As the apples fall freely from laden boughs, snatch them up while you can - then get peeling to make these American-style caramel pies and toffee fritters.
We're lucky enough to have an apple tree in our garden. Now that autumn is upon us, the apples have fattened to the size of my fist, blushed with red and begun to fall, littering our ragged patch of lawn with dozens of fruits. I've not been the only one excited to make the most of this free glut: every time I look out of my window, the landlord - about 200 years old and back as bent as a shepherd's crook - is there, squirrelling apples into his coat pockets.
Caramelised apple and cider lattice
Last month, wandering through Portland on my first stateside visit, I stumbled into a bakery (I can't walk by one without at least pressing my nose against the glass) and bought perhaps the best pastry I've ever eaten: filled with a thick layer of apples slow-roasted in cider to a sticky, caramelised puree. Here, I've re-imagined that pastry for home, the five-hour roast shortened to just an hour on the hob.
2 Bramley apples, peeled, cored and diced
80g soft light brown sugar
A generous pinch of salt
175ml dry cider
1 tsp vanilla extract
320g ready-rolled, all-butter puff pastry
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp milk
1 Put the apples in a saucepan with the water, sugar and salt. Bring the mixture to a simmer over a medium-low heat. Cook for 15-20 mins. The apples should begin to sweat and soften. Once most of the water has evaporated, add most of the cider and continue to cook for 20 minutes or so, to allow the liquid to reduce again. You'll need to keep a close eye on the pan, so the mixture doesn't stick and burn. Once the apples are meltingly soft and almost a pulp, and most of the cider has evaporated, continue to stir, reducing the heat slightly if needed, until the puree has deepened to a rich amber colour and has become thick and even stickier - it takes 45-60 minutes in total to cook the filling.
2 Once cooked, stir the vanilla extract and butter into the hot, caramelised apples. Add the remaining cider if the mixture is a little dry. Leave to cool completely. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6.
3 Roll two-thirds of the pastry into a 25x25cm square. Use a fork to prick all over the pastry (so that it doesn't balloon as it bakes). Cut the square in half and divide the apple mix between the two, spreading it in a thick mound along the length of each rectangle, but leaving a 1cm border around the edges. What you do with the remaining pastry depends on the lattice you want: if you have a rolling lattice cutter, just roll it to around 25x15cm, cut the lattice and halve it to stretch and drape over each of the filled rectangles. If you want to make a simple criss-cross, just roll it thinly and cut strips long enough to arrange diagonally on top. However you make it, roll the pastry thinly and work quickly to avoid it melting.
4 Beat the egg yolk and milk together then brush over the lattice tops to give a golden finish. Bake for 25-30 mins.
Toffee apple fritters
These aren't those limp, battered apple rings you find in Chinese takeaways and all-you-can-eat buffets - these are American-style apple fritters, more akin to doughnuts, and all the tastier for it.
250g strong white flour
1½ tsp instant dried yeast
½ tsp salt
1 tbsp soft light brown sugar
50g butter, softened
2 eating apples, such as Cox or Braeburn
30g light brown soft sugar
2 tbsp plain or strong white flour
¼-½ tsp cinnamon
1.5-2 litres vegetable or corn oil, for frying
150ml double cream
120g light brown soft sugar
A pinch of salt
1 Stir the flour, yeast, salt and sugar together in a large bowl. Heat the milk over the hob or in the microwave until just lukewarm - this will speed up the yeast's activity to help the dough rise, especially if the milk is fridge-cold. Add the milk and 30g of the butter to the dry ingredients and use your hands to mix it all together into a rough dough. Tip it out on to a clean work surface and knead for 10 minutes or so until it's smoother and more elastic.
2 Put the dough into a large bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave to rise at room temperature for 1-1 ½ hours, or until it has almost doubled in size.
3 Meanwhile, peel, core and chop the apples into 1cm cubes. Melt the remaining butter in a pan over a low heat. Once hot, add the apple and sugar and cook for 10 minutes or so over a medium heat, leaving the apples softened, but still holding their shape. Add the flour and cinnamon, then cook for a few minutes to thicken any juices. Cool completely.
4 Gently knead the apple chunks into the risen dough, until evenly spread throughout. (It can help to first roll the dough out, spread the apple over and roll it all up to get an even distribution of fruit). Thanks to the moisture in the apples, the dough will become a little sticky as you knead, but that's fine. Grease a large baking tray, tear golf ball-sized bits of dough and place on the tray. The pieces of dough will be shaggy and uneven: this is as they should be. Leave to rise at room temperature in a draught-free place for around 45 mins.
5 Heat the oil over a high heat at least 10 minutes before the dough has finished rising in a large, deep pan (preferably not non-stick) to a depth of at least 7cm, keeping a constant eye on it. The oil needs to reach 180C/350F for perfect deep frying - any cooler and it'll seep into the crust and leave the doughnuts greasy; too hot and the dough will brown too quickly. It's safest to just use a sugar thermometer on these occasions; (I'd seriously recommend investing the £5 or so), but if you don't have one, test by dropping in a small cube of bread-if it browns all over in 60 seconds the oil is more or less at the right temperature.
6 Fry the risen doughnuts in batches, taking care to handle them carefully to avoid deflating them en route to the pan. Cook for 2 minutes on each side, then pat dry on kitchen towels once done. Remember to check the oil temperature between batches.
7 For the toffee glaze, heat the cream, sugar and salt in a small pan, sifting until smooth, then simmer for 1 min. Take off the heat and stir in the butter until melted. Use a pastry brush to glaze the fritters while they're still warm. Best eaten within a few hours of making - which shouldn't be too hard.