When I want to make a quick and simple dessert an apple crisp always comes to mind. Peel and slice up a few apples, toss with lemon, cinnamon, brown sugar, a smidge of flour and a sprinkle of salt. For the top - a few oats, almond flour, a bit more flour, sugar, salt, and butter to keep it crumbly and crisp, and in the oven. Done. Maybe some ice cream on top and everyone is happy. What could be even easier with a similar result? Brown Betty.
Brown Betty is the girl next door you never really think about, or talk to your friends about. You're not attracted to her at first sight, but you love it when you run into her and exchange hellos. Then one day, you hang out with her, spending some serious time and you can't believe you never noticed how amazing she really is. She doesn't require copious amounts of effort. She's perfect - never too much or over the top. You can bring her home to mom, but your friends think she's great too. Brown Betty is the dessert that is never really craved or swooned over, but when it's there you can't imagine life with her.
Brown Betty is way easier than pie and doesn't really require much of a recipe. To start, cube day-old brioche bread, or a mixture of country white bread and croissants into 1/2 inch cubes. You could also do this with fresh bread, just cut and cube a few hours before and set out to dry the bread a bit. Then, in a bowl, peel and slice tart apples. They should be sliced relatively thin - if they are too thick they won't soften enough by the time the bread on top browns. Toss apple slices with a squeeze of lemon, a generous amount of cinnamon, a bit of clove and nutmeg, brown sugar, vanilla extract, and a splash of brandy or calvados. Toss together and set aside. In a pot melt and brown butter. When the butter starts to brown and get nutty, pour most of the butter over the cubed bread and toss together. Reserve a bit of brown butter for sprinkling on top. In a buttered baking dish, layer the now brown buttered bread and/or croissant cubes with apples, starting and ending with the bread cubes. Sprinkle the remaining butter over top. You could sprinkle a bit of turbinado sugar on top as well, but it's not necessary. Bake in a 350F oven, for about 30 minutes. The apples should be soft, but not mushy, and the bread cubes on top should be a golden brown.
As a general guide I used a mixture of 6 cups of cubed white bread and croissants. I also used 6 apples, juice of 1 lemon, 1/4 cup brown sugar (add more if you like your desserts on the sweeter side), 1 Tablespoon of cinnamon, pinch each of nutmeg, clove and salt (use whatever spices you like with apples), 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, 2 Tablespoons of calvados (if you don't want to use alcohol fresh apple juice is fine, but it does need a bit of liquid), and 4 ounces of butter. This fit perfectly in an medium-depth 8x8 inch baking dish.
Serve warm, with or without fresh heavy cream or vanilla ice cream. The bottom layer of bread soaks up all the cinnamony apple juice that caramelizes a bit while the top is crisp and buttery. It's understated, but perfect on a cool fall day.