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.
All too often, apple muffin recipes create lumpy, rubbery or dry results. So I decided to start with a recipe that is a phenomenal muffin all on its own, and then add my own fruit to the recipe. This Coffeecake Muffin is usually intended to be relatively subtle in flavor, with just brown sugar and cinnamon for interest. The genius of the recipe is in the space where the delicious pebbly streusel meets the just-right density of the finished muffin. But spiced apple chunks tucked into the center take it to the next level, keeping the interior delightfully moist and playing beautifully with the tender chew of the muffin and the salty-sweet crunch of the streusel.
This recipe may seem a bit confusing at first, because one moment you’re making the streusel, then it’s on to what seems to be the batter, but no! Take some of that mixture out and add it to what you thought was the finished streusel, then get back to the batter, adding some of the streusel...oh, man. But don’t worry. Just read the recipe carefully before you begin to wrap your brain around the process, and then it will come together in a snap.
Apple Coffeecake Muffins
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt plus an extra pinch
9 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and softened
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup sour cream
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large apple, peeled, cored and chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and set an oven rack to the middle position. Grease a 12-cup muffin tin or use paper liners.
In a medium bowl, mix together the dark brown sugar, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, a pinch of salt and 1 tablespoon of the butter with a fork until the mixture resembles wet sand. Set aside.
In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the flour, granulated sugar, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon and 1 teaspoon of salt on low speed until combined. Drop the remaining 8 tablespoons of butter pieces evenly over the flour mixture and mix again until the butter is about the size of oats. Remove 1/2 cup of the of the flour-butter mixture and mix it into the reserved brown sugar mixture to make the streusel. Now divide the streusel: 3/4 cup of streusel for the muffin batter, and the remaining will be for topping the muffins. Add the baking powder and baking soda to the remaining flour mixture in the mixer bowl and stir to combine.
Whisk together the sour cream, egg and vanilla. Turn the mixer on medium speed and pour the wet ingredients into the flour mixture until just moistened. Fold in the 3/4 cup of streusel until distributed evenly throughout the batter.
Divide the batter into the muffin cups, filling about 2/3 full. Toss the apples with an additional sprinkle of cinnamon and press several pieces into the center of each muffin cup. Top the muffins equally with the streusel mixture. Bake for about 18 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time, until a toothpick comes out with a few moist crumbs. Let the muffins cool in the tin for 2 minutes, and then carefully transfer them to a wire rack to cool for five more minutes. Serve warm and watch them disappear.
Still blissful and dreamy after our day spent apple picking in the country, it was only right to start the next day with a breakfast celebrating the literal fruits of our labor. And I was not about to do something all diet-y and stir a chopped Fuji into some cottage cheese with cinnamon (although that breakfast will be coming in handy in about a week when all the glorious apple desserts I’ve been making start to catch up with me). It was a lazy Sunday, after all, and before the morning gave way to an NFL marathon, I thought it would be nice to enjoy a special apple-inspired breakfast with the husband. But what to make?
The problem with a lot of fruit-centered breakfast dishes is that they are cloyingly sweet and punch you in the gut about 20 minutes after eating–thick and starchy pancakes or heavy french toast with syrupy compotes as a crutch and mounds of whipped cream or even ice cream (!) as a topping. Now, we all know I’m not afraid of dessert, but first thing in the morning? Meh. I wanted something lighter, that really championed the fruit.
Enter the German Apple Pancake, otherwise known as a Dutch Baby. It’s a big baked pancake that needs little babysitting and leaves few dirty dishes, key for sleepyheads on a Sunday. It all starts by sauteing some fresh apples with a little butter and sprinkling on a bit of brown sugar to get some caramelization going. Meanwhile, a quick, light egg batter is blended and poured around the golden fruit. Then it’s into a hot oven for a short bake where it transforms into a beautiful, puffed round that when inverted is reminiscent of a gleaming tarte tatin.
