Introduction: Caramel Apple Cornucopia

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 A spectacular meal deserves a dessert with flourish.  A crisp, buttery tuile cornucopia encases a rich, vanilla spiked pastry cream and gently cooked apples with toasted walnuts.  Crunchy caramelized sugar and an intense cranberry caramel garnish add interest to the dish.

This dessert might impress your guests, but it's not hard to make.  Shaping the tuile quickly without cracking can take a tiny bit of practice and might be frustrating, but it's not difficult; just a potential pain in the butt.

The components can be made and stored separately in advance, but I recommend plating these shortly before serving so the apples don't make the tuile soggy.

Step 1: Make the Tuile Cornucopia

2 egg whites, preferably at room temp
1/2 C powdered sugar
1/4 C butter, melted
1/4 C flour

I can't tell you how many cookies this recipe will make.  That depends on how large you make the cookies and how many you break and have to replace.

If your egg whites are cold, you can put them in a little bowl and put the bowl over some warm water.

Whip the egg whites into soft peaks.  Fold in the powdered sugar (sift to remove any clumps), then whip a little more to thoroughly incorporate.  Sugar helps keep the egg whites from getting over beaten.  Stir in the flour and butter.  If there are lumps, strain them out of the batter.

If you don't have a silpat, you'll need parchment or nonstick aluminum foil.  Do not use regular aluminum foil or you'll be sad.  Trust me.

Spread a small amount of batter onto the parchment with a spoon to make a thin circle.  Bake at 350 degrees F until the edges start to turn brown and the batter is no longer wet.  This only takes a few minutes; keep your eyes on the tuile so it doesn't get overcooked.

Working quickly while the cookie is still warm and pliable, slide a spatula under it to loosen it, then wrap it around a cone to form the cornucopia shape.  It should be cool and firm within a couple minutes so you can remove the cone and make your next cookie.

Some people bake 4 at a time because they're faster at shaping them than I am.

I didn't have a cone, so I made one.  I taped some skewers together at the tips, shoved a ball of aluminum foil inside them to hold them out into the cone shape, and wrapped the thing in foil.

Step 2: Prepare the Apples

1/2 apple
1 T honey (or more, depending on the sweetness of the apple)
1 teaspoon butter
1 dash cinnamon
1/4 C walnuts
a little lemon juice, to taste
2 teaspoons or so of flour

I used fuji apples because they're what we have and I like them cooked or raw.  My apples were large, and half of one apple was enough for two desserts.  I left the peel on, but you can peel your apples if you prefer.  Sprinkle on the lemon juice.

Chop the apple into little pieces.  Melt the butter in a pan over medium heat and add walnuts.  Stir occasionally, toasting them until they smell fragrant and nutty.  Don't burn them.

Add the apples and honey to the pan.  Stir, cooking gently until they're almost as done as you like.  I don't like mushy, overcooked apples.  Add the cinnamon, then sprinkle on a bit of flour.  Stir quickly, making sure the flour doesn't form any lumps.  Cook until the flour absorbs the excess liquid and thickens everything.  Make sure the mixture is bubbling hot so none of the flour remains raw.

Pour apple mixture into a bowl until you're ready to assemble the desserts.

Step 3: Make the Pastry Cream

1 C cream
2 T cornstarch
2 T honey
2 egg yolks plus one egg
1/2 vanilla bean

This batch makes plenty for two desserts, and might possibly be enough for four, depending on how big you make your tuile and how much pastry cream you add.

I had 2 egg yolks left from making the tuile, and one whole egg because I'd broken the yolk while trying to separate it.  I figured using them for the pastry cream was a good use.  Whisk the eggs and stir in the honey.  Make sure it's thoroughly combined.

Whisk the cornstarch into the cream while it's cold.  Split and scrape the vanilla bean; add the pod and scrapings to the cream and bring to a simmer in a pan.  I used half a vanilla bean in this, but you could get away with even a quarter of one; my custard had a LOT of vanilla bean specks.  I get cheap vanilla beans from; everywhere else is ridiculously overpriced.

Whisk constantly; when the cream starts to bubble and thicken, remove it from the heat and slowly pour a thin stream into the egg mixture while constantly whisking the egg mixture.  This brings the eggs up to temperature SLOWLY (also called tempering them) so they don't curdle and cook quickly.  Keep whisking until the mixture is smooth, then return it to the pan over low heat.  Cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture is as thick as you like.  Remove from heat and set aside until assembly.

Step 4: Prepare the Garnishes

The caramelized sugar and the cranberry caramel sauce start with the same ingredients and amounts:

2 T white sugar
1 t corn syrup
2 T water

The only difference is that the caramel sauce will also use:

2 T unsweetened cranberry juice

Heat the sugar, corn syrup, and water in a pan, stirring until the sugar dissolves.  Cook, swirling the pan every once in awhile, until the mixture starts to turn an amber color.  Spread the hot sugar on some parchment and let cool to harden.  Break it into random pieces.

Heat the next batch of sugar, corn syrup, and water in the pan until it also gets to the light amber color.  Pull the pan off the burner and dump in the cranberry juice.  Stir well until it's thoroughly mixed.  Return the pan to the heat if you want the sauce thicker.  I made mine relatively thick, but you don't have to let as much water evaporate if you want just a thin sauce to drizzle.  If the sauce gets too thick, you can always add water and heat it gently, stirring until it's combined.  Remember that the caramel will stiffen considerably as it cools.

Step 5: Plate the Dessert

Put a dab of pastry cream on the plate to hold the tuile in place; it'll slide around otherwise.  I spooned the pastry cream into a ziplock bag and snipped off the corner so I could pipe it more easily.

Once the cookie is where you want it, fill it halfway or more with pastry cream.  Spoon in the apple mixture, adding enough that some is spilling out.  Drizzle the cranberry caramel onto the plate wherever you like.  Put another spoonful of custard on the plate, and arrange some shards of caramelized  sugar on the custard.  Serve and enjoy.

Thanks for reading!  Post pictures in the comments if you end up making your own.  :)

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