“Sweet Gingered Biscuits! Now THAT’s what I call a cobbler!”
Ring a bell? Like a catchphrase from days gone by? No? Well, that’s because it’s not. But it could be heard coming from our house recently upon tasting this fabulous twist on a homespun dessert. Now, you might be thinking, cobbler, schmobbler. Had it. Like a million times. Right? And maybe you’ve had a few not-so-stellar specimens that were all gelatinous with soggy bits of dough on top, only made palatable with lots of vanilla ice cream. Snore. Weh-hel-helllll….let the cobbler enlightenment begin, my friends. Oh sure, this incarnation might start with the usual suspects–fresh blueberries tossed with sugar, cinnamon and a sparkle of lemon zest–but the revelation begins thereafter.
See, most cobbler recipes have you just layer sugared fruit into a baking dish, mix up a dough for the topping, blob the dough on top of the raw fruit and bang it into the oven just like that. Simple enough. Boy Scout camp-like cooking (just ask my husband). But that’s where most cobblers become an epic FAIL. I mean, sure, fruit, sugar, dough–what’s not to like? Well, how about mushy, steamed fruit and pale, uncooked, uncrispy dough with very little nom factor? Yeah, I thought so. But in this recipe, you cook the seasoned fruit all naked in the baking dish first before topping it with the dough. I know!
While the berries are baking all on their lonesome, mix up a simple buttermilk dropped biscuit dough with the genius addition of ginger in two forms–a dash of spicy ground and dazzling bits of crystallized.
Now, I should say here that I never was a huge fan of ginger in any form. Except for Geri Halliwell, my favorite Spice Girl by far–she’s just such a cheeky broad!–and only occasionally as a very subtle backdrop in, say, a spice cake or apple somesuch. But my palate has changed considerably in recent years, and boy am I glad I got over that ginger aversion, because it’s such a great highlighter in fresh fruit desserts of all sorts. The gingered cornmeal biscuits that top this cobbler are so fragrant and delicious that they’d make a great dish all on their own, but here the dough gets portioned off into bits and nestled into the warm, bubbling fruit.
With the berries hot underneath, the biscuits immediately begin gently cooking with steam from the bottom, keeping them tender in the center, while the dry heat of the oven from above creates a crisp, beautifully browned crust. When the filling begins to seep into the edges of the golden biscuits and bubbles up the sides of the baking dish like some crazy sexy blueberry lava, you know you’re just moments away from cobbler nirvana.
Though they may be among some of the most trying minutes of your life, please give the cobbler at least 20 minutes to just sort of hang out and cool down a little. If you lose control and spoon it out too soon, you’ll get a gush of thin, runny juice all over the place instead of something more syrupy and spoon-lickably great. Some time to rest will also bolster the flavors of the berries and the topping.
While summer berries are still at their peak, I implore you to give this one a whirl while the gettin’s good. But if you miss the mark a little, frozen berries can absolutely be used here successfully. One thing you should absolutely not miss the mark on is serving this baby with a good vanilla ice cream–it’s simply the right thing to do.
Blueberry Cobbler with Gingered Biscuits
Adapted from Baking Illustrated
To make this cobbler with frozen blueberries, use 6 cups of good quality berries (preferably wild), and thaw them in a colander set over a bowl to catch the juices. Reduce the juice over medium heat until thick and syrupy, about 10 minutes. Stir the syrup into the filling mixture before baking, and increase the baking time of the fruit to 30 minutes. Also increase the baking time when the biscuits are added to 20 to 22 minutes.
For the filling:
1/3 granulated sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of salt
6 cups fresh blueberries, washed, patted dry and picked over
1 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
For the biscuit topping:
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cornmeal
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/3 cup buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoons crystallized ginger, minced
Coarse sugar for sprinkling (such as sanding sugar, turbinado or demerara)
Set an oven rack to the center position and preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon and salt. Add the blueberries, lemon zest and lemon juice and fold gently to combine. Pour the berries into a 9 or 10-inch glass pie plate (a square baking dish of similar size will also work well). Bake until the fruit is hot and bubbling, about 25 minutes.
