Allow me to join the ranks of Serious Eaters trumpeting the arrival of apple season (see here, here and here). It's time to start fiddling with our favorite fall friend.
Before the chillier temps set in and we all start (at long last) on pie, tart and crumble baking, here's how I'll be satisfying my fruit fetish: airy, delicate slices, crisp and almost candied, tinged with just the slightest bit of oven-brown on the edges. Let's make apple chips!
The idea of making dried apples at home didn't spark my fire at first—store-bought apple slices have a consistency somewhere between chewy and gummy, with little apple flavor. Apple chips, on the other hand, still have some of the fabulous crunchiness and tartness of their raw counterparts. Drying concentrates their sweetness, and the slim shape allows them to crisp up instead of collapse. Combine that with their gorgeous fall-leaf-reminiscent colors and lovely flowery shapes, and I say you have a snack that gives the fresh fruit a run for its money.
The Best Apples For Baking
Everyone seems to have a favorite when it comes to raw apple flavor, but tarter apples hold their shape better when cooked. Though not as much of a problem for apple chips as it is for pie fillings, you're still best off reaching for varieties that will retain their shape texture as they dry. Golden Delicious seems are the old reliable, combining great flavor and texture. I personally had great luck with Granny Smiths. Galas and Pink Ladies also seem to have good rapport with the oven.
How Drying Works
Drying fruit is simply a technique of removing most of its natural moisture. The only real trick is to do so at the right speed and temperature to maintain the flavor and texture of the slices. This all depends on the type of fruit and the shape of the cut, but in most cases it'll range between 120 and 225°F. Too hot and you'll scorch the outside before the center is able to dry. I'm not sure there is such thing as too low or slow—after all, old-school drying techniques can involve hanging or laying the fruit out in the sun to shrivel up over several hours or days.
True, drying is traditionally a way of preserving foods (microbes can't survive as easily once excess moisture has been removed). But, since apple season has only just begun, for our immediate purposes, it's just a means to achieve a snappier manifestation of our favorite fruit.
A Note on Prepping
If you're working with a large batch of apples, you'll want to rest them in a bowl of water containing an acid such as lemon juice or citric acid while you work to peel and slice them (in mass-produced dried fruits, sulfur is applied to do this job). Since I worked with a small amount, I plunged my slices right into some boiling simple syrup (I find the extra hit of sweetness makes them taste more like a treat and the extra sugar helps to pull moisture from the fruit and enhance caramelization—more on this in the slideshow). Just remember sugar also has a tendency to burn and scorch, and the change from lightly toasted to burnt can happen within minutes if you're not watching carefully.
Some people like to core their apples before breaking them down. Personally, I enjoy the gorgeous star-like shape in the center of the slices and leave the core in. I still gently pop out the seeds.
I tested baking slices from the same apple on three different surfaces: a wire rack, a non-stick baking mat (I used Silpat), and the bottom of a bare metal baking sheet. Naturally I assumed the rack would be my quickest bet—often in roasting, lifting the object you're cooking can help air circulate around it more quickly and evenly. But in this case it took the longest by far. Crisping a few slices took 1.5 hours at 220°F, compared to an easier 50 minutes on the non-stick mat. Laying the slices directly on the bare cookie sheet produced the fastest results—in barely 45 minutes I had crispy, toasty chips. If you don't favor darkness or heavy-duty crunch, or don't trust yourself to check the oven every few minutes, this method might be a little too speedy for you.
Click around the slideshow for an easy tutorial. The method shown also works with thinly sliced, firm pears.