fall is my favorite / apple cake

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Do certain songs or albums remind you of a particular season or time of year?  For me, Ryan Adams “Love is Hell” always takes me back to one particularly cold January when I spent my evenings driving through neighborhoods in metro Detroit looking for “for rent” signs for a new apartment.  To this day when I hear a song off of that album I swear I can see my breath in the air and snow piled up on the streets.  The album that will always be fall to me is Carole King’s “Tapestry.”  It reminds me of being in the kitchen with my mom, listening to Tapestry with a chill in the air and the distinct smell of apples baking.  Last week I heard “I Feel the Earth Move” on the radio and I knew it was time to start some fall baking.

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I’ve never made an apple cake before but I had clipped a recipe for one by the chef Marcus Samuelsson out of a magazine years ago and since I have an abundance of apples right now from a very prolific tree in my parents’ yard it felt like the right time to bust it out.

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It’s a very simple recipe (which I love) and called for both chopped up apple to be mixed in with the batter and sliced apples to be placed on top of the cake decoratively.  The other ingredients were: half a stick of butter, half & half, flour, white and brown sugar, cinnamon, an egg, and baking powder.  All things I had readily on hand.

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I did my best placing the apples in an attractive manner on top and since there was extra cinnamon and sugar juice from the apples I thought it might be a good idea to pour that on top of the sliced apples too.  Can’t hurt, right?

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The resulting cake is so moist and delicious and versatile enough to be served as dessert or even for breakfast that it will for sure be added to my regular rotation of favorite recipes.  Happy Fall!

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Marcus Samuelsson’s Apple Cake (slightly adapted)

  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 2 Granny Smith apples (I used 4 small Macs)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature, plus more for greasing the pan
  • 1 large egg
  • 1-1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for flouring the pan
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2/3 cup half-and-half
  • 2 teaspoons confectioners’ sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter a 9-inch springform pan and lightly flour.

Toss together the granulated sugar and brown sugar. Set aside.

Peel and core the apples, then slice one apple into 16 wedges. Combine the cinnamon and 1/3 cup of the sugar mixture in a medium bowl. Add the apple wedges and toss to coat. Roughly dice the remaining apple.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat together the butter and the remaining sugar mixture on medium speed until light, fluffy, and lemon colored, about 2 minutes. Add the egg and mix until combined. Reduce the speed to low and add the flour and baking powder. Slowly add the half-and-half, and mix until combined. Fold the diced apple into the batter.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly. Arrange 14 of the apple wedges fanned along the outer edge of the pan and place the 2 remaining wedges in the center. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the center is golden brown.

Remove from the oven to a wire rack to cool completely. Run a small offset spatula around the edges to release the cake from the pan and remove the springform. Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar, then cut into 12 wedges.

chocolate flecked layer cake with milk chocolate frosting

From the moment I saw a photo of this cake in the February issue of Martha Stewart Living I knew I had to make it.  The combination of bittersweet chocolate chunks in the cake and sweet milk chocolate in the frosting spoke to me in a way that only chocolate can.

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The cake is a beautiful mixture of chopped up bittersweet chocolate and many of the usual cake batter suspects (flour, butter, eggs) along with sour cream which adds an unexpected tang and makes the cake extra moist.

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After folding the chocolate chunks into the batter you pour the results evenly in two cake pans that have been buttered and lined with parchment paper that has been buttered and lightly floured.

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It bakes into a beautiful golden cake with flecks of chocolate dotting it throughout.

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While the cakes cool you melt milk chocolate in a bowl over simmering water (I didn’t mess around in the chocolate department and used Milka chocolate bars.  The German I made the cake for was especially appreciative.)  After the chocolate has cooled slightly, mix it with softened butter, confectioners’ sugar, a pinch of salt, and more of that gloriously tangy sour cream.

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Though you only use two pans for this cake, it is actually a four-layer cake which means you have to divide the two cakes in half lengthwise with either a bread knife or I have also heard of people using non-flavored dental floss though have never tried it myself.  Frost between layers with the frosting and then around the outside of the cake as best you can.  NOTE: the frosting recipe easily makes enough for two layer cakes.  I put my leftover frosting in the freezer for use at a later date.

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It was a hit with all who sampled it and there were many Europeans in attendance who don’t like things too sweet so were pleased with the tangy/sweet/bittersweet thing going on within this majesty of a cake.  The pieces went in such a hurry I never managed to take a photo of one!  Such a problem to have.