While the fruit is baking, prepare the biscuit dough: In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and ground ginger. Whisk together the melted butter, buttermilk and vanilla in a small bowl. Add the wet ingredients to the dry, along with the minced crystallized ginger. Stir gently until the dough is just combined with no dry pockets. Softly pat the dough into an even disk in the bottom of the bowl, and score it into 8 equal pieces.
When the fruit is done baking, pull it from the oven and increase the oven temperature to 425 degrees. When the oven is up to temperature, Pull apart the 8 biscuits, and nestle them into the hot filling. Sprinkle the tops of the biscuits generously with coarse sugar. Bake until the filling is bubbling at the edges and the biscuits are golden brown, about 15 to 18 minutes. Allow the cobbler to cool for at least 20 minutes on a wire rack before serving.
Nearly 11 months into parenthood, and I have to say, we are on a roll over here, people. One of the biggest things for me has been balancing being on-call around the clock as a mother with carving out time to do things that keep me feeling like myself–leafing through cookbooks, puttering in the kitchen, writing, running some miles. It makes me feel alive, like seeing in Technicolor after months of sleepily trying to wade through the days and figure out this new life. And somehow it seems I’ve arrived in this new place as a bolder, brighter, sweeter version of myself, like a pile of peak-of-season cherries, sugared and zested with lemon and roasted until they glisten.
I suppose others might celebrate such great strides in personal growth with oh, say, a mini-vacation somewhere with a breezy coastline, a spa day or an extended happy hour somewhere fabulous. But since I already live in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, have an awesomely huge bathtub in our new place and much prefer getting drunk at home, I hightailed it to the farmers’ market to snap up some succulent Bing cherries that called–nay, begged–to be tucked into a pillowy cherry clafoutis.
If you like really getting your hands dirty in the kitchen, then you’ll love this recipe. See, traditional clafoutis recipes call for the pits to stay in the cherries, because supposedly the pits lend a distinct almond-like flavor to dish. But since I prefer my desserts without a side of dental work, I opted for a recipe that calls for pitted cherries and a splash of almond extract instead. The pitting took some doing, but I rigged up a pitting station with a fondue fork and a beer bottle in the kitchen sink, and with The Splendid Table on the radio, it was actually kind of hypnotic, enjoyable work, listening to the cheery clink! of the pits hitting the inside of the bottle. Note to self: get out more.
After the cherries are free of their pits, they get all seasoned up with sugar, cinnamon and lemon, and head into the oven for a quick roast that transforms them into a more nectarous version of themselves, giving off intense, ambrosial juices that can be reduced to a syrup for serving with the finished dish.
If you can keep yourself from plucking the hot cherries off the baking sheet and snarfing them all right when they come out of the oven, then they’ll get doused in a simple crepe-like batter, which bakes up into a puffed, golden cloak that gently hugs the fruit.
Clafoutis is a crazy simple dish, and this interpretation is especially flavorful. If you’re feeling particularly lazy as of late or find yourself longing for a taste of summer in the dead of winter, a bag of already pitted, frozen unsweetened cherries would work pretty well in this recipe. But with fresh cherries at their peak around here, I can’t think of a better way to enjoy them while they can still be snapped up on the cheap. I think it makes a glorious summer dessert, but since it involves fruit and a pancake-like batter, cherry clafoutis is also a totally legit shoo-in for The Best Breakfast of Your Entire Life. “Enabling” is my middle name.
Roasted Cherry Clafoutis
Adapted from Chez Panisse Cafe Cookbook
To cut down on prep time or to enjoy this dish when cherry season is oh-so-far away, a bag of frozen, unsweetened cherries (usually labeled “dark, sweet cherries”) can be thawed, drained and used in place of fresh cherries in this recipe. Taste the cherries before seasoning them for roasting–I cut the sugar by a little more than half from the original recipe, but you can add more to taste.
1 pound Bing cherries (or other sweet variety), stemmed and pitted
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon greated lemon zest
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
5 tablespoons sugar, divided
2 eggs, separated
2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/8 teaspoon salt
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and arrange an oven rack to the upper third of the oven. Lightly butter or spray a baking sheet and a large ceramic baking dish (like a pie plate or gratin dish) with cooking spray.
