caramel apple cake

the weather is a little crazy.  yesterday it was in the 50’s in the morning and by early evening, it was raining, sleeting and snowing all at once.  it changed over to snow, we got our annual dusting and the temperature dropped like a rock!  it is 9 degrees outside right now…

before all of this crazy weather started, a few of my fellow master gardeners gathered to begin planning our big urban gardening festival.  a caramel apple cake seemed like the perfect choice for a meeting.

a quickly mixed and spicy cake that is chock full of chunky apples and pecans.  it is one of my favorite cakes to bake and share with friends; it makes regular appearances at meetings and in the garden.

the recipe has been posted before and this is a link to it.  for this one, i used pecans rather than walnuts and that bag of arkansas black apples in my fridge came in handy; i used two of them since they were so large.  for the caramel drizzle, use 1 cup of your favorite caramel sauce-preferably homemade.

to decorate the cake, allow the cake to cool about 15 minutes in the pan.  invert the cake onto a rack and place the rack over a sheet pan to catch the drips.  using a spoon, carefully drizzle half of the caramel over the warm cake.  let the cake cool completely then drizzle the remaining caramel over the cake.  if a lot runs off and collects in the pan, scoop it up and drizzle it again.  the cooler the cake and the caramel, the less likely it is to run off.  just make sure it is pourable or it will form thick globs on the cake-not very attractive, trust me on this.

arkansas black apples get their name from the deep red color of the skin.  it is such a dark red that it will almost look black at a quick glance.  the flavor is a bit floral in comparison to other apples and it they are wonderful for pies and sauce and just as tasty sliced up and eaten raw.  it is a true southern apple and we have a small tree in our yard and maybe this year we will get a few before the squirrels eat them all.

danish braid; tuesdays with dorie

this weeks challenge called for making a batch of danish dough, something my current schedule did not have time to accommodate.  hard to believe but that actually worked in my favor.  way back when, in january, i was testing recipes for a project i am working on.  one of the recipes was for a danish dough.  after testing the recipe, i put half a batch in my freezer to see how it would work out after being frozen. needless to say, the dough will tolerate freezing but not being frozen for 9 months!  my guess is that 3 months is the maximum time it could be frozen and thawed and still rise properly.  while it was past its prime, it was still pretty good, just a little denser than i would prefer.

to bake a braid like the tuesdays of dorie bakers, buy a copy of baking with julia or visit the contributing baker’s, beatrice ojakangas, contribution to the woman today website.  to see how the tuesdays with dorie bakers did with this challenge, visit the website.

 since i was already breaking the rules by not making the dough-let’s just call this my effort to clean the freezer, i decided to wing it completely.  for the filling, i used a sweet red apple, a gala apple to be precise.  after peeling and slicing it, i mixed it with a little dark brown sugar, some spice and a little flour.  to complete it, i sweetened a little cream cheese and added an egg yolk to it and used that as a base for the apple filling.

 forming a braid is really simple.  the most time you will spend is marking out the dough and making the cuts.  it is really important to have a flap at the bottom and the top.  these are folded in over the filling to help keep it from oozing out during the rising and the baking.  then, going from left to right, fold a strip in to the opposite side to give the illusion of braiding the dough.

 the cream cheese base and the spiced apples fill the center of the dough.
 the completed braid is ready for rising
 just out of the oven

so, if you need any assistance, call me.  i will be in the kitchen breaking rules and not following directions and misbehaving in general.  this all has consequences-usually of the dessert kind…

food styling, kinda-sorta: apple and strawberry-rhubarb pies for a magazine

ever wonder just what the person behind the food blog does in real life?  we read the blog, follow them, use the recipes and even communicate with them, call them “friends” but do we really know them?  not really, and that’s okay.  so many food bloggers are simply talented home cooks/bakers while others are professionals in the kitchen.  myself, i fall into the latter category; i am a pastry chef and cookbook author.  
for years now, i have heard people ooh and aah when i tell them that i am a pastry chef.  it’s as if it is something so fantastic and magical and oh how they wish they could be one too.  if i only had a dollar for every time someone said, “oh that must be so much fun!”  really, fun?  it can be on occasion.  most of the time, it is hard work, physically draining and a bit stressful.  even so, i still have fun and most of all, i love doing what i do and could not imagine holding down any other type of job.  
every now and then, i have the opportunity to do something exciting on the job.  remember back in february when my coworkers and i went to the james beard house in new york city?  i am still in awe.  there have been photo shoots and video segments and all sorts of exciting events.  one such event was a recent photo shoot for a big magazine, i won’t name it now-but i will when it hits the stands.  there was a country music star in the photos too but, i was just happy for the chance to make a few pies for a national magazine.
for the shoot, they chose apple and strawberry-rhubarb pies, six of each.
apple pies getting ready to go into the oven
and in the blink of an eye, they are ready!
so are the strawberry-rhubarb pies
i can almost smell them-can you?