Chocolate Flecked Layer Cake with Milk Chocolate Frosting (from http://www.marthastewart.com)

Cake:

  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened, plus more for pans
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup packed light-brown sugar
  • 1 large egg yolk plus 2 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups sour cream
  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate (61 to 70 percent cacao), finely chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter two 8-inch round cake pans, and line with parchment. Butter paper, and flour pans. Whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl.

Beat together butter and sugars with a mixer until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in yolk and eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla. Gradually add flour mixture to butter mixture in 3 additions, alternating with sour cream and milk, beginning and ending with flour. Fold in chocolate.

Divide batter between pans, and spread evenly with an offset spatula. Bake until deep golden brown and a toothpick inserted in centers comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Let cakes cool in pans 20 minutes. Invert cakes, remove pans and parchment, and let cool completely, right side up, on wire racks.

Cut each cake in half horizontally with a serrated knife. Place 1 bottom layer on a platter or cake stand, and spread evenly with 3/4 cup frosting. Repeat with a second layer and another 3/4 cup frosting. Place third layer on top, and spread with another 3/4 cup frosting. Place fourth layer on top. Spread entire cake with remaining frosting (about 2 3/4 cups), smoothing top and sides. Serve immediately, or refrigerate, uncovered, up to 2 days; if refrigerated, let cake come to room temperature before serving.

Frosting:

  • 1 pound milk chocolate, finely chopped
  • 4 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • Pinch of coarse salt
  • 1 cup sour cream

Melt chocolate in a bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water. Let cool slightly. Beat together butter, sugar, and salt with a mixer until pale and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Gradually beat in chocolate, then sour cream, and beat until thoroughly incorporated. Frosting should be spreadable. If too loose, refrigerate, stirring occasionally, until thickened. Use immediately, or transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate up to 3 days. Before using, bring to room temperature, and beat until smooth.

salted-caramel pineapple upside down cake

I won’t bore you with the details, but I’ve been having some car issues lately and as a result have had to borrow cars from assorted friends and family while mine has been in the shop.  Thank goodness for friends and family!

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My dad was kind enough to loan me his car for the better part of two weeks so I wanted to do something nice as a thank you.  I’ve heard him talk about how much he likes pineapple upside down cake for a long time so decided to try my hand at making one.  Only I didn’t want to make a normal one, I wanted to try one that was a little more gourmet.

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This cake starts with boiling up some butter with some dark brown sugar until it bubbles up and gets really thick.

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After you take this off the stove you add some dark rum and a little coarse salt.  Once it cools you pour the caramel mixture into the bottom of a greased cake pan and then add pineapple rings and chunks.

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The cake itself has a little cinnamon in the batter which adds a nice spiciness to the whole ordeal.

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Word to the wise: place the cake pan in a rimmed baking sheet to catch any overspill.  I did not and wound up having to scrub my oven down the next day.  Not fun!

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The cake came out great and my dad seemed to enjoy it which hopefully made up for the fact that he had to drive his old truck for longer than expected… The power of baked goods!

Salted-Caramel Upside Down Cake (found in Country Living magazine www.countryliving.com)

  • 1 cup dark-brown sugar
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3 tablespoons dark rum
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1 medium pineapple, peeled, cored, and cut into rings; 1 ring  cut into chunks

Coat a 9-inch cake pan with cooking spray and set aside. In a small saucepan over medium heat, heat brown sugar and 1 stick butter, whisking occasionally, until sugar is dissolved. Bring to a boil and cook until caramel thickens and turns a deep brown, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in rum and 1 teaspoon salt. Pour caramel into prepared cake pan and swirl around to coat. Set aside and let cool completely, at least 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk  together flour, baking powder, remaining salt, and cinnamon. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer on medium, beat together granulated sugar and remaining butter until light and fluffy. Add vanilla; beat in eggs, 1 at a time. Reduce mixer speed to low and beat in half the dry-ingredient mixture and 1/4 cup milk.  Repeat with remaining dry-ingredient mixture and milk.

Arrange pineapple rings atop caramel in cake pan. Fill in spaces  between rings with pineapple chunks. Carefully pour batter over pineapple and smooth, using a rubber spatula.  Tip: Place cake pan in a baking sheet to catch any overspill.

Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 50 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack and let cool for 30 minutes. Run a sharp knife around the sides of the pan to loosen the cake; invert onto a large serving plate.

black sesame pear tea cake

I credit my days living in New York’s Chinatown for helping me discover the beauty of black sesame.  It was always my flavor of choice at bubble tea shops and at the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory which in turn inspired me to recreate the ice cream at home.  I had never baked with black sesame seeds before but had torn out a recipe for Black Sesame-Pear Tea Cake a while back that intrigued me so decided to give it a whirl.

