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Apple pie parfaits reinvent iconic dessert in lighter, unfussy way

The central ingredient of apple pie parfaits is fresh apples, and a variety of the fruit can be used in this recipe.  (Tom McCorkle/For the Washington Post)
By Ellie Krieger Special to </p><p>the Washington Post

When I am asked the would-you-rather question “cake or pie?” I am pie all the way, no hesitation. But as much as I love a freshly baked, double-crust apple pie, most days of the week I want a dessert that’s lighter, healthier and easier to make.

These dessert cups answer that call scrumptiously. They center on the fresh apples that, to me, are one of the most exciting things about this season. Simmered in a skillet with a touch of maple syrup, lemon juice and cinnamon, the fruit becomes tender, aromatic and pie filling-like, with a nuanced flavor that comes from using a variety of dapples, each with its own taste profile.

I like to leave the apple peels on for their lovely color, rustic texture and nutritional value, but you could certainly peel them if you prefer. Once cooled, the cooked apples are layered in jars or glasses with graham cracker crumbs and my go-to creamy topping of vanilla-spiked, fresh whipped cream folded with Greek yogurt.

I developed the cream topping years ago as a way to accommodate a bigger dollop in a better-for-you way, but I’ve come to prefer it on most fruit desserts for its taste alone, as it adds a complementary, gentle tang. I also find it to be more stable than regular whipped cream, lasting several days in the refrigerator.

With graham cracker crumbs on the bottom of each parfait absorbing the lovely juices from the apples, and an extra crunchy sprinkle of them on top of the soft cream, this treat is a delightful way to cap off an autumn meal or savor as an afternoon pick-me-up. In fact, depending on my mood, I might even choose it when given the option “pie or parfait?”

Apple Pie Parfaits

4 medium apples (1 ½ pounds) such as Granny Smith, Golden Delicious or Grimes Golden apple, Honeycrisp, Pink Lady, Braeburn or a mix, unpeeled, cored and sliced into ¼-inch thick slices

¼ cup maple syrup

2 tablespoons water

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

Pinch table or fine sea salt

3 sheets (1 ½ ounces) graham crackers

¼ cup very cold heavy cream

2 teaspoons confectioners’ sugar

¼ teaspoon vanilla extract

3 tablespoons plain Greek yogurt (nonfat, low-fat or whole)

In a large, deep skillet, combine the apple slices, maple syrup, water and lemon juice. Sprinkle with the cinnamon and salt, and set the skillet over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the apples soften but still retain their shape, and most of the liquid has evaporated, 7 to 8 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool completely.

While the apples are cooking, place the graham crackers into a zip-top bag and, using a rolling pin or mallet, crush them into a fine crumb. You should wind up with about ½ cup of crumbs.

In a large bowl, combine the cream, confectioners’ sugar and vanilla and, using a hand mixer, whip until stiff peaks form. Using a flexible spatula, fold in the yogurt until well combined.

Distribute the graham cracker crumbs on the bottom of four or five 8-ounce jars or glasses, reserving 1 tablespoon of the crumbs for garnish. Add the apple mixture, then top each with a dollop of the whipped cream, finish with a sprinkle of the reserved graham cracker crumbs and serve.

Yield: 4 to 5 servings

Storage notes: Leftover parfaits can be covered and refrigerated for as long as three days.