Place the cherries on the baking sheet. In a small bowl, stir together the lemon juice, zest, cinnamon and 2 tablespoons of the sugar. Toss the cherries with the seasonings on the baking sheet. Roast until the fruit is juicy, tender and fragrant, about 15 minutes. Give the pan a shake about halfway through cooking to keep the cherries from sticking to the pan. Remove the cherries from the baking sheet with a slotted spoon and transfer them to the baking dish, arranging them in a single layer. Pour any juices into a small saucepan.
Raise the oven temperature to 375 degrees.
For the clafoutis batter, with an electric mixer in a medium bowl, beat the egg whites with the salt to soft peaks. In a separate bowl, beat together the egg yolks and 3 tablespoons of sugar until well-blended, then beat in the flour, vanilla, almond extract and cream until smooth. With a rubber spatula, stir about a quarter of the beaten whites into the batter to lighten it first, then carefully fold in the remaining whites.
Pour the batter evenly over the cherries. Bake for about 20-25 minutes, until the batter has puffed and browned. During baking, reduce the reserved cherry juices to a thin syrup over medium heat. Dust the finished clafoutis with confectioners’ sugar and serve with a drizzle of the cherry syrup.
Little known fact about me: I taste words. Meaning, when I hear or read or speak a word, even non-food words, I can experience a taste with most of them, and usually feel the taste on my tongue. Most of these pairings aren’t logical (some examples: “clock”= peanuts, “quality”= oatmeal, “present”= Twizzlers), but the taste and word pairings go back for as long as I can remember. I heard this really interesting NPR interview with a guy who saw colors while eating–different flavors made him see certain colors, and it made perfect sense to me, what with my wacked-out tasting of words thing and all. Turns out these sort of sensory crossovers have a name: synesthesia. Huh! Who knew? Just add that to the list of Certifiable Things About Me.
What? Oh! Yes, my point. I made a batch of ice cream, and upon tasting, realized that it tasted a lot like what “green” tastes like to me. And in other news which makes me feel a little more normal, it was made from something that was actually green. Whew.
Even if this mention of synesthesia has you totally stumped and kind of afraid of me now, I think you’d agree that David Lebovitz’s recipe for Fresh Mint Ice Cream churns out a frozen dessert that is everything “green” should taste like. It’s invigorating, refreshing, herbal. Makes you breathe a little deeper as you’re eating it. If there was an Official Ice Cream of Spas, it would taste like this one.
It all starts with a pile (and I do mean a pile–two tightly packed cups’ worth) of fresh mint leaves. I had a charming, sizable mint plant sitting on my windowsill which inspired me to make this recipe in the first place, but after plucking it clean of its leaves, I still had to supplement the bounty with a bunch from the produce market. Steep the leaves in a pot of warm sweetened cream and milk, whisk it into a custard with some fresh eggs, and then swirl it into more cream, all the while willing yourself not to lap up the fragrant elixir straight out of the bowl.
But if you stick to your guns and the lush, minty batter actually makes it into the ice cream maker for churning, you can spin some melted bittersweet chocolate into the mix. Although I guess you’ll have to keep yourself from lapping that up too while you drizzle it in. Oh, and then–and then!– there’s the issue of having to the scrape the soft-set ice cream into another vessel for freezing. Call in Lick Prevention, people. We’ve got a situation over here.
After steeping the leaves in the warm cream, you may want to give the mixture a quick blitz with a stick blender or similar–I find this intensifies the mint flavor and bumps up the green color just a bit. Give the puree an extra run through the sieve to trap excess leafy bits, but don’t obsess about getting all the specks of leaf out of the ice cream–a few scattered throughout add character, like vanilla bean flecks.
1 cup whole milk
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups heavy cream
Pinch of salt
2 cups lightly packed fresh mint leaves (no stems)
5 large egg yolks
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate (bar chocolate, not chips), finely chopped
In a small saucepan, warm the milk, sugar, 1 cup of the cream and the salt over medium heat–do not let it boil. Remove the pan from the heat. Plunge the mint leaves into warm cream mixture and let it steep for at least one hour at room temperature.