probably my two favorite fruit pies, apple and strawberry-rhubarb.  yup, this is the sort of day i would call fun.  the sort of day that makes getting up at 2:40am worth the lack of sleep.  the sort of day that makes working on your day off just fine.  it’s true, i live to bake, absolutely love to bake, so there.

fresh apple cake with dried figs

you have to love a cake that mixes up quickly and easily.  especially nice is a recipe that can be manipulated to include many different flavors.  don’t like apples? use pears.  not a fig fan, fine, use dried cranberries.  not sure what to use that can of roasted hazelnut oil for? bake this cake with it.  just use what you’ve got.  think outside the box; carrots or zucchini could also stand in for the apples.  the only caution, stay away from something that will add a lot of liquid or acid.  that means fresh strawberries and pineapple chunks may not give desirable results.

fresh apple cake with dried figs
makes one bundt cake serving about 12
2 medium granny smith apples, peeled and chopped 
1/2 cup walnut pieces
1 cup oil-any kind suitable for a cake
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla (because it blends well with figs, can be omitted)
2 teaspoons lemon zest
3/4 cup diced, dried figs-i used mission
2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
preheat the oven to 350.  grease and flour the bundt pan and set aside.  place the walnuts in a baking dish and bake until fragrant, about 5-7 minutes.  set them aside to cool.  in a large mixing bowl, whisk the oil with the sugar and the eggs.  add the vanilla and lemon zest and whisk to combine.  add the apples, walnuts and figs and stir to combine.  place the flour, baking soda and cardamom in a sifter or a mesh strainer and sift over the batter in the bowl.  fold the batter together and scraped it into the prepared pan.  bake until firm on top and a tester comes out clean, about an hour.  allow the cake to cool in the pan for 20-30 minutes.  carefully invert onto a rack or serving plate to cool.  this is a tender cake so try not to handle it while it is hot.  due to the moisture of the apples, it is best if served within a day or two; any longer and it becomes a bit sticky and soggy at room temperature.  

french apple tart: tuesdays with dorie

 as a person who bakes a lot of pies, i can honestly say that there isn’t much you can do to improve an apple pie.  sure you can change the type of crust or add different things to it but in the end, you still have an apple pie and what more could you want?  chocolate may be my first choice in all other types of desserts and sweets but when it comes to pie, apple is always my favorite and a perfect choice for a cold and dreary winter day.

this week’s tuesdays with dorie/baking with julia challenge is hosted by gaye of laws of the kitchen and the participants baked the french apple tart found on pages 379-381.  to view the full recipe, visit gaye’s blog or be kind and buy a copy of the book, baking with julia; it is worth every penny!

the recipe makes a 9″ tart which was just too much for two people.  first thing on the list was to make a quarter of the pie dough recipe.  lurking in a bowl in the dining room was a group of apples left from thanksgiving; embarrassing isn’t it.  further inspections yielded a bag of fourelle pears (from the same holiday) living in the produce drawer in the fridge.  needless to say, i had plenty of fruit to make the recipe!

 the filling recipe is a little different.  the apples were peeled, cut into cubes and mixed with the other ingredients.  this mixture was spread out on a pan and roasted.  two things, my apples were old and didn’t give off much juice and second, i forgot the bread crumbs.  neither caused problems-the filling mashed up nicely.

to keep it simple, i used mini pie pans rather than tart pans.  the quarter sized batch of pie dough made 4 pie shells.  i prebaked them all and froze two for another day.  my favorite baking trick is to use a coffee filter to line the pie shell and then use glass marbles for weights.

 the prebaked pie shells were filled with the mashed, roasted apples.
 the pears were peeled and sliced thin.

 then they were arranged around the top of the pie, brushed with a little melted coconut oil(rather than butter) and sprinkled with sugar.

hot from the oven, mmmmmmm….apple pie.  it was real tasty with some vanilla ice cream!!!  be sure to visit the tuesdays with dorie page to see how the rest of the bakers made out.

apple-walnut bundt cake

whenever i go out to the demonstration and research garden (demo garden, as we call it) to work with my fellow master gardeners, i always bring something freshly baked.  most of the time, it is a bundt cake.  every now and then, it is a loaf cake, a batch of muffins or scones or some sort of homemade bread.  this cake is a quick and easy recipe to follow that makes a tasty cake.  it can be made with apples or pears and either way will be equally decadent.

in my collection of bundt pans are a few that came to me from my aunt; they belonged to my late uncle who was a serious bundt cake fan.  this cathedral pan is one of my favorites for large recipes-it is at least 12 cups and makes a huge cake.  beware of a pan that size; the bigger they are, the longer the cake will bake if the pan is full of batter!