A pretty dusting of confectioners’ sugar and a good cup of coffee is all this pancake really needs. But then again, who would argue with the addition of warm maple syrup and crispy strips of applewood smoked bacon? Communists.
German Apple Pancake
Adapted from Baking Illustrated
2 large eggs
3/4 cup half and half (you can use 1/2 milk, 1/2 half and half, if you prefer)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3 medium Granny Smith apples (peeled, cored and cut into 1/4 inch thick slices, about 1 1/4 pounds total)
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Preheat oven to 500 degrees and set an oven rack to the middle position.
Combine the eggs, half and half, vanilla, salt and granulated sugar in a blender and process until well-combined, about 15 seconds. Add the flour and process until well-mixed and free of lumps, about 30 seconds. Set the batter aside.
Add the butter to a 10-inch nonstick skillet with a heatproof handle over medium-high heat until the butter foams. Add the apple slices and sprinkle the brown sugar and cinnamon over them. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the apples turn golden brown, about 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, and quickly pour the batter around the edge of the skillet over the apples. Put the skillet into the oven and immediately turn the temperature down to 425 degrees. Cook until brown and puffed, about 16 to 17 minutes.
Loosen the edges of the pancake with a spatula and invert the pancake onto a serving platter (apples-side up). Dust with confectioners’ sugar and serve immediately with warmed maple syrup.
Los Angeles is notorious for having a complete lack of seasons. A sudden drop in temperature to about 60 degrees and a blustery rainstorm a couple of weeks ago quickly lead to thick sweaters and Ugg boots as far as the eye could see. And I include myself in that group, much to the chagrin of my Midwestern roots. But what can I do? I long for a true autumn in this beachy town–leaves falling and swirling in the wind, temperatures dropping, chilly evening mist every night. But no snow. I don’t miss snow at all, sorry.
Here in L.A., I’ve realized, one needs to make her own seasons as best as she can. And so, this past weekend, the husband and I took a drive to an orchard village so different from where we live our everyday lives that the mere 90 minute drive felt like a real road trip, and we commenced to apple pickin’. Since I keep a blog strictly about baking, it’s difficult to participate in all the farmer’s market hubbub with other, more general food bloggers, as it’s tough to make dessert out of, say, heirloom potatoes. Apple picking at the height of the harvest is one of my few opportunties to bake seasonally. Locally. Sustainably. Whatever.
The Oak Glen area of Yucaipa, California is only 94 miles due east from our beach apartment, but the winding roads and sprawling mountainous countryside suggest a New England lifestyle that only J. Crew could bring us. Except in the desert. It was a beautiful day, sunny and clear and just enough of a fall nip in the air to call for a light sweater when in the shade of the apple trees. Oak Glen reminded us of touring Santa Ynez wine country outside Santa Barbara, but not drunk. You can drive down Oak Glen Road for miles, stopping at different orchards and kitschy shops along the way. And that’s exactly what we did.
Our first stop was the Parrish Ranch, where the goal was lunch. They had dramatic red signage leading up to the entrance, like the one touting “Yodeling Merle!”, and another one with hanging planks naming all the varieties that were good for the picking. But it was the sign advertising the Apple Dumplin’s Restaurant that sold us. Anything with an apostrophe in lieu of a “g” was sure to serve the kind of food we were in the mood for. Like a grilled cheddar, smoked bacon and Granny Smith apple sandwich. Oh, my.
After that lunch, how could we not be in the apple picking spirit? Before heading onto the next orchard, we quickly ducked into the Parris Ranch shop to browse, passing an alluring Kettle Corn stand on the way. Someone’s been reading my blog! I kid.
Our next stop was Riley’s Log Cabin and Farm just a short drive down the road. We walked up a dirt path to find a sweet teenage girl standing at her post, doling out advice on how to best pick the apples (use your thumb to separate the fruit’s stem from the branch, making it easier for blossoms to grown in its place next year) and paper bags for loading up our loot.
