I call this old-fashioned baked applesauce custard because while it's not from a historic recipe, it does hearken back to several styles of historic recipes. Its antecedents are:
Apples plus dairy seem to be a recurring theme, and while apple crisp with ice cream and apple pie with whipped cream are a delight, I wanted to try something a little different. Enter, baked apple custard.
As you may have noticed, I've been on an apple kick lately, and this custard just doesn't disappoint. I had most of a quart jar of homemade applesauce in my fridge that needed using up as I hadn't canned it, and it had been made over a week ago. If you leave applesauce in the fridge long enough, it will start to ferment! And I didn't want that work to go to waste. I also felt like cooking something a bit more dessert-y than just eating plain applesauce with a little maple syrup or cream. This recipe is a mash-up of two, mainly - an applesauce custard pie recipe, and crustless custards. It was an experiment that turned out eminently delightful.
Old-Fashioned Baked Applesauce Custard Recipe
This recipe starts with a very simple applesauce recipe, although you can use unsweetened store-bought applesauce if you prefer. But I liked the chunky kind, like my mom used to make. Start with apples you like. Most modern dessert apples will not need sweetening. Peel them, quarter, and cut out the cores (I use a sharp paring knife to make a V-shape around the seeds, like my mom used to do). Slice them lengthwise into a pot and cook over medium-low heat, uncovered, stirring occasionally. If the apples seem dry, add two tablespoons of water to get them started. The bottom ones will cook into mush, and the ones closer to the top will stay firmer. If you prefer, you can mix cooking apples like McIntosh with a crisper apple like Honeycrisp or Gala to get the same result. I used a mixture of Gingergolds, Golden Supremes, and Winesaps - some of my favorite locally available apples. Once all the apples are fork-tender or sauce, et your applesauce cool fully, and you're ready to start the recipe.
1/3 cup sugar or maple syrup
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tbsp. flour
1 cup milk
1 1/2 cups homemade, unsweetened applesauce
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease a glass pie plate generously with butter, and flour it (sprinkle with flour and tap and rotate the pie plate to coat it with a thin layer of flour - discard any extra, or use it in the recipe). In a large bowl with a pouring spout, whisk the eggs, sugar, cinnamon, and salt together until well-combined. Add the flour and whisk well to prevent lumps. Then stir in milk and applesauce. Pour into the buttered and floured pie plate, and carefully place in the oven. Cook 30-40 minutes or until the center is set. The top will be sticky. Let it cool slightly and serve warm, or chill and serve cold.
This recipe is easy to double, like I did, but the high applesauce ratio means it's very soft and delicious, but it won't cut up into a nice, neat pie slices (as you'll see below). Better to make it in a pretty oval baking dish and serve with a large spoon instead of in slices. It doesn't need it, but add some whipped cream if you're so inclined.
Old-Fashioned Baked Applesauce Custard is simple and homey, creamy and delicious whether served warm or cold. It tastes of fall and childhood, and that particular poignant longing for a past or place you know never existed that seems so endemic to autumn.
It's the perfect dish for that transition between fall and winter, when November gets misty and the blazing leaves turn brown, and the days get darker. Who needs the fuss of pie crust? It makes a perfect after-school snack, weekend breakfast, or comforting dessert after a long work day. It doesn't look like much, but you could gussie it up for Thanksgiving too, if you've a mind. And while it's almost certainly better with homemade sauce, it's probably pretty darned good with the store-bought kind, too. Happy eating, friends.
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Sarah Wassberg Johnson has an MA in Public History from the University at Albany and studies early 20th century food history.