The recipe instructs you to combine several tablespoons of whole black sesame seeds along with a half-cup of ground up seeds as well.  I put my coffee grinder to use and worked those seeds until they turned into a beautiful paste.  Besides black sesame seeds, the only other ingredient that is slightly out of the norm in the recipe is almond meal which can be found in most any grocery store these days.  Bob’s Red Mill makes a great one.

Word to the wise: I often have buttermilk on hand for various baking exploits but it can easily be made in your kitchen in a pinch.  Simply put a tablespoon of white vinegar in a measuring cup and add a cup of milk and let them sit for 5 minutes.  Voila!  Way easier than changing out of your sweatpants, putting make-up on in the off-chance of running into someone you know and driving to the grocery store to buy some while in the midst of your baking project.  You’re welcome.

Be sure to use a ripe pear– mine was slightly less than ripe and even though it softened in baking I think the pear flavor would have been more pronounced if I had used a properly ripe pear.  I can assure you it was still delightful though.  It’s the kind of cake you make when you want to have a lovely cup of tea and not feel like a total fatty after a meal.  It’s light and sweet and the black sesame has an almost savory flavor, not unlike peanut butter.  In other words, totally awesome.

Black Sesame-Pear Tea Cake (found at www.epicurious.com)

  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more
  • 1 ½ cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup almond flour or almond meal
  • 2 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons plus ½ cup black sesame seeds
  • 1 1/3 cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • ¾ cup buttermilk
  • 1 (medium) firm but ripe Bosc pear, peeled, cored, cut into 1/4″ cubes

Preheat oven to 325°F. Butter one 9x5x3″ loaf pan or six 4x2x2″ paper or metal loaf pans. Whisk 1 ½ cups flour, next 4 ingredients, and 2 tablespoons sesame seeds in a medium bowl. Grind remaining ½ cup sesame seeds in spice mill to form a thick paste, about 2 minutes.

Using an electric mixer, beat ½ cup butter and 1 1/3 cups sugar in a large bowl until well combined, 2-3 minutes. Add sesame paste and beat, occasionally scraping down sides of bowl, until blended, 1-2 minutes. Add egg and egg yolk. Beat until pale and fluffy, 3-4 minutes. On low-speed, beat in flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with buttermilk in 2 additions, beginning and ending with dry ingredients. Toss pear with remaining 2 tablespoons flour in a small bowl; fold into batter.

Spoon batter into prepared pan; smooth top. Sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons sugar.

Bake until a tester comes out clean when inserted into center, about 1 hour 40 minutes for large loaf and 45-55 minutes for small loaves. Let cool in pans on a wire rack.

Happy Father’s Day! Green Tea Cupcakes for you.

I attribute my appreciation of food and my sense of adventure when it comes to it to the man on the right.  He and my mom were on to the local and organic thing way before it was a thing, back when it was just called having a large garden and raising various livestock and using that as your main source of food for the year.  Imagine that.  He’s also always willing to try something new which I love (Indian?  Sure!  Ethiopian?  Why not.  Dim sum?  Loves it.)  Thanks Dad.

These cupcakes are an example of something that my dad would totally try and love even though they are a bit non-traditional.  Awhile back I had an awesome green tea cupcake at a teahouse and decided it was time to try making my own version.

I ran out and bought some green tea powder (Matcha) and did a bit of Googling and found a recipe that twisted the traditional vanilla cupcake a little bit by adding the green tea powder in.  I found another recipe that suggested using almond extract instead of vanilla extract which seemed like a bold move in the right direction.  Done and done.

I made up my own frosting recipe using mascarpone cheese instead of cream cheese, butter, powdered sugar, and more green tea powder.  The results came out pretty darn good.  These cupcakes are for people who are not into overly sweet things but still want a treat.  And what a treat they are.

Green Tea Cupcakes (adapted from recipe found at www.thefoodieskitchen.com, original recipe source “Magnolia Bakery Vanilla Cupcakes”)

  • 2 ¾ cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 2 tablespoons Matcha (green tea powder)

Preheat the oven at 350ºF and line two 12-muffin tins with cupcake papers.

In a small bowl, sift the flour, baking powder and salt; set aside.

Whisk the Matcha with the milk and vanilla, set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter using an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth.  Add the sugar gradually and beat for 3 minutes or until fluffy.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Add the dry ingredients in three parts, alternating with the milk and vanilla.  With each addition, beat until the ingredients are incorporated but do not over mix.