Visiting Riley’s is kind of like traveling back in time, and not just because it makes you feel like you’re on a school field trip or at camp, what with all the archery, pressing your own cider and corn husk doll and rope making classes. No, farther back in time than that. Riley’s has been a real working farm since 1877, and many of the huge seedling trees have been around since the beginning. It was really charming.
We scored some beautiful Rome, Fuji and Red Delicious for eating out of hand, and plenty of Winesaps and Northern Spy apples for baking. We figured that the last time we went apple picking was before we were married, at least six years ago. It’s nice to know that the exhilarating feeling of searching for buried treasure on a tree never goes away. When we first started picking, we laughed at some of the little munchkins running around screaming, “I found a a really pretty one, Mom!!!”. Half an hour later, WE were the nerds jogging between the trees when we spotted a winner from several feet away and saying, “Check it out!” to each other after pulling a beauty from the branches. We decided that our $33 tab was a charge for half apples, half good times.
After piling into the car with our finds, we made one more stop in Oak Glen. I was NOT leaving without a chilly jug of cider and a proper cider donut. And really, how could we resist Snow-Line Orchard, with its cheery sign bragging about their mini-cider donuts “As Seen on TV”?! We were at a Southern California orchard, after all. And you know what? If I was a TV producer, I would definitely be insanely proud to say I “discovered” these doughnuts. Especially after putting in our order and then waiting in a crowd of dozens for nearly 20 minutes of torture as the smell of spicy, sweet fried dough filled the air. Good thing we also bought a slice of pie at the counter when we put in our order. There will be no photo of said pie because, well, we scarfed it while waiting for the donuts. But I will tell you that it was amazing, especially when the bites were chased with sips of hot cider, and the filling was unlike any other apple pie filling I’d seen before: a rich maple color (Generous cinnamon? Dark brown sugar?) rather than the blondish golden filling we’re used to seeing. And then our name was called, and the donuts came forth:
I really don’t know quite how to describe this mini-cider donut experience, other than to say that there was a lot of eye-closing and deep exhaling while chewing. Not that these remarkably light fried wonders, exemplifying the perfect balance of crisp exterior meeting fluffy interior, required much chewing at all. They nearly dissolved on the tongue along with their cinnamon sugar coating, the chewing was just to sort of make the whole experience last longer. And when followed by a long drink of cold, freshly pressed cider, well, it really doesn’t get much better than that, now does it?
With our bellies full of donuts and cider and our Midwestern spirits satiated by a day spent in a sleepy town, walking in the dirt and the shade of apple trees and plucking their fruit, we fell into the car for a two-hour drive back home in very L.A.-style traffic.
After dinner that night, despite the happy exhaustion and consumption of many, many calories already that day, I just had to eek out a quick apple crisp. With a lack of vanilla ice cream in the house, there was nothing to do but whip up a wacky original recipe for a sweet, spicy cream cheese glaze to help celebrate the gorgeous Winesaps we picked up. And you know this won’t be the only post with an apple recipe, right?
Apple Crisp with Sweet Cream Cheese Glaze
For the Topping:
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 cup coarsely chopped almonds (pecans work well too)
For the Filling:
6 medium apples (choose good, firm baking apples, I used a combination of Winesaps and McIntosh, about 2 1/2 pounds total)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (apple pie spice is nice, too)
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 cup granulated sugar
For the Cream Cheese Glaze:
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons half and half
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and set an oven rack to the lower-middle position.
For the crisp topping, place the flour, sugars, spices and salt in a blender or food processor and pulse briefly to combine. Add in the cold butter and pulse about 10 times, until the mixture looks like coarse cornmeal. Add the chopped nuts and process again, for about five seconds, until the topping looks like slightly clumpy, wet sand. Don’t overmix. Refrigerate the topping for 15 minutes while you prepare the fruit.
