Caramelised apple compote

Apple purée - possibly the most disappointing dessert in the world. It suggests lack of imagination, of effort - come on, make an apple pie at least! Or crumble!! It’s a pudding that just isn’t finished. (There’s a whole other world of horror awaiting too in the awful Apple Snow, wherein cooked apple is combined with beaten egg white. Ostensibly this lightens the texture but, as anyone who’s had the misfortune to try it will know, it simply lends a glossy, slippery nastiness to an already unpleasant experience. I suspect this originated in the UK in the 60s, the dark culinary decade of Fanny Craddock).

I’m sure this wasn’t lost on Antonio Carluccio when he started selling expensive little pots of Piedmontese caramelised apple compote in his shops in the UK. (Putting “Piedmontese” in front of anything is a well-known technique for increasing the desirability and price of otherwise simple food). This was dark, bitter-sweet, and totally compelling. But not dark, bitter-sweet or compelling enough to make it commercially viable, it seems, as it disappeared from Signor Antonio’s shelves some months after it first appeared.

So in the spirit of adventure your writer set about recreating the experience. Admittedly not too hard, but the bronze colour and hint of smokiness make a big difference. Stewed apple is suddenly - unexpectedly - sexy. Now where are those Bramleys?


  • Two large cooking apples
  • 25g butter
  • 3 rounded tablespoons unrefined caster sugar
  • ⅓ lemon


  • Medium saucepan with a close-fitting lid
  • Bowl in which the apples can wait
  • Peeler, chef’s knife, wooden spoon, cutting surface


  1. Rub the cut face of the lemon on your chopping board, then squeeze a little into the bowl - this will stop the apples going brown (though as the caramel will be brown this is by way of a sign of respect to your ingredients - actually, I think it lifts the taste of the finished article too).
  2. Peel and chop the apples into 1.5cm cubes or so. Best way to prepare the apples once peeled is to halve them equatorially, as it were, then cut each of the five segments along the points of the star you’ll see in the middle of the apple. Trim the stalk/core then cut as needed and add to the bowl, stirring them to coat in the juice, and squeeze a bit more of the juice over from time to time.
  3. Now make the caramel. Put the butter in the saucepan over a medium heat, when melted add the sugar and turn the heat up. Stir as the sugar melts to sop it catching. When the sugar is melted and smooth…
  4. …add the pieces of apple. Stir with the wooden spoon to coat the apple pieces. (Some of the caramel will cool and stick to the spoon. However hard it seems, resist the temptation to lick it off - the melting point of sugar is 186 Celsius. Not good for lips or tongues. Just scrape the caramel back into the pan). Keep stirring until the caramel takes on some of the moisture of the apple and starts bubbling, then put the lid on the pan and turn the heat down.
  5. Let the apples cook for 7-10 minutes. As you’ve added no extra liquid, the apple pieces stay relatively coherent; as they’re coated and sitting in a high temparature they soften nicely from the inside. Leave it a little longer if you prefer a smoother (but altogether more boring) texture.
  6. When done transfer straight away to a heatproof bowl (like - maybe - the one the apples waited in . Remember that one?), or into dessert bowls if you’re eating it straight away. Serve with good vanilla ice cream, perhaps adding a crumbled amaretti biscuit, or custard if you really must.
Re: Caramelised apple compote

Now look here…

My father grew an abundance of Bramleys each year. We had enough to last from their September fall well beyond into the new year. (One of my autumn chores was to wrap them in newspaper and store them in the cellar, such as it was after the house was extended into it to accommodate an extra loo.)

Anyway, a staple in the King Lassman home in the winter months was stewed apple (and over-thick Bird’s custard) shared among five young mouths, all yelping for more. My mother prepared her apples in a haphazard way, leaving ample extras among which you would regularly find skin, pips, that indigestible plastic-coated section around the core and stalks if you were really lucky. Its texture was gooey with an occasional crunch. The custard, dolloped over the apples like an accident of thick yellow poster paint, added to the mush factor.

It remains among the best of puddings in my long and eclectic experience of puddings. It was a pudding that was most definitely finished!

(I agree with you about the egg whites, though… what a horrid thing.)

Can I use Bird’s custard on your recipe?


Re: Caramelised apple compote