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.

caramel pecan cinnamon rolls

As promised in my first post of the new year, the recipe for my Aunt Sarah’s cinnamon rolls, aka the best cinnamon rolls ever.

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She told me the original recipe came from the back of a bag of flour and she has tweaked it over the years to get it right.  In fact when I asked for the recipe she had to translate it for me because she was still using the original cut-out from the back of the flour bag which was in rough shape and didn’t have any of her modifications noted on it.  Point is, this recipe is time-tested and a proven winner.  Trust me on this one.

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You begin by making the sweet dough which then gets divided in two and is kneaded and then sits for a little while to rise.

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Next you roll the dough out into two rectangles and spread with softened butter (I microwaved the butter for about 30 seconds so it was partially melted and that seemed to work well) and then sprinkle with a brown sugar/cinnamon mixture.

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Then you roll the dough up.

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Once the dough is rolled up you use a sharp knife or kitchen twine and cut the dough into 1 1/2″ sections.  I got a little too generous with a few rolls and they wound up being closer to 2″ which messes up the caramel-to-roll ratio in the end so I advise you get don’t cut them any wider than 1 1/2″.

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Next you put 4 to 6 tablespoons of melted butter in the bottom of a 9″ x 13″ pan, then drizzle 1/2 of light corn syrup over the top, followed by 3/4 cup of brown sugar, and finally pecans if you are using.  I decided to make half the pan with pecans and half without.  Another tip here that I wish I had thought of before I baked the rolls: butter the sides of the pan so the rolls don’t stick and therefore drop out of the pan easier when you get that point.

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Then you place the rolls into the pan on top of the buttery-sugary goodness and let rise in the fridge for 2 to 48 hours.  Once they have risen in the fridge you then take them out and let them rest on the counter for another 1 to 2 hours.  Do not do as I did and stuff the pan quite as full as the below picture shows.  I forgot to take into account that the dough nearly doubles in size so it threw off the baking time of the rolls since they were too close together and a few rolls in the middle of the pan did not cook all the way through.  I think I would have been okay if I had taken 3 rolls out of the 9″ x 13″ pan and placed them in a separate pan to bake.  Live and learn.

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After the rolls bake for approximately 30 to 40 minutes (I recommend checking after 20 minutes and if they are browning already, cover with aluminum foil for duration of baking time) you flip the pan over (away from you) into prepared foil with upturned edges so you do not get caramel all over your counter top.  The caramel from the bottom of the pan coats the rolls in a beautiful golden brown and the scent is heavenly.

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Alas, because I did not butter the sides of the pan and then stuffed a few too many in, my rolls did not come out the pan in an attractive manner.  They still tasted wonderful but were not so much photo-worthy so I am instead substituting with a photo of the rolls my aunt made at Christmas.  As they say, practice makes perfect…

Caramel Pecan Cinnamon Rolls (CoolRise Rapidmix Sweet Dough Recipe)

Dough:

  • 4 – 5 cups bread flour
  • 1 ½ tsp. salt
  • 2 packages active dry yeast
  • ½ cup (1 stick) soft butter
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 ½ cups very hot tap water
  • 2 eggs at room temperature

Filling & Caramel:

  • ¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) butter
  • 1 ½ brown sugar
  • 1 ½ tablespoons cinnamon
  • ½ cup light corn syrup
  • ½ cup pecans, optional

Make dough:

Combine 2 cups flour, undissolved yeast, sugar & salt in large bowl (use pedestal mixer if you have one).  Stir well to blend and add softened butter.

Add hot tap water to ingredients in bowl.  Beat with electric mixer at medium speed for 2 minutes.  Scrape sides of bowl occasionally.

Add eggs and 1 cup more flour.  Beat with electric mixer at high speed for 1 minute or until thick and elastic.  Scrape sides of bowl occasionally.

Stir in remaining flour gradually with wooden spoon.  Use just enough flour to make a soft dough which leaves sides of bowl.  (I only used about 4 and ½ cups bread flour.)  Turn out onto floured board.  Round up into a ball.

Divide dough into two equal portions.  Knead 5-10 minutes or until dough is smooth and elastic

Cover with plastic wrap & then a dry towel.  Let rest 15-20 minutes and punch down.