apple-walnut bundt cake
serves 12-16
3/4 cup walnut pieces
3 eggs
2 1/4 cups light brown sugar
1 1/2 cup canola oil
2 large granny smith apples, peeled, cored and chopped
3 cups all purpose flour
2 1/4 teaspoons cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
3/4 teaspoon cardamom
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
preheat the oven to 350.  grease and flour the cake pan and set aside.  place the walnuts on a baking pan and toast in the oven until slightly fragrant, about 5-7 minutes.  allow the nuts to cool.
in a large mixing bowl, whisk the eggs with the brown sugar and canola oil until smooth.  add the walnuts and apples and stir to combine.  place the flour, spices and baking soda into a sifter and sift over the batter.  fold the flour into the batter and mix until incorporated.  scrape the batter into the pan and bake until a tester inserted comes out clean, about 1 hour and 15 minutes.
allow the cake to cool for at least 20 minutes in the pan.  carefully turn the cake out onto a rack and allow it to cool completely.  to serve, cut with a serrated knife.  
and as always my friends, if you bake it, show it off and send me a photo!

apple butter-walnut linzer tart; pie #49 of 52

when apples come into season, i love to make applesauce.  the rest of the time, i indulge in apple butter-i love the spicy flavor.  linzer tarts have always been a favorite of mine.  the spicy, nutty dough is so rich and the tartness of the traditional raspberry filling go so well together.  since it is definitely fall, i decided to left these two favorite things collide and see what came of it.

i took a traditional linzer tart dough and used some walnuts in it.  the tart shell was filled with purchased apple butter, topped with a lattice and baked until golden brown.  the filling was slightly tangy and a perfect compliment to the rich walnut dough.  since the apple butter is the predominant flavor , use a good one that you like, either purchased or home made.

apple butter-walnut linzer tart
1 (9″) tart serving 8
3/4 cup almonds, natural sliced
3/4 cup walnuts, pieces
1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
2/3 cup sugar
zest of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
12 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
2 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 cups apple butter
preheat the oven to 350.  toast the almonds and walnuts until fragrant and lightly browned, 5-7 minutes.  allow the nuts to cool.  turn the oven down to 325.  place the sugar in the bowl of a food processor with the nuts and pulse together until the mixture resembles a coarse meal.  add the sugar, lemon zest, cinnamon, cloves, salt and baking powder and pulse it to combine thoroughly.  sprinkle the butter cubes over the top of the mixture and pulse to form a crumbly mass.  add the egg yolks and vanilla and pulse to form a soft dough.  shape a disk using 1/3 of the dough, wrap it and chill it.  press the remaining dough evenly into a tart pan with a removable bottom.  place the tart shell on a baking tray and line the shell with baking paper or coffee filters, fill with baking weights and partially bake the crust until it no longer looks shiny in the bottom and has just barely begun to show color, about 30 minutes.  turn the oven back up to 350.  remove the tart shell from the oven and carefully lift out the weights and paper.  spread the apple butter evenly in the tart shell.  roll the remaining piece of dough out about 1/8-1/4 inch thick and cut 3/4″ strips of dough.  lay the strips over the filling to form a lattice top.  bake the tart until golden brown on top and the apple butter is bubbly, about 50 minutes. allow it to cool before removing from the pan. 
the end is very near…may the tart be with you…send a photo and i will post it here. 

baking sweet memories with my daughters, part 2: crumb topped apple pie, #43 of 52

in my previous post, i baked a tart with my daughter alix; a sort of all growed up/movin out on my own party for the two of us.  this week, i was given the opportunity to do the same with my daughter devon.  you see, she too has moved out and is now in california where she will be attending school.  it was important to me to take the time to teach each of them a little about baking with the hope that they will take this new skill and use it to make their lives a little sweeter.  and in devon’s case, it was a chance to pass a baton;  apple pie is my father in laws favorite pie and since she is now living with my in laws, it is something that she can make for him.

no matter what, i enjoyed every minute of baking with my daughters and cannot wait for the next chance to do so.  for now, i am adjusting to an empty nest and a husband who works all different shifts; in other words, i am spending a lot of time by myself.  it may be a little quiet here but it gives me a chance to do all the things that a book release requires.  my book was released the first week of september and it has been a little hectic.  since the book is out there, i decided to use my recipe for apple pie as this weeks challenge.

