Apple Picking and English Muffins

by Elena on December 3, 2014

Apple Picking 1

It seems like every year we wait til the absolute last minute, when the trees have been stripped bare and the only apples are at the top, far far away from my outstretched short arms.  This year was even worse because of an apparent apple shortage and many orchards in the area cut the picking season short, which left us scouring the area for the few places that were still open.  We found one in the Hudson Valley and we spent the cloudy day filling up two large bags with apples, sipping hot apple cider, and eating apple cider donuts.  Sometimes I feel like the apple cider donuts alone are worth the hour drive.

Apple Cider4

After picking all day, we went home and got down to business.  We started washing, cutting, and peeling.  For a month apples were everywhere in the form of pies (I even wrote about a caramel apple pot pie on this blog), roasted in the oven, made into sauce, and despite eating an apple a day and giving away some of our apples to family and friends, we still had a huge bag of apples sitting in our kitchen untouched.  We had to do something to preserve them and I knew just what I wanted.  Apple butter.  Is there anything better than apple butter in the Fall?  Maybe just maybe a glass of apple cider, but if I had to chose I’d chose both, so we made both.  Apple butter lasts in an air tight container for a month.  If you can the apple butter, then it lasts even longer.  As for fresh, apple cider, it lasts for about two weeks or for a couple months when frozen.

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Tuesday Jon and I enjoyed some of these apple spoils from the previous month.  It was the last day of our vacation and it rained all day long which provided the perfect excuse for us to spend the day at home.  Before our movie marathon we sat at the kitchen table and ate homemade English muffins with apple butter.  Later I heated up some of the apple cider with a cinnamon stick and rum.  The comforting, hot cider helped me forget that eventually we would have to return to the real world, and our different schedules, sneaking minutes together at night when he comes home and I’m heading to bed.

IMG_3738Apple Picking 2

Making your own bread at home, especially a bread recipe as easy as English muffins, may only seem decadent and it only requires a bit of effort.  The yeast flavor and freshly cooked, warm interior makes the extra work worth it.  The recipe that I use yields a lot of muffins, more than Jon and I could hope to eat on a lazy day off, so I always freeze some in an airtight bag and they stay remarkably fresh for later use.  The key to a successful English muffin are the small nooks and crannies in each muffin, the perfect spot for butter and jam to nestle in each and every crevice.  You cook them on the stove top so they are fairly easy for anyone to try.  When I visited my grandmother in Spain this past month we made a batch of English muffin dough and kept it in the fridge.  Each morning we scooped out a few muffins and had fresh muffins for breakfast.  Years ago she lived in the United States during the years my grandfather moved here to find work, and despite her very strong cultural ties to Spain she sometimes tells me stories of the things she misses most about the US.  Pizzeria pizza doesn’t quite compare in Spain and the memory of a plain pizza pie, especially the pizza from New York and New Jersey, haunt her enough that she’s even resorted to tricking her grandchildren into getting her pizza.  “Don’t you want pizza?” she would say.  “Buy some pizza.  You like pizza, so let’s get some.”  She always enjoyed a small slice, even if it was frozen from a box from our local Spanish supermarket.  Strangely enough, despite all the delicious cheese she has to chose from back home, she also misses American muenster cheese with its bright orange exterior and soft, mild interior.  When she visited a couple years back we bought her some and she ate thin slices with much gusto.  This past trip, when I presented her with the English muffins her eyes flickered with recognition.  “I remember,” she reminisced as she took a bite covered in butter and fig jam.  We made them every morning and ate breakfast together with warm toast as she discussed what we would eat for the rest of the day.

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Apple Picking 5Apple Cider

Apple Cider

Apple cider is essentially raw, unfiltered apple juice made with the whole apple (including the skins).  It is extremely easy to make.  All you need is a blender or food processor and some cheesecloth.

Yields about 6 cups

15-20 apples (mix of tart and sweet varieties)

Make sure that you wash each apple carefully because you will be using the whole apple to make cider.  Wash the apples, remove the core, and cut into quarters.  Blend in a blender or food processor until smooth.  Strain the apple mixture through a fine mesh sieve covered in cheesecloth.


English Muffins

I always associated English muffins with the nooks and crannies of Thomas’ English Muffins that we had growing up.  The yeast allows for air bubbles to form when you cook the muffins on the griddle.  The muffins will rise as they cook, and tiny air pockets form the famous nooks and crannies that we all crave.

Yields about 16 muffins adapted from King Arthur Flour

1 3/4 cups lukewarm milk
3 tablespoons softened butter
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, to taste
2 tablespoons sugar
1 large egg, lightly beaten
4 1/2 cups bread flour or AP flour
2 teaspoons instant yeast
semolina or farina, for sprinkling the griddle or pan

Combine all ingredients, except for the semolina, in a mixing bowl.  You can mix by hand or with a stand mixer with a paddle attachment.  Mix until the dough begins to come away from the sides of the bowl.  The dough will be fairly wet compared to other bread dough recipes.  Scrape the sides of the bowl and shape the dough into a ball.  Cover the bowl and let the dough rise for about two hours, until it is light and airy.

Gently deflate the dough.  Sprinkle 1/2 cup semolina or farina onto a large plate.  Add more semolina as you need it.  Using a spoon, scoop out balls of dough and place in the semolina.  Flatten the dough balls until they are about 1/2 inch thick.  You should be able to make about 16 muffins.

Cook the muffins on a griddle or a large pan.  You don’t have to add any oil to the griddle but you will need to wipe the griddle clean after each time you use it.  Cook the muffins on a low heat for about 3 minutes on both sides.  The inside of each muffin will cook slowly as you heat up each side.  Let your muffins cool and then use a fork, working your way all around the muffin, to split them open.  The fork creates the famous nooks and crannies, a knife won’t.  Toast your muffins!


Apple Butter

Yields about 2 1/2 cups

You can make apple butter without adding extra sugar.  If you use a combination of sweet and tart apples (honey crisp, empire, macoun etc.) it may be sweet enough for your taste.  I did however include an optional 1 cup of sugar if you prefer your apple butter to be on the sweet side.

25 apples (mix of tart and sweet varieties) peeled, cored, and quartered
1 cup apple cider
2 cinnamon sticks
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp nutmeg
(optional 1 cup sugar)

Combine all ingredients in a large heavy bottomed saucepan.  Cook on medium heat for about an hour, stirring often with a wooden spoon until the apples are broken down.  Transfer mixture to a smaller pot and cook on low heat, stirring occasionally, until the apple butter is thick about 2-3 hours.  Remove from heat and cool down.

Apple Butter 1


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