Make pecan rolls:

Roll each ball into a 12” x 18” rectangle (approximate size).  Spread with 1 stick of softened butter and sprinkle with a mixture of ¾ cup of the brown sugar and all of the cinnamon.  Starting at the longest side, roll up the dough leaving the seam side down.  Using a sharp knife or twine, cut each roll about 1 ½ inches deep.

Butter sides of a 9” x  13” pan and then put 4 tablespoons of melted butter in the bottom of the pan, swirl light corn syrup over butter, and sprinkle remaining ¾ cup brown sugar on top.  Add whole or chopped pecans to the pan and then lay cinnamon rolls on top.  Lightly brush rolls with melted butter, cover loosely with plastic wrap, then a dry towel and refrigerate 2 to 48 hours.

Remove rolls from the fridge and uncover, letting them rise at room temperature for approximately 1 to 2 hours, or until nearly doubled in size.  Bake at 375 degrees for 30-40 minutes or until done (making sure the rolls aren’t doughy in the center).  Cover lightly with foil if they brown too quickly while baking.

Remove from the pan onto a large sheet of heavy aluminum foil with edges that have been turned up (to prevent hot caramel from spilling onto the counter).  Make sure to tip the pan away from you to prevent caramel from splashing on you.

cranberry, pear, and ginger chutney

Why do cranberries only get love around Thanksgiving time?  I guess dried cranberries have sort of become a thing over the past decade or so (thanks Craisins) but fresh cranberries need to take center stage more often, too.  Why?  Because they are beautiful and delicious.

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I don’t think I was ever subjected to old-school cranberry sauces (of the jelly mould variety) in my youth, and if I was I must have blocked it from memory.  As an adult I’ve become quite fond of cooking cranberries down into chutneys to serve with turkey or spread on sandwiches.  I thought I had a winner of a recipe in years past until I tried this one this year.  This one involves pears, ginger, lemon and orange zest, cinnamon, cloves, and shallots.  It’s a whole lotta beautiful in a bowl.

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Once you’ve cooked the cranberries long enough they start to soften and burst and become wonderful.  Yes I made this chutney for Thanksgiving but I totally think it would be good any time of year that you are able to find fresh cranberries.  When paired with a little Brie cheese it makes an out-of-this-world grilled cheese.  Trust me on this one.  It would also make an excellent addition to a burger off the grill  in the warmer months or an excellent accompaniment to a cheese plate with some crackers, grapes, and candied nuts.  Dream big.  Just don’t save it for only one day a year.

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Cranberry, Pear, and Ginger Chutney (modified slightly from recipe found at www.epicurious.com)

  • 2 cups apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup finely chopped shallots
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped peeled fresh ginger (from about 2-ounce piece)
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons finely grated lemon peel
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons finely grated orange peel
  • 1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 12-ounce bag fresh cranberries
  • 1 1/4 cups (packed) golden brown sugar
  • 2 large firm Bosc pears (about 18 ounces total), peeled, cored, cut into 3/4-inch cubes (about 2 1/2 cups)

Combine apple cider vinegar, onion, ginger, lemon peel, orange peel, cinnamon stick pieces, crushed red pepper, and ground cloves in heavy large saucepan. Boil mixture until reduced to 1 1/2 cups, about 10 minutes. Add cranberries, brown sugar, and pears; stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Reduce heat to medium-low; cover and simmer until pears are very tender, berries collapse, and flavors blend, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes. Remove from heat; discard cinnamon stick pieces. Using potato masher, mash mixture coarsely. Transfer chutney to bowl and cool. DO AHEAD: Can be made 3 days ahead. Cover and chill. Bring to room temperature before serving.

chai apple pie

I love pie. A lot. I also love that others love pie so much that there are entire bakeries, blogs, and cookbooks devoted to just it without cupcakes or cookies or other filler. One can do a lot with pie.

Recently I purchased one of the aforementioned pie-only cookbooks, “A Year of Pies” by Ashley English, and have tried out a few of the recipes including the star of this post, an apple pie made with chai tea spices. Now I love me some chai tea and it totally sounded like a very clever and logical thing to do to pair it with apples, and boy was it.

The cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom, and black pepper (yes, black pepper!) turn it up a notch and add a little excitement to the classic apple pie recipe. I brought it in to work and one coworker who had a piece told me it was so good she dreamt about it that night. High praise!

Some people have told me they are intimidated about making pies but I really think they are one of the easiest things to make as long as you have an ounce of patience when it comes to making your own crust. It’s really not that hard, I promise! The crust recipe below calls for half shortening, half butter, though you could make it with entirely one or the other if you like. In general I avoid shortening like the plague as it is usually so processed that a tub of it would outlive us all and then some, but I have found an organic, 100% palm oil version from Spectrum that I really like and feel better about using. It does add a nice flakiness to the crust.

Chai Spice Apple Pie (adapted slightly from “A Year of Pies: A Seasonal Tour of Home Baked Pies” by Ashley English)

  • 1 recipe Basic Pie Dough

Chai Spice Blend

  • 1 teaspoon cardamom seeds or ground cardamom
  • ½ teaspoon black tea
  • ¼ teaspoon whole cloves
  • ¼ teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground ginger

Filling:

  • 3 pounds apples, peeled, cored, quartered, and cut into ½-inch-thick slices
  • 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced, for dotting the filling

Remove one dough disk from the refrigerator. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface and fit it into a 9-inch pie pan. Trim the crust overhang to 1 inch, then place the crust in the refrigerator while you prepare the filling.

Using either a mortar and pestle or a spice or coffee grinder, grind the cardamom seeds (if using), black tea, while cloves, and peppercorns to a powder.

Pour the ground spices into a fine-mesh sieve placed over a small bowl. Gently shake the sieve so all but the larger pieces fall through. Discard the larger pieces left in the sieve.

To the freshly ground spices in the bowl, add the ground cardamom (if using), cinnamon, and ginger. Whisk well to combine.

Combine all of the filling ingredients, including the chai spice blend, in a medium-sized mixing bowl. Using either clean hands or a large spoon, toss until all of the ingredients are fully combined and the apple slices are evenly coated.

Pour the apple mixture into the prepared crust, mounding in the center. Dot the surface with diced butter.

Roll the remaining dough disk into a 12-inch circle. Use a small pastry cutter to cut decorative images in the dough, if desired.

Roll the top crust loosely over your rolling pin and unroll it over the filling in the pie pan, making sure it’s centered. Trim the top crust overhang to 1 inch and tuck the edges under the bottom crust overhang. Crimp the edges decoratively.

Place the pie in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Place the pie on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or aluminum foil to catch overflow juices and bake at 20 minutes. Reduce the oven temperatures to 375 F and continue baking for 30 to 35 minutes longer, until the crust is golden and juices are bubbling in the center of the pie.

Cool at least 1 hour before serving.

Basic Pie Dough (from “A Year of Pies: A Seasonal Tour of Home Baked Pies” by Ashley English)

  • 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 ¼ teaspoon sea salt
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, chilled and cubed
  • ¾ vegetable shortening, chilled and cubed
  • ¾ cup ice water

Mix the flour and salt together in a medium-large bowl.

Using a pastry blender or two forks, cut in the butter and shortening until the mixture resembles coarse meal (you should still have some rather large bits of butter and shortening when you’re done.)

Slowly drizzle in the ice water and stir with a large spoon until the dough begins to clump.

Transfer the dough to a floured work surface and, using your hands, fold it into itself until the flour is fully incorporated into the fats. The dough should come together easily but should not feel overly sticky.

Divide the dough in half, shape it into two balls, and pat each ball into a ½-inch thick disk. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour.

awesome gluten free pumpkin muffins

Yesterday it was sunny and in the 70’s.  I sat in a backyard and enjoyed the sun whilst food grilled behind me.  There was frisbee tossing and cold drinks and small children running around in shorts.  What a difference a day made… today it was gray and in the 40’s.  I had to turn my heat on for the first time in over two weeks!  Boo.  But I also made you some weather-worthy pumpkin muffins that almost make the return to typical spring temps worthwhile.

