A Fresh Spin On Classic Fall Desserts

BY ALLEN COX

This year, more time at home has meant more time in the kitchen whipping up treats. Some have called it “quarantine baking,” but I call it delicious. My most relaxing moments are in the kitchen, rolling out pastry dough, finding tasty uses for fresh ingredients and putting my own spin on classic recipes. Fall is an especially inspiring time in the kitchen as temperatures outside begin to drop and the bounty of fall harvest lends itself to family-pleasing sweets. Here are a few original home-tested, family-approved recipes, featuring classic fall ingredients—apples, sweet potatoes and cranberries—from my kitchen to yours.  

Note: Some recipes call for whole grain flour, but you may substitute white all-purpose flour if you prefer.  

Apple Galette in Phyllo Crust 

Photo by Allen Cox

The beauty of a galette is that it doesn’t have to be perfect. It is rustic by nature but has all the deliciousness of something you spent hours fussing over. Phyllo pastry gives the dessert a fresh (and crisp) twist over the traditional pie dough. If you’ve never worked with phyllo, this will be an easy introduction. Any variety of apples will do in this recipe. Serves 6-8.  

Ingredients 

  • 10 phyllo pastry sheets (buy frozen phyllo and thaw) 
  • ½ – 1 cup unsalted butter, melted (amount as needed) 
  • 6 apples, peeled and thinly sliced 
  • ½ cup granulated sugar 
  • 3 Tbsp. corn starch 
  • 1 Tbsp. cinnamon 
  • ½ tsp. nutmeg 
  • ½ – ١ lemon, juiced 

Directions 

Preheat oven to 350°. 

Thaw phyllo according to package directions. On your work surface, unroll the phyllo dough on a sheet of plastic wrap or parchment, and have ready a clean damp towel. Next to the unrolled phyllo, place a 12”-14” pizza pan covered with a sheet of parchment. Also have a bowl of the melted butter and a pastry brush ready.  

In a bowl, combine the apple slices, sugar, corn starch, cinnamon, nutmeg and lemon juice until the apples are well coated. (If the apples are tart, use less lemon juice; if they are sweet, use more lemon juice.) Set the apple mixture aside.  

To prepare the phyllo crust, very carefully peel off one phyllo sheet, trying to keep it in one piece. (If it breaks, it will still be useable.) Lay the phyllo sheet over the middle of the parchment on the pizza pan. Immediately cover the remaining stack of phyllo sheets with the damp towel to keep them from drying out—you will have to do this every time you remove a new sheet of phyllo. Brush the single phyllo sheet on the pizza pan with melted butter. Place a new phyllo sheet slightly overlapping the first at an angle and brush it with butter. Continue this process until you have approximated a patchwork round of overlapping phyllo sheets 18”-20” in diameter. 

Spoon the apples onto the center of the phyllo crust, leaving about 4” around the edges without any fruit. Scrape any coating from the sides of the bowl on top of the mound.  

Lift one side of the crust onto the apple mound. It will only partially cover the apples. Working in a circle around the pastry, continue lifting the crust onto the mound, overlapping the phyllo crust sections onto itself until you have covered the sides and part of the top. The top of the galette should have a circle of exposed fruit. Brush the sides and top of the pastry with melted butter. (Note: If you want a less rustic look, before you place the fruit on top of the pastry, you can trim the ragged edges of the pastry until you have a round shape and then arrange the exposed apple slices in a spiral pattern.) 

Bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown and very crisp. The apples should be tender when pierced with a knife. Place on a rack to cool slightly. Slice like you would a pie and serve warm or at room temperature. 

Sweet Potato-Jack Daniels Pie with Nut Streusel 

Photo by Allen Cox

The flavors and aromas of this dessert scream “fall.” The whole wheat-almond pat-in-the-pan crust couldn’t be easier and gives the crust a nutty flavor that’s a nice complement to the walnut streusel topping. You’ll be tempted top off a holiday dinner with this pie. Serves 8. 