For the filling, peel, core and cut the apples into one-inch chunks. In a medium bowl, toss the fruit with the lemon juice, sugar and spices. Dump the filling into a 8×8-inch square baking dish or a similarly-sized casserole and evenly distribute the topping over the apples. Tap the dish on the countertop to get some of the topping to drop into the spaces between the fruit. Bake for 40 minutes, and then increase the oven temperature to 400 degrees and bake 5 minutes more, until the topping is golden and the fruit is bubbling along the edges. Let cool briefly while you prepare the Cream Cheese Glaze.
For the glaze, beat together the cream cheese and confectioners’ sugar, sweetening to taste. Add the cinnamon and vanilla, and then begin adding the half and half until a drizzling consistency is reached, about two tablespoons. Spoon over big bowls of warm apple crisp and serve. Think autumnal thoughts.
I love baking for many reasons. It’s therapeutic, creative, cerebral. Chemistry meets artistry. And then there’s the sharing and eating of the results, and well, that just makes you feel good all over. A great recipe is more than just a formula, it’s like a character in a great story. Sometimes you stumble across a new recipe that helps you create your own stories and memories with people you love, and sometimes you’re lucky enough to be given a recipe that you just know has made memories for people you’ll probably never meet. I love that most of all. I guess you could call them heirloom recipes.
I was recently given such a recipe by a friend of mine named Malene. Malene is from Denmark and when she and her boyfriend Mark learned of this blog and what a baking fool I am, she e-mailed me this recipe from her home country and I couldn’t wait to try it. She sent it to me with the title of “Cheese Cake with Raspberries from Denmark”, and I soon discovered that the separation of the words cheese and cake wasn’t a typo.
This cake is definitely not like any cheesecake I’ve had before. After parbaking a buttery cake layer, fruit is layered on and then a sweetened cream cheese mixture is poured on top. When completely baked, the tender, moist butter cake mingles with the blond, custard-like cream cheese layer, the fruit playing halfsies in between. It was delicious for dessert the first night and a perfect breakfast with coffee in the morning (did I say that?).
I am a sucker for other people’s favorite recipes, and it becomes a mission of sorts for me to do it right. In this case, I did something a little unorthodox and exchanged the raspberries in Malene’s recipe for a few of the sweet, crisp Fuji apples that have just begun ruling the fall markets. I couldn’t resist. With this great recipe as my guide, the result was wonderful–cakey, creamy, lightly swirled with cinnamon, al dente slices of the season’s first apples buried within. Nyde!
Cheese Cake from Denmark
Adapted from Malene Nielsen
150 grams granulated sugar
75 grams unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla sugar or vanilla extract
150 grams all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 pinch of salt
100 ml milk, at room temperature
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and set the oven rack to the middle position. Line the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan with parchment before locking it into place and lightly grease the pan.
Whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together and set aside.
In the bowl of a standing mixer fitter with a paddle attachment, cream the sugar and butter together until light and fluffy. Add the egg and fully incorporate it, then add the vanilla sugar (or extract). At low speed or by hand, mix in the flour mixture, followed by the milk, until fully incorporated.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and parbake the cake for just 10 minutes. While the cake is baking, prepare the next layer.
100 grams granulated sugar
200 grams (I used a full 8 ounce package) cream cheese, at room temperature
250 grams fresh or frozen raspberries (I used 2 medium Fuji apples, sliced thin)
1 teaspoon of lemon zest (if using berries)
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon sugar (brown sugar if using apples, and also add 1/2 tsp. cinnamon)
Whip the cream cheese and sugar until light and fluffy, and then beat in the egg. Stir in the lemon zest if using berries. Set aside.
Toss the fruit with the teaspoons of cornstarch and sugar. Layer the fruit onto the parbaked cake and then pour the cream cheese mixture evenly over the top.
Bake at 350 degrees for about 40 more minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. If the cake begins to get too dark during baking, cover the cake with foil.