miss devon peeling and slicing 5 granny smith apples

tossing the apples with the spices and cornstarch
we got a little crazy and used a 7″ pie plate and piled the apples in a tall dome

the pie was topped off with the crumbs and into the oven she went.  the height of the pie made a slight increase in the baking time.  it was tasty served warm from the oven with vanilla ice cream-perfection!
arkansas sweetly spiced apple crumb pie
serves 6-8
1(9”) pie shell, unbaked
6 cups sliced apples, any variety suitable for baking
3/4cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1-teaspoon cinnamon
1/2teaspoon nutmeg
1/2teaspoon cardamom
1/4teaspoon cloves
1-cup crumb topping, recipe follows
Preheat the oven to 350.  Grease a sturdy baking sheet and line it with foil or parchment paper and grease that as well.  Place the pie shell on the baking sheet and set it aside.  In a bowl, rub the brown sugar, starch and spices together until blended.  Add the apples and toss them to coat them.  Dump the apple mix into the pie shell; scrape any sugar mix and juices into the bowl as well.  Sprinkle the topping evenly over the pie leaving about a 1-1/2” border around the edge-as the apples bake, they will sink and the entire top will have crumbs.  If you put the crumbs close to the edges, they may run out with any of the juices that boil over and then you may not have much topping near the edges.  Bake for about an hour and 15 minutes or until the juices are bubbling and the crumb topping is lightly browned all over.  Allow it to set before cutting, although this will be tough to do, who can resist warm apple pie? 
Crumb topping
Makes about 1-1/3 cups
1/2cup all purpose flour
1/2cup rolled oats
1/3cup dark brown sugar
1/2teaspoon cinnamon
1/8teaspoon baking soda
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small cubes and slightly cold
Place the dry ingredients in a bowl and mix them gently to break up the sugar but take care not to break the oats.  Add the butter and use your hands to gently rub the ingredients together to make small clumps.  Your final result should be a free flowing mixture with some lumps that will clump together when squeezed in your hand.  This can be done in the food processor with the pulse button, a quick time saving method, but will result in the oats being cut.  It can also be done in a stand mixer with the flat beater, which is the method we use in the cafe.

so get in that kitchen and bake some sweet memories with someone you love-send me a photo and i will post it here!

almost caught up! #25 of 52, apple-pear pie

getting caught up…what a concept!  not so sure it will happen but i am giving it my best efforts!  for this pie, i decided to go a little outside the lines.  when you think of apple pie, tart green apples, cinnamon and other spices always come to mind.  they work well with pears too.  but this time, i decided to leave out the cinnamon and nutmeg and focus on some other flavors that work well with apples and pears.  first, i passed up the green granny smiths and used golden delicious apples.  how does vanilla bean, lemon zest and freshly grated ginger sound?  and one last twist-tapioca for the thickener rather than starch or flour.  this extra large and super deep pie was well received despite the lack of cinnamon.  use your favorite pie crust recipe or purchase the prerolled sheets to make it easier.  pyrex makes really deep and large pie plates, look for them in the supermarket with the kitchen gadgets or any other store that stocks pyrex dishes and kitchen ware.
deep dish apple and pear pie
easily serves 8-10
pie dough for a double crust pie-purchsed or using the recipe from pie #18
enough golden delicious apples to make 5 cups of slices
enough ripe anjou pears to make 5 cups of slices
1 cup of sugar
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger-packed tightly
zest of 1-2 lemons
the seeds from one vanilla bean (reserve the pod for another use)
4 teaspoons (and up to 2 tablespoons) quick cooking tapioca
egg wash-1 egg mixed with 1 tablespoon of water
preheat oven to 350.  rub the sugar together with the ginger, lemon zest and vanilla seeds.  mix in the tapioca and toss the mixture with the apples and pears.  lightly grease the pie dish, line it with one sheet of the pie dough and fill it with the fruit mixture.  brush a little egg wash around the edges, top with the second sheet of dough and seal the edges.  trim the excess, roll the excess under and flute the edges.  cut a few vents and if desired, brush the crust with the egg wash and sprinkle lightly with additional sugar.  place the pie on a greased sheet pan and bake until it bubbles in the center, about 1 hour and 15 minutes.
on to the next one…and as always, bake one and send me a photo-i will post it here.

apple turnovers

after testing the recipe at home, i decided to add the apple turnovers to the menu at the cafe. so far, they are selling well and i am glad that i included them in the book. while they may seem like a difficult dessert to master because of the puff pastry, they are really simple to make if you buy the dough frozen. don’t think for a minute that i couldn’t make my own dough. i have many times in the past and it isn’t that hard to do. what it is is time consuming and that is why i like to buy the dough frozen and in prerolled sheets. for one thing, it saves the time of rolling it out. it also is cost effective-little labor and no waste. the best part-it is consistent! each sheet rises high in the oven giving you wonderful, flaky pastries!

the granny smith apples are nicely diced and tossed with some sugar, flour and cinnamon. no need to add lots of spices, a little cinnamon goes a long way as far as flavoring is concerned and if you use a small amount, you allow the flavor of the apples to shine through.

thaw the dough and cut it into squares. using a ruler and a pastry wheel makes this an easy task.
pile the apples into one corner of the square.
a little egg wash on the seams and fold it over. a little more egg wash for some shine and a generous sprinkle of sugar.
mmm…warm, flaky pastry and cinnamon apples