Spoon the batter into the cupcake liners, filling about ¾ full.  Bake for 20-25 minutes.  Cool the cupcakes in the tins for 15 minutes.  Remove cakes from the tins and cool on a wire rack before icing.

Green Tea Mascarpone Frosting

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 8 oz. container of mascarpone cheese
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 teaspoons Matcha (green tea powder)

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and mascarpone cheese until combined.  Sift the powdered sugar and the Matcha into mixing bowl.  Mix until incorporated.  If the frosting is too thick, add a tablespoon or two of milk and mix until combined.

when life gives you (Meyer) lemons…

A few weeks ago when I was scoping out produce at my food co-op I spotted some beautiful Meyer lemons and just had to pick a few up.  I had never used them before but knew that they were supposed to be sweeter and less acidic than traditional lemons and plus they were so small and pretty that I simply could not resist.

I found a wonderful recipe for lemon pudding cake in one of my cookbooks and substituted three Meyer lemons in place of two traditional ones and it turned out beautifully.  I was not sure what to expect of pudding cake, but it truly is like it sounds.  The top part is a light-as-air and spongy cake and the bottom is a moist and delicious pudding.  It’s one of those desserts where you don’t feel like a stuffed fatty afterwards which I am always grateful for.  And better yet it is so simple to make.  When I see recipes where you have to separate the egg yolks from the egg whites and fluff the whites and then fold them into the batter I get nervous, not gonna lie, but if you have a stand mixer the whole process is a piece o’ cake.  If you don’t have a stand mixer you can still make it work but you’re going to have to stand with a handmixer fluffing those whites for a good three minutes.  Well worth it.

Meyer Lemon Pudding Cake (adapted slightly from recipe found in “Gourmet Today” by Ruth Reichl)

  • 3 Meyer lemons (2 large traditional lemons)
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • Rounded ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 3 large eggs, separated, left at room temperature for 30 minutes
  • 1 1/3 cups whole milk

Put a rack in middle of oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Butter gratin dish.

Finely grate 1 tablespoon zest from lemons, then squeeze 6 tablespoons juice.

Whisk together flour, salt, and ½ cup sugar in a large bowl.  Whisk together yolks, milk, zest, and juice in a small bowl and add to flour mixture, whisking until just combined.

Beat whites in another large bowl with an electric mixer (fitted with whisk attachment if using a stand mixer) until they hold soft peaks.  Beat in remaining ¼ cup sugar a little at a time and continue to beat until whites hold stiff, glossy peaks.  Whisk about one quarter of whites into batter to lighten it, then fold in remaining whites gently but thoroughly (batter will be thin.)

Pour batter into gratin dish.  Put dish in a small roasting pan and put pan in oven.  Add enough boiling water to pan to reach halfway up sides of gratin dish.  Bake until cake is puffed and golden, 45 to 50 minutes.  Transfer to a rack.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

rhubarb crumb bars

I’m so glad it’s rhubarb season again.  Even though I had eaten rhubarb in various forms over the years last spring was the first time I ever prepared anything with it.  Rhubarb pie is awesome and rhubarb fool is not to shabby either.

This time I decided to try a rhubarb bar recipe and found one with a crumb topping from Martha.  Who doesn’t like a crumb topping?

This recipe has several dimensions.  The bottom layer is a sweet and moist cake, followed by the rhubarb layer, and then topped with the butter/flour/brown sugar crumb topping.  A major winner, and not complicated to assemble in the least.  Get to it!

Rhubarb Crumb Bars (from www.marthastewart.com)

For the Streusel

  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus room-temperature butter for pan
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour, (spooned and leveled), plus more for pan
  • 1/2 cup packed light-brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

For the Cake

  • 1/2 pound rhubarb, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 tablespoon light-brown sugar
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour, (spooned and leveled)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter an 8-inch square baking pan. Line with parchment paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang on two sides. Butter and flour parchment and pan, tapping out excess flour.

Make streusel: Whisk together butter, brown sugar, and salt. Add flour and mix with a fork until large crumbs form. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Make cake: In a medium bowl, combine rhubarb, brown sugar, and 1/4 cup flour. In another medium bowl, whisk 3/4 cup flour, baking powder, and salt. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat butter and confectioners’ sugar until light and fluffy; beat in eggs, one at a time. With mixer on low, beat in vanilla, then flour mixture. Spread batter in prepared pan. Sprinkle with rhubarb and top with streusel.

Bake cake until golden and a toothpick inserted in center comes out with moist crumbs attached, 45 to 50 minutes. Let cool completely in pan. Using paper overhang, lift cake from pan. Cut into 16 bars.