I have this “thing” for Betty White. I always have.
I love this woman so much that I could just eat her with a spoon.
So that is precisely what I set out to do.
Figuratively, of course. She’s a lifelong animal rights activist, so going as far as trying to consume her in the literal sense just doesn’t feel right.
But how does one go about creating a dish to honor someone who plays it:
a) Sweet and (a little too) simple as Rose Nylund on The Golden Girls. b) Tart, over-sexed, and devastatingly cutting as Sue Ann Nivens on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and… c) Smart as a whip on pretty much every game show that required celebrity participation in the 60s, 70s, and 80s.
(Insert question mark here.)
The answer seemed easy: One makes a dessert that is simple and sweet, tart and smart.
The name was the first thing that came to me, like a Wheel of Fortune Before-and-After puzzle. Apple Brown Betty White. But before I could say, “I’d like to solve the puzzle, please, Mr. Sajak,” I realized that I may have had the name of the dish, I wasn’t sure what would go into it.
Oh, I know. The dessert would be required to have bread and apples in it, otherwise it wouldn’t be an Apple Brown Betty, but I kept hearing Sue Ann Nivens exclaim after Mary Richards told her she might have Prince Charles on her show, “Oh, you and he would make a wonderful pair if only you weren’t so old, American, and common.”
Apple Brown Betty might very well be all three, but only the first two adjectives could describe Betty White– she is anything but common. So what to do? I had thought about making a cheesecake (constant companion of The Golden Girls) and adding an Apple Brown Betty topping to it but:
a) The idea disgusted me and b) It was entirely too complicated. It’s two desserts rolled into one. And not worth the effort. I wanted other people to make it and share in my loving cannibalization of Miss White.
I was stuck, so I filed away the idea until the right answer came along. Which is precisely what happened this weekend.
I had prescribed for myself a much-needed quiet evening at home. There was a brilliant thunderstorm happening outside, so I decided that, instead of my traditional martini, I would whip up a batch of glögg— a favorite Holiday time, cold weather beverage. As I sat down with a hot mug of the stuff, I noticed the pile of apples minding their own business in the fruit bowl I keep strategically situated in my living room to trick guests into believing that I eat well. I took a sip of my drink and started to think again about the nebulous Apple Brown Betty White. After several more sips, the answer seemed obvious.
Sue Ann Nivens? She worked, insulted people, and chased men in Minneapolis. Rose Nylund? She told endless stories about her childhood in St. Olaf. Both of these women lived in Minnesota, a state built by Scandinavians. I could make this into a Swedish dessert. With the exception of bread and apples, I had all the ingredients warm in my hands. The answer had been right there in front of me for ages. I just needed a little liquid inspiration to see it.
“Mr. Sajak,” I thought,” I’d finally like to solve the puzzle.”
Though why on earth I thought in terms of one of the few game shows Betty White was never on (to my knowledge) I will never know.
Or why I was calling him Mr. Sajak when everyone else calls him Pat.
Apple Brown Betty White
This really is as sweet and simple as Rose, and tart and easy as Sue Ann. And it’s a perfect dessert to make during the Holiday season when one is either too traumatized from baking Thanksgiving pies or unable to so much as look at another damned Christmas cookie.
Now I know I’m not the boss of you, but the key to Apple Brown Betty White’s success is the finishing touch. The last word, if you will. Instead of adding sweet whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, this dish screams out for crème fraîche tempered by a touch of bee excretion. It’s a tart little zinger of a finish delivered with a honeyed tone like only Sue Ann Nivens could pull off.
And it will make you one Happy Homemaker. I promise.
Serves 4 to 6
3 apples suitable for baking, like Jonagold
4 slices of brown bread, cut into small cubes. Other types will work, but this is a brown betty so I’m sticking with it.
1/2 cup butter, melted
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/3 cup slivered almonds, lightly toasted
1/3 cup raisins soaked in brandy
2 tablespoons of said raisin-soaking brandy
1 tablespoon grated orange zest
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
A pinch of salt
As much honey-tinged crème fraîche as you dare
1. Place bread cubes in a food processor and pulse a few times until there are both small chunks and finer crumbs. Spread them onto a baking sheet and bake in a 350ºF oven until they are dry to the touch and lightly toasted. Remove, toss with melted butter, and set aside. Turn oven up to 375°F.
2. Peel, core, halve, and slice the apples into 1/4″ slices. In a large bowl, toss them with raisins and brandy, then add all the spices, brown sugar, almonds, and salt. Mix gently with clean hands, which is always much more satisfying that mixing such things with a spoon. Take a scant handful of the finer breadcrumbs and toss in (this will help absorb some of the liquid during baking, but said liquid is really nothing to be afraid of).
3. Rub the bottom and sides of a 1 1/2 quart baking dish with butter. Spread apple mixture more or less evenly along the bottom of the dish. Cover with remaining breadcrumbs and bake loosely covered with foil for 40 minutes. After this time, please remove the foil to let the bread crumbs brown. You will know your Apple Brown Betty White is done when the crumbs are sufficiently dark as Miss White’s humor and the apples start to bubble like her darling television personality.
4. Remove from oven, and serve as hot* as this 88 year-old woman’s career with a generous amount of honeyed crème fraîche.
*This dish can be warmed again but, if you are a diehard Sue Ann Nivens fan, feel free to tell your guests you’d rather flush it down the toilet than see it re-heated (See: Veal Prince Orloff).