A few months back, before Thanksgiving, I roasted some pumpkins from my parents garden and pureed them up.  I then conveniently froze the pumpkin puree in one-cup portions so that I could thaw them out whenever I felt like baking up a taste of fall.  (You can certainly use canned pumpkin here, I’m just bragging because my foresight was pretty awesome last November, though it was kind of a pain to puree up the pumpkin to be honest.  Do yourself a favor and buy it canned… unless of course you grow pumpkins in your garden and have a few spare hours next fall.)

These muffins are the perfect antidote to gray days like today.  A little spicey, sweet, and best served warm with butter.

Pumpkin Muffins (adapted slightly from Apple-Pumpkin Muffins recipe from “Blackbird Bakery Gluten-Free” by Karen Morgan)

  • 1 cup sorghum flour
  • ½ cup cornstarch
  • ½ cup tapioca flour
  • 2 teaspoons guar gum
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
  • ½ cup packed light brown sugar
  • 2 ¼ teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 ½ teaspoons ground ginger
  • ¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • One 15-ounce can solid-pack unsweetened pumpkin (or 1 ½ cups pureed pumpkin)
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

Position an oven rack in the center of the oven.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Line muffin cups with paper liners.  (Makes about 18 to 24 muffins.)

In a medium bowl, combine all the dry ingredients, including the sugars and spices, and stir with a whisk to blend.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter on medium-high speed until soft.  Add the dry ingredients all at once and mix on low speed for about 2 minutes.  Add the eggs, pumpkin, and vanilla and mix on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl several times.  Using an ice-cream scoop, fill the prepared muffin cups three-fourths full with batter and bake for 25 minutes, or until cracked on top and browned on the edges.  A wooden skewer inserted into one of the muffins will come out clean.

the easiest recipe you’ll ever make

Growing up I got spoiled for life on applesauce because my Grandma Molly used to make the most awesome chunky sauce that she would freeze and share with family.  Best gift ever.  I remember fondly the mornings when my mom would thaw out a container for us to eat for breakfast.  I’ve never been able to enjoy the store-bought kind as a result…

So last fall I decided to recreate my grandma’s applesauce in my own kitchen.  As long as you don’t mind peeling, coring, and chopping apples it really could not be simpler, especially with the aid of a slow cooker.

You just throw the chunked, skinless apples into the slow cooker with some cinnamon and water and let it do its’ thing on low for a few hours and then you stir in a little brown sugar and voila.  Comfort-y heaven in your mouth.  It has seriously been motivating me out of bed on weekdays for the past week so I highly suggest you get on board and make yourself some and forget you ever once purchased that junk they sell in the grocery store…

Slow Cooker Applesauce

  • 14 apples (I used a variety of sweet and tart apples), peeled, cored, and chopped
  • 4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar

Place apples in 4-quart or larger slow cooker and sprinkle with cinnamon.  Add water.

Cover.  Cook on low for 2 to 4 hours, or until apples become mushy.  Stir in brown sugar and mix well with an immersion blender or potato masher.

twist on a classic

This may look like your standard, run-of-the-mill chocolate chip cookie but it is not.  Oh no.  In a belated nod to Cinco de Mayo I decided to make Mexican Chocolate Chip Cookies.  What makes them Mexican, you ask?  Cinnamon and a touch of black pepper.

The cinnamon and pepper add a nice touch of spiciness.

As they might say in Mexico: delicioso!

Mexican Chocolate Chip Cookies (from www.epicurious.com)

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground pepper
  • 1 12-ounce package semisweet chocolate chips

Using electric mixer, beat butter and sugar in large bowl until fluffy. Beat in eggs 1 at a time, then vanilla. Sift next 6 ingredients over butter mixture; beat just until blended. Mix in chocolate chips. Refrigerate dough until cold, at least 1 hour and up to 1 day.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly butter 2 large baking sheets. Drop dough by rounded tablespoonfuls onto sheets, spacing 1 1/2 inches apart. Bake cookies until golden brown but still soft to touch, about 10 minutes (for crisper cookies, bake 12 minutes). Let stand on sheets 3 minutes. Transfer cookies to racks and cool.