Saturday, September 10, 2011
Maybe you saw from my previous post that my father passed away recently? I mention this again only because, while he was ill over the latter half of the summer, my urge to bake just about completely fizzled. It was kind of like my inner pilot-light temporarily flickered out. I had other things on my mind, of course, and my energy was directed elsewhere. I guess baking for pleasure seemed like a frivolous pursuit.
But now, as I restart my internal baking engine, so to speak, I realize that I want to make things that are distinctly comfort inducing--dishes that remind me of why I love baking to begin with, and that evoke the sense of contentment I knew as a kid while watching my mom move confidently about her kitchen. I can still see the silver beaters on her Sunbeam mixer whirling in place as she hovered nearby, spatula poised, her blue eyes riveted on a bowl of pound-cake batter or thick chocolate icing. I don't think it would be stretching the truth to say that my dad enjoyed just about every food she ever prepared, and each night as we finished dinner, he'd thank her for having made it. I know that left an impression on me.
My dad loved the fact that I was always baking and I recall how surprised and charmed he was a couple of years ago when I informed him I was entering culinary school part-time to study the baking and pastry arts. He often asked me what I was working on, and occasionally requested that I make homemade bread for him, or peanut butter cookies, or creamy clam chowder. Eventually, he couldn't keep it in his mind that I was in culinary school at all, but that was okay. Though in the last several weeks he couldn't have told you what decade it was or what he'd had for lunch one minute after he ate it, he still recognized the most important things in life and, even up to the end, was still alert enough to give and receive expressions of love. I'll always be grateful for that.
About this recipe . . .
That desire of mine to bake comfort food brings me to today's fresh apple cake. Adapted from a recipe for apple rum cake found in pastry chef Nick Malgieri's book, Perfect Cakes, I omitted his use of the rum altogether and substituted a larger amount of boiled cider for the primary flavoring ingredient. I also used boiled cider in the glaze instead of rum, and I left raisins out of the batter as well.
What the heck is boiled cider, you may be asking? It's exactly what it sounds like. It's apple cider that has been slowly reduced in much the same way maple sap is cooked down into maple syrup. You can buy boiled cider in a bottle, like the kind I used for this recipe, or you can try making it yourself by simmering two cups of cider in an uncovered saucepan over low heat until it's shrunk down to 2/3 of a cup (that last bit of advice I found in my old copy of Richard Sax's indispensable book, Classic Home Desserts: A Treasury of Heirloom and Contemporary Recipes). Boiled cider still tastes exactly like cider, but in a richly concentrated form; it's very good.
I adjusted this cake recipe further by adding in restrained pinches of nutmeg and cinnamon--only enough to hint at their spicy presence, and of course I reworded it to reflect exactly what I did. Moist and satisfying, this simple cake is just right for early fall. Not too sweet, and the use of the boiled cider really pumps up the apple flavor. A good bet for brunch, dessert, or a nice afternoon snack with a cup of tea.
Fresh Apple Cake with Boiled Cider Glaze
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Yield: One 9" cake, baked in a springform pan.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9" springform pan, line the bottom of the pan with a 9" parchment paper circle, then butter the parchment.
Ingredients for the cake:
2 large tart apples (I used Granny Smiths), peeled, cored, halved, and sliced into pieces about 1/8" thick
3 Tbsp. boiled apple cider
2 and 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (I used unbleached)
2 tsp. baking powder
Scant 3/4 tsp. kosher salt
1 scant pinch ground cinnamon
1 scant pinch ground nutmeg
12 Tbsp. (1 and 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at soft room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3 eggs, large
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 Tbsp. milk
Ingredients for the glaze:
1 to 1-and-1/4 cups confectioners' sugar
2 to 4 Tbsp. boiled cider (depending on how thick or thin you prefer your glaze to be)
* * * * *
Mix the sliced apples and the 3 Tbsp. of boiled cider together in a bowl. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, kosher salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg.
In the large bowl of your mixer, using the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar together on medium speed until fluffy and light. One at a time, beat in the eggs, still on medium speed. Add in the vanilla.
Take the bowl off the mixer. Using a rubber spatula, fold in half the flour mixture.
Set a colander over an empty bowl and dump the apples along with their liquid into it. Let them drain a minute or so.
Add the milk into the cider drippings, then pour this liquid into the batter and stir it in.
Fold the remaining flour into the batter.
Evenly spread half of the batter into the bottom of the prepared springform pan. Use a small offset spatula (ideally), or the back of a spoon, to spread it out.
Scatter all of the apples over the top of the batter (they do not need to be neatly arranged); try to leave just a narrow margin of uncovered batter close to the sides of the pan.
Plop the remaining batter over that and spread it out smoothly.
Bake the cake on the middle rack of your oven for approximately 55 to 60 minutes, or until the cake feels firm, is golden brown, and apples seem tender. Test it with a toothpick if you like.
Cool the cake in its pan, set on a rack, for 15 minutes before attempting to remove the sides of the pan.