Ingredients 

  • 1¼ cups whole wheat pastry flour (such as Bob’s Red Mill) 
  • 1 cup almond meal  
  • ½ cup chilled unsalted butter, cut into ¼” cubes or smaller 
  • ½ tsp salt 
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar 
  • 1 egg yolk 
  • ½ cup cold water 
  • ½ cup melted butter 
  • ¾ cup brown sugar 
  • 1 cup walnuts or pecans, chopped to a medium chop 
  • 1 tsp cinnamon 
  • 3 eggs 
  • 2½ cups sweet potatoes, baked and mashed (no skins) 
  • ½ cup milk (whole or 2%) 
  • ¼ cup Jack Daniels whiskey 
  • 1 tsp allspice 
  • 2 Tbsp corn starch 
  • 1 egg white 

Directions

Preheat oven to 425°. 

To prepare the pie dough, place flour, almond meal, salt and sugar in a food processor fitted with a pastry blade. Pulse a few times to blend. With the processor running, gradually add the butter cubes and egg yolk until the mixture resembles a course meal. Add the water a few tablespoons at a time until the dough forms a ball but is not wet. 

Pat the dough into the bottom and up the sides of a 9”-10” pie pan. Press into place with the bottom of a glass or measuring spoon and, with your fingers, crimp the top edges. Beat the egg white with a fork until slightly foamy and brush the surface of the pie crust with the egg white. Chill the pie crust while you prepare the streusel topping and the pie filling.  

To prepare the streusel topping, place the remaining 1 cup flour, brown sugar, melted butter, chopped nuts and cinnamon in a bowl and stir or mix with your fingers until well blended and crumbly. Set aside.  

Place the 3 eggs, sweet potatoes, milk, whiskey, allspice and corn starch into the bowl of an electric mixer. Mix on medium speed until a smooth batter is formed.  

Pour the sweet potato mixture into the pie crust. Sprinkle the streusel topping gently over the pie; some of it will sink under the surface, but most should remain on top.  

Bake the pie at 425° for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 and bake for 40 minutes longer. A knife inserted in the middle should come out clean; if it does not, bake longer in 10-minute increments until done. Cool completely on a wire rack. Serve with whipped cream.  

Cranberry-Goat Cheese Turnovers 

Photo by Allen Cox

Bright, tangy flavors give these autumn treats their pucker power. An almond pastry crust and a goat cheese and a cranberry-orange filling bring it all together. Makes 1 dozen turnovers.

Ingredients 

  • 2 cups whole cranberries, washed 
  • Zest of 1 orange 
  • ½ cup granulated sugar 
  • ¼ cup water 
  • 3 cups whole wheat pastry flour (such as Bob’s Red Mill) 
  • ١ cup chilled unsalted butter, cut into ¼” cubes  
    or smaller 
  • ½ cup cold water 
  • 8 oz. chevre goat cheese, plain 
  • 3 Tbsp brown sugar 
  • 2 tsp corn starch 
  • 1 egg beaten with 1 Tbsp cold water

Directions

Preheat oven to 400°. 

Place cranberries, granulated sugar, orange zest and ¼ cup water into a saucepan. Cook over low heat until the cranberries begin to burst, stirring occasionally. Press some of the cranberries against the side of the pan with a spoon to burst them. After 10-15 minutes, you will have a thick cranberry compote. Set aside to cool completely.  

To make the cheese filling, mix together the goat cheese, brown sugar and corn starch until well blended. Set aside. 

To make the pastry, place flour, salt and ¼ cup sugar in the bowl of a food processor set with a pastry blade. Pulse a few times to mix. With the processor running, slowly add the butter cubes until it forms the texture of a course meal. Add the cold water a few tablespoons at a time until the dough forms a ball but is not wet. Flatten the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes.  

Place 2 pieces of plastic wrap overlapping slightly on your work surface. Sprinkle lightly with flour. Place half the chilled dough on the work surface. Sprinkle with a few tablespoons of flour. (Refrigerate the remaining dough.) Roll the dough into a rectangle about -inch thick. With a sharp knife, cut dough into 4-5 inch squares. Place squares on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Gather the pastry scraps and add to the dough in the refrigerator.  

In the center of each pastry square place one tablespoon of the goat cheese mixture and top with one tablespoon of cranberry compote. Do not overfill. Keep the edges free of filling so the turnovers will seal properly. Lightly dampen the edges of the square with water. Fold one corner over the filling to meet the opposite corner to form a triangle. Crimp the edges with a fork to seal the turnover. Lightly brush with the egg wash. Repeat with all the other squares on the baking sheet. 

Bake for 20 minutes. Remove to a cooling rack. 

Repeat the process with the remaining dough and filling.