Taste the resulting mint-infused cream–if the mint flavor and green color isn’t as intense as you’d like, puree the mixture with a stick blender or in a standing blender for a brief moment. Strain with a fine-mesh sieve into a medium saucepan and rinse any leafy bits from the sieve. Pour the remaining 1 cup of cream into a large bowl (aluminum will be best for speed-chilling the ice cream batter) and set the sieve on top.
Rewarm the mint cream in the saucepan. Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks in a medium bowl. When the cream is warm to the touch, whisk it slowly into the yolks, then scrape the yolk and cream mixture back into the saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring often and scraping the bottom and sides of pan until the custard thickens and coats the back of the spoon. Pour the custard through the sieve into the large bowl and stir it into the cream. Chill over an ice bath, stirring constantly, about 10-15 minutes.
Begin freezing the ice cream in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Melt the chocolate in the microwave in a glass measuring cup on 50% power in 45 second bursts, stirring well after each interval, until very warm and fluid. During the last moments of churning, drizzle the melted bittersweet chocolate into the ice cream, taking care to avoid the spinning dasher. Scrape the soft-set ice cream into an airtight container, giving it an extra folding to make sure the stracciatella is mixed evenly into the ice cream. Freeze until firm.
Happy Fourth of July, dear readers! I hope this summer holiday finds you surrounded by fun people, cold beverages and lots of great food cooked outside somewhere sunny. Around here, we celebrated like true Americans–obscenely large bone-in ribeyes on the grill, a wild arugula salad and an addictive fresh corn casserole with a good dose of grated onion and freshly cracked black pepper from which we literally had to hold back Baby C so she wouldn’t eat the whole darn thing. It was really something. But whatever amazing savory dishes are on your picnic table, it’s really not the Fourth without some sort of red, white and blue dessert, am I right, people?
That sexy lady up there is a lush, dreamy panna cotta, and the result of my absolute favorite recipe for it. It shouldn’t surprise you given my past raves on the greatness that is Lynne Rossetto Kasper that it’s a riff on her Farmhouse Panna Cotta from her genius book How To Eat Supper. Her recipe brilliantly includes sour cream, which gives a much-needed sharpening to a dessert that can often be just a round sea of cream, leaving a funky coating on your tongue that keeps you from really tasting the dish past the first bite. This panna cotta is indeed rich but so lovely and balanced that you will not put down your spoon until you’ve scraped the plate clean.
Panna cotta is so simple to make, it’s absurd, with one of the highest pleasure-to-effort ratios known to man. It comes together in minutes on the stovetop, then you just whisk in the sour cream, pour it into cups and let it set up for a couple hours in the fridge and that’s that. I’ve made a batch of this panna cotta on a weeknight, letting it set up in coffee cups and devouring it straight, but it’s also a perfect canvas for some seasonal berries and a dessert sauce. I decided to dress up this panna cotta with a sort of berry coulis that I’d been brainstorming, using my beloved Lillet as a backdrop.
If you’ve never had it, Lillet is the kind of drink that transports you, in a way. A French aperitif (so maybe not the most American of choices for a Fourth dessert, but whatevs), it’s a fortified wine that has the body of a liqueur, making it a great lower-alcohol alternative for cocktails. If I could spend every day, all summer long drinking Lillet and soda with a twist of lime or orange, oooh…mama would be so happy. I would also be very drunk and an irresponsible parent. So I’ve started thinking about other ways to incorporate the fruity, flowery, slightly herbal quality of Lillet into a few desserts, and it worked like a charm in the strawberry coulis I made to accessorize the panna cotta.
While boiling down the Lillet to a syrup, I pureed a mess of fresh strawberries with a bit of sugar, strained out the pulp and seeds, and whisked the juice into the Lillet syrup. Refrigerated alongside the setting panna cotta, the coulis thickens slightly and tastes of strawberries on steroids. Unmold the set panna cotta onto a plate, bathe it in coulis and dress up the whole thing with some patriotic fruit. I think you’ll agree that this dessert deserves its own parade.
