recipe, I used regular slices of white sandwich bread, about 1/2-inch thick. I had better results with a thinner-sliced bread. My Trader Joe's market sells cinnamon-raisin bread that's about 3/8 of an inch thick, and when I layered one slice of this thinner bread in the middle of the timbale, and one on the top, the results were quite good.

Pépin says he likes to use pecan granola in this recipe. I used Nature's Path Pumpkin FlaxPlus granola, which is one of my favorite cereals. Use whatever granola strikes your fancy.

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 8 to 10 minutes
Yield: 4 servings

1/3 cup plus 1 tsp sugar
2 Tbsp water
4 Tbsp butter
3 apples (Granny Smith or Golden Delicious; about 1 1/2 pounds total), peeled, cored, and cut into 1-inch dice (about 4 1/2 cups)
1/3 cup granola
4 or 8 slices firm white sandwich bread, cinnamon-raisin bread, or other thin-sliced bread
1/2 cup vanilla yogurt, sour cream, crème fraîche, or vanilla ice cream, optional

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Put the 1/3 cup of sugar and the water in a skillet and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring just until the sugar is moistened. Continue boiling without stirring, until the mixture caramelizes, about 5 minutes. Watch the sugar carefully; it will burn quickly, so as soon as it begins to turn golden around the edges, remove the skillet from the heat and swirl the caramel in the pan so that it all turns brown. Add 2 1/2 Tbsp of butter, and when it has melted, add the apples. Stir well, cover, and cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes, or just until the apples are tender. Add the granola and cook, uncovered, until all the moisture evaporates and the apple mixture sizzles. Remove from the heat.

Butter 4 ramekins or custard cups (1/2-cup to 3/4-cup capacity) with 1/2 Tbsp of the butter. Using a knife or a round cutter, trim the bread slices so that they will fit into the custard cups. You can use four slices of bread if you want just one slice on the top of the timbales, or 8 slices if you'd like to add a bread layer to the center of the timbales. Butter the bread with the remaining 1 Tbsp butter.

If you're using 1 slice of bread per timbale: Divide the apple mixture among the custard cups. Using the back of a spoon, press very firmly on the apples, to compress them into the custard cup. Fit one of the bread rounds on top of the cup, press it firmly onto the apple mixture, and sprinkle the bread with the remaining 1 tsp of sugar.

If you're using 2 slices of bread per timbale: Divide the apple mixture in half. Divide one half of the apples among the 4 custard cups. Press the apples very firmly into the cups, compressing them into the bottom. Place one bread slice on top of the apples in each cup, then divide the remaining half of the apple mixture among the cups and press firmly again. Top each cup with another bread slice, pushing it firmly onto the apple mixture. Sprinkle the bread with the remaining 1 tsp of sugar.

Place the custard cups on a baking sheet and bake for about 8 to 10 minutes, or until the apples are heated through and the bread is nicely browned. Run a knife around the edges of the apples to help loosen, then give the cups a couple of sharp taps on the countertop before attempting to unmold the timbales (not too hard; you don't want to break them!) Invert a plate over the cup, then flip the whole thing over and hope that it all comes out in one cohesive mass. The more firmly you packed in the apples, the better chance you have that it'll keep its shape.

Serve as is or with vanilla yogurt for breakfast. For dessert, try sour cream, crème fraîche, or vanilla ice cream.



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