Cool completely on a wire rack before serving, perhaps with a light dusting of powdered sugar.
It seems like every food blogger I read regularly is writing a post reluctantly celebrating the last edible remnants of summer–one last fat, juicy heirloom tomato here, a tragic ode to lobster over there. We’re gobbling up the last of these goodies with careful relish just because we know we won’t enjoy them at their succulent best again, until next year. Insert pouty cry here. Me? Well, I had an enormous watermelon in the fridge, that I just knew was ruby red inside and seeping with juice, but was saving it for something special.
It’s just not appropriate to say goodbye to our summer loves by preparing them the same old way we’ve been doing all season. It took a while to think of how to use this mammoth of a melon occupying most of the bottom of my refrigerator. How to celebrate this last bit of summer? And then it came to me.
Watermelon granita just looks like a party. When piled in a chilled glass with an elegant stem, the glittering flakes of sweet, ambrosial ice are immediately ready for their close-up. Light, fruity granitas like this one are delicious as dessert, alone or with delicate crispy cookies, and are lovely as a palate cleanser between courses, if that’s how you like to roll.
As far as granita flavors go, you are only limited by your imagination. There are recipes out there made from the sweet and traditional, like fruit and espresso flavors, and the just plain nose-wrinkling wacky, like vegetables and herbs. Whatever the flavor, all granitas contain some sugar, and I find that I like the texture of granitas made with simple syrup (a two to one ratio of sugar to water, boiled until clear) better than just stirring granulated sugar straight into the mix. For fruit flavors that are naturally sweet, like a perfect late summer watermelon, depending on the sweetness of the melon you’ve got your hands on (now, that sounds fantastically naughty in a summer love kind of way, doesn’t it?), the amount of simple syrup may vary. I usually find that 1/2 cup of prepared simple syrup works well in most cases.
I also like to add some alcohol to the granita liquid for two reasons. First, candy is dandy but liquor is quicker, and second, it slows the freezing of the liquid so you get nice, fluffy flakes, not sharp, flat shards. I love to use infused vodkas for this, like a lovely herb-infused vodka I’d been saving for special things, much like the watermelon that inspired this post. As for the amount of alcohol to add, well, you can’t get all college with granita. There is such a thing as too much of a good thing when it comes to alcohol in a granita recipe–it won’t freeze well if there’s too much in the mix. Sorry.
6 cups of watermelon juice (made from about 4 pounds of ripe, seedless watermelon)
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup fresh lime juice (about 2 limes)
1/4 cup of your favorite vodka
Start by making the watermelon juice: Remove the rind from a ripe watermelon and cut the fruit into chunks. In batches, puree the watermelon in a blender until smooth and pour the resulting puree through a fine-mesh sieve over a large mixing bowl. Use a wooden spoon to stir the puree in the sieve and encourage the juice to flow into the bowl. Discard any pulp and seeds and repeat the process until you have about 6 cups of watermelon juice in the bowl. Set aside.
Next, make a simple syrup by placing the sugar and water in a small saucepan and boiling it over medium-high heat until the sugar is dissolved and the syrup is clear and just beginning to take on a golden cast. Pour the syrup into another container and set aside to cool.
Pour the lime juice and vodka into the watermelon juice and stir to combine. Begin adding the simple syrup, sweetening to taste. Pour the granita mixture equally into two 9×13 baking pans and put in the freezer (or use one big roasting pan if you are lucky enough to have the freezer space). After about an hour, begin breaking up any ice crystals that are forming with a fork, and return the pans to the freezer. Repeat this process of scraping and fluffing the granita every hour until the mixture is completely crystallized, but not frozen solid, about 4-5 hours.
Serve in chilled glasses. Frozen granita keeps well covered in an airtight container in the freezer for at least a month, but I really don’t think you’ll have any leftovers. Everyone wants just one more taste of summer.
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