Feel free to experiment somewhat with the dairy in this recipe, making the finished dish as rich or as light as you’d like. I like this combination of heavy cream and milk, but have also had success with half and half, light sour cream and even buttermilk along with the cream. In any case, don’t go lowfat with every element of this recipe, or it will get weird and grainy and just not worth it–always aim for at least half cream in the stovetop part of this equation to get the lush quality that makes panna cotta so, oh, oh…
1 tablespoon cold water
1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup milk (lowfat is okay, but not skim)
1/4 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup full-fat sour cream
1/2 cup Lillet Rouge
1 cup strawberries, hulled and quartered
1 teaspoon sugar
Strawberries and blueberries, for serving
Place the water in a small cup. Sprinkle the gelatin over the water and let soften for five minutes. Into a medium saucepan over medium heat, gently warm the cream and milk with the sugar, salt and vanilla–do not let it boil. When the cream is very warm to the touch, remove it from the heat and whisk in the softened gelatin until dissolved. Let the cream mixture cool for five minutes.
Put the sour cream into a medium bowl or a large (4-cup) glass measuring cup. Whisk the warm cream mixture into the sour cream, a little at a time, until the panna cotta is smooth. Pour the panna cotta into four custard cups, ramekins or coffee cups. Refrigerate until set, about 3 hours.
To make the coulis, pour the Lillet into a small saucepan over high heat. Boil it down until it reduces to about two tablespoons of syrup. Pour into a small bowl, set a sieve over the bowl, and set aside. Puree the strawberries in a food processor with the sugar. Press the puree through the sieve into the Lillet syrup and whisk to blend. Refrigerate until ready to serve–coulis will thicken slightly while chilling.
Anyway, even though I showed great restraint and just brought home the one flat of berries, panic set in the next morning after I finished my cereal piled high with fresh strawberry slices–there were still a whole heck of a lotta strawberries in that box. And with every hour that passed, they were expiring. I simply did not have the time nor the inclination to get into jam-making–even though living in California allows us to have gorgeous summer fruits months before what is fair, it just seems wrong to make strawberry jam in April. Unless I wanted waaay too much fiber in my diet over the next couple of days and enough vitamin C to retroactively prevent scurvy for the entire planet, I was going to have to get creative.
So here’s where I get honest with you guys. There was a recipe I worked on that used a lot of strawberries. It was indeed creative, a riff on another recipe that called for the juice of another fruit. And boy, did I have good intentions for it. I mean, swapping out most fruit juices in recipes is usually pretty foolproof. I should say that I will be trying my hand at a Strawberry Chiffon Cake with Strawberry Glaze again sometime in the future, because the experiment wasn’t altogether unfortunate–the cake was a solid chiffon effort, risen beautifully, tender and light and not too sweet, a good balance with the fruity, very sweet glaze.
But because I didn’t want to use any colorings or fruit extracts in the batter, the cake tasted more of the teeny bit of lemon zest that was in it than the heap of strawberries that went into it, and even though the berries were bleeding the most gorgeous shade of red and the puree swirled into the batter looked promising, there was no rosy punch in the finished cake–it had the strangest reddish-gray cast you’ve ever seen. Adding onto that the jammy cooked glaze that was not the firm icing glaze that I was after (although the strawberry flavor was excellent here), and I was bummed–so close, yet so far. And still so many berries left in the box! Punch-kick-sigh.
After that half-hearted result, I wanted a sure thing. Can you blame me? So I did the remaining berries up right, simply slicing them and letting them do their thing, macerating with some fragrant vanilla sugar. And then piling them onto tender sour cream shortcake biscuits with a crown of whipped cream. Heaven. And so yet another lesson learned: when life gives you beautiful strawberries at an insanely good price, let them be themselves and don’t jack up your good fortune by trying to get smart.
Individual Strawberry Shortcakes
Adapted from Nancy Baggett’s All-American Dessert Cookbook
Makes 6-8 individual servings
The amount of sugar tossed with the berries really depends on how sweet they are to begin with. Here, I use the minimum amount suggested by the original recipe. Be careful not to be too stingy with sugaring the berries, though, because the juice they release while macerating will moisten, sweeten and flavor the shortcake.
