Crabapples are technically edible, but as anyone who's bitten into one can tell you, most aren't anything you'd really want to eat. Scott Manley of Table, Donkey and Stick, who was challenged by Homestead's Chris Davies to create a dish with crabapples, says he grew up near the town of Crabapple, Georgia. "We called them 'crap apples,'" he says, and doesn’t remember trying to eat them much. "We knew better."
Manley was expecting the crabapples he got to be very tart, and was disappointed to discover that they were like regular apples but mealier, with less flavor. "They're kind of boring," he says. (Because it's late in the season for crabapples, Manley had trouble sourcing them, and couldn't find any that were more to his liking.)
What distinguishes crabapples from the apples you'd buy in a grocery store isn't their flavor but their size—crabapples are two inches or less in diameter. While there are many varieties of crabapple, they're generally bred for their flowers rather than their fruit, though crabapples, which are high in pectin, do make good jelly.
Manley used his apples two ways: he grilled some over an open fire, cooked them down even more, and then blended them with milk, cream, sugar, and egg yolks to make an ice cream base. The rest he macerated with sugar and malic acid (to make up for the lack of tartness in the apples themselves). After being cooked down, the apples served as the filling for a crabapple strudel.
"I used to do strudel more," Manley says, "but they're kind of a pain in the ass. You're supposed to get [the dough] thin enough that you can read a love letter through it." He's even got a theory about why the old wisdom specifies a love letter: "If you're writing a love letter you're probably using a very soft touch, so the print might not be as dark. You're not jabbing at it, like, I FUCKING LOVE YOU!"
Once Manley had his strudel dough stretched thin enough—which he did by hand, much like stretching pizza dough—he piped the filling onto it, brushed the dough with butter and rolled it up, then popped the pastry into the oven. Served with the grilled crabapple ice cream, the strudel was a simple-looking dessert that Manley says tastes like tart apple pie. "I don't think anyone would be able to distinguish this as specifically crabapple in any way," he says. "But it is delicious." He might even put the ice cream on the menu—but not the strudel.
Crabapple strudel with crabapple ice cream
Manley has challenged Caleb Trahan of Bread & Wine to create a dish with lamb kidneys. "It's one of the few offal I don't care for," Manley says. "They're kind of disgusting."
Wood-grilled crabapple ice cream
275 g sugar
10 egg yolks
300 ml milk, warmed
300 ml cream
200 g grilled and stewed crabapples (season before grilling with salt and olive oil)
5 g salt
Cook egg yolks to 72 degrees Celsius in a circulator. Add the milk and sugar to a blender (the milk has to be warm enough to dissolve the sugar) and let cool a bit before adding eggs.
After blending well, add the grilled crabapple puree, cream, and salt. Blend again, then spin in an ice cream maker to freeze.
50 g butter, melted
300 g water
15 g apple cider vinegar
600 g high-gluten flour
1,000 g crabapples
200 g sugar
10 g malic acid
10 g salt
Cut apples into small to medium pieces. Add sugar, malic acid, and salt; allow to macerate overnight. Cook down the next day until apples are mostly transparent. Remove and put in a piping bag.
Combine all ingredients for dough, knead well, and stretch thin. Pipe crabapple filling along one side, brush dough with butter, roll up, and bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for about 15-20 minutes. Take it out and let it cool for about 15 minutes. Serve with ice cream.