This is adapted from a recipe in Simple French Food by Richard Olney. (Scroll down the Grub Street page to find it; here is a piece by me about the book.) Here in France, I have baguettes to work with; removing the crusts is far too fiddly an operation, so I whizz them up as well. I am not sure that it is necessary to cook the breadcrumbs, rather than simply tossing them in melted butter: they become thoroughly soaked by the liquid. I made more custard than he specifies.
Apples such as Granny Smith that hold their shape would work well here. I used some from my neighbour's garden; they turned to mush almost as soon as they hit the pan.
10 apples, peeled, quartered, cored and sliced (you can hold them in acidulated water, to prevent discolouration)
Plateful breadcrumbs, crusts removed if possible
80 g butter
50 g sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
300 ml milk
100g creme fraiche or double cream
In a large pan, cook the apples in 40 g of the butter, tossing regularly, until soft. It may take up to 20 minutes. Melt the remaining butter, and toss the breadcrumbs in it; if you like, cook them over a very gentle heat until crisp.
Beat the eggs with the sugar and vanilla. In a small pan, warm the milk and the cream. Pour a little of the hot liquid into the eggs, stirring to disperse the heat and prevent curdling; add a little more liquid; then add the rest.
Lightly butter a gratin dish. Spread the crumbs on the bottom; lay the apples on top of them; pour over the custard mixture. Put the dish into a roasting tin, pour hot water around it to come half way up the sides (it prevents the outside of the dish from getting too hot and spoiling the custard), and bake at gas mark 3/160 C for 30 to 45 minutes, or until the custard has set. Serve hot, or warm.