For the berries:
5 1/2 cups sliced fresh strawberries
1/2 cup vanilla sugar or granulated sugar
For the shortcakes:
2 cups all purpose flour, plus extra for shaping the dough
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar plus extra for sprinkling
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 1/2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small bits
1 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons heavy cream
Toss the berries with the sugar and and set aside to macerate for at least an hour while preparing the shortcakes.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees and set a rack to the middle position. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper.
In a large bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Sprinkle the butter pieces over the dry ingredients, and using your fingertips (or a pastry cutter or dump everything into a food processor, but I like using my hands) work the butter and flour mixture together until the butter is incorporated and in very fine bits, like coarse meal.
Add the sour cream to the flour-butter mixture and stir gently, just until the dough comes together. Sprinkle 1 1/2 tablespoons flour evenly over the dough and give it 5-6 good kneads to make a smooth dough. Let stand for 1 minute, then turn out onto a lightly floured surface and with floured hands, pat the dough into about an 8 inch round. Using a 3 to 3 1/2-inch biscuit cutter, cut the dough into rounds, punching straight down into the dough without twisting for the most tender biscuits. When you’ve cut out as many as you can from the first round, keep gathering the dough scraps together and recutting biscuits until you’re out of dough.
Place the biscuits on the prepared baking sheet, brush them with a bit of heavy cream and sprinkle them with a bit of sugar. Bake for 10-14 minutes, until the shortcakes are risen and golden brown on the tops and bottoms. Cool completely on a wire rack.
To serve the strawberry shortcakes, slice the biscuits across with a serrated knife and place the bottoms on individual serving plates. Pile the berries onto each biscuit bottom, making sure to get a few spoonfuls of the sweet juice soaked into each biscuit. Place the biscuit tops on, and garnish each shortcake with lightly sweetened whipped cream and more berries and juice.
We’ve talked about modest crisps and big showy pancakes, reinvented the apple muffin and seen me be proven seriously wrong by a wonderfully unique cake. But despite those recipes and then some, I was still left with four pounds of a fragrant mixture of Fujis, Romes, Red Delicious and Winesaps. Since it’s been a while since I’ve used my amateur preserving know-how, I thought it was high time to pull out the jars that once held July’s strawberry jam, and fill them with thick, spicy-sweet apple butter. What could be more autumnal than that?
Like most jams, the recipe for and process of making apple butter is really simple. Although I will say that apple butter is decidedly messier than most jams. Have your trusty pot-screen-cover-thing very close by, as well as a candy thermometer for insuring the apple butter reaches and stays at the right temperature for setting properly. If you choose not to preserve your apple butter, it will keep for 2-3 weeks in the fridge, maybe longer. If you want to preserve the jars for enjoying in the dead of winter when you want to taste the best part of fall, or give them as cheery little gifts, canning is easy once you get the hang of it. Remember my first preserving adventure? See, even I figured it out.
Makes 4-5 8-oz. jars
4 pounds of apples (I used a mixture of Fuji, Rome, Red Delicious and Winesap)
2 cups of sugar (I used one cup regular granulated and one cup vanilla sugar)
1/2 gallon apple cider
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
juice of one lemon (about 2 tablespoons)
Peel, core and cut the apples into large chunks. You should have about 2 1/2 pounds of fruit after preparing the apples. Put the fruit into a wide, deep, heavy bottomed pot and pour the apple cider over the apples to cover. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce to a simmer, cooking for 20-30 minutes until the apples are very tender.
In batches in a blender (or using an immersion blender–I have got to get one of these. Maybe if I say it to myself 1,000 more times, it will appear in my cabinet?), puree the hot apples and cider to make a thin applesauce. Pour all the puree back into the pot and bring to a slow simmer over medium-high heat, until the puree reaches 220 degrees, stirring occasionally. Once the temperature is reached (you may have to crank the heat a bit higher to make that happen), stir in the sugar, spices and lemon juice. Cook the apple butter for anywhere from 1-2 hours, until it has thickened significantly and turn dark in color (you know, like the color of apple butter). Try and keep the temperature at 220 degrees as best as your can during that time, and stir often to prevent a crust forming on the bottom of the pot. When you think the color and consistency is right, test the apple butter on a freezing cold plate and let it cool for a moment. It should set up thick and smooth and not move on the plate when its ready.
Ladle the hot apple butter into hot, sterilized jars, and screw on the lids. Store in the refrigerator for 2-3 weeks, or for preserves, process the jars for 10 minutes in boiling water.
Every girl has a dear old friend whom she treasures like a sister. Maybe the first meeting was back in grammar school, high school or college, during years that brought awkward growth and tremendous shared experiences. A chainsaw can’t break this kind of bond between old girlfriends. Then one day, after say, a few cocktails, someone decides to play the “what did you think of me when we first met?” card. And then you hear the needle squealing off a record somewhere in the distance as a response tries to form itself. In this pause I will say that I’m not using men in this example because no man would be crazy enough to ask such a question of an old friend. Inevitably, liquid courage will help someone say something rather unexpected, yet honest, like, “I thought you were obnoxious/mute/bitchy/weird.” And then there will either be lots of pouting and shunning in the following minutes OR there will be much laughter and celebration of the fact that your love and friendship grew to far outweigh first impressions. The latter, thankfully, is my experience with Apple Cider Pudding Cake.
During my first meeting with this recipe, I thought this cake was a liar. An insane, highly suspicious liar. I mean, I get bread pudding, but hot liquid poured onto a batter before baking? Whazzat? This cake had to be just showing off and telling tall tales to cover insecurities. Don’t ask me why I guessed that. But as you know, I’ve been making a solid effort to try some new recipes to dig into fall’s bounty. And as the husband so wittily pointed out, with its usage of apples in multiple forms, it was kind of like the Tres Leches Cake of fruit–Tres Manzanas Cake, if you will. So I soldiered on, with doubts in mind and peeler in hand. And you what? I ended up having to apologize and everything, by making this cake twice in one week and giving some to all my neighbors.
Despite its very questionable appearance before it enters the oven (is the boiling liquid actually cooking the batter on contact?), it emerges as a fragrant, rustic pillow, covered in pebbly streusel. With so little butter in this recipe, it’s the liberal use of brown sugar and cider that save the day here: when sliced and served warm, you can admire how the sticky cider has waded its way to the bottom of the pan during baking, with a perfectly moist, apple-packed cake above. It’s like this recipe uses the concept of making an apple cider reduction on the stove–there are concentrated notes of heady molasses, autumn spices and vanilla left behind–but the moisture has been trapped inside the cake rather than just evaporating altogether. Add to all that crispy edges and the buttery crunch of streusel (which the original recipe stated was optional, but it is so not), and you have yourself a dynamic new friend of a recipe that you’ll want to have around all the time, first impressions aside.
Apple Cider Pudding Cake
For the Cake:
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 large egg
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1/3 cup milk
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups chopped apple (about 2 large, I chose a Fuji and a Winesap)
For the Cider:
1 cup apple cider
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 brown sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and set an oven rack to the middle position. Grease an 8×8 inch baking dish.
To make the cake batter, in a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda, cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice (or ginger) and nutmeg. In another, larger bowl, whisk together the egg, 1 cup brown sugar, milk, melted butter and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Stir in the flour mixture until just incorporated and then fold in the apples until the batter is well-blended. Spread the batter into the prepared pan.
To make the cider, in a small saucepan, combine the cider, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1 teaspoon vanilla and 1/2 cup brown sugar and bring it to a boil, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat, and pour the cider carefully over the batter. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes until a toothpick comes out with a few moist crumbs. To add the streusel, mix the flour, sugar and knob of unsalted butter together with a fork until well- combined and pebbly, but not homogeneous, and sprinkle it over the cake during the last 10 minutes of baking. If necessary, give the streusel a boost under the broiler during the last minute or so. Cool the cake on a wire rack, and serve while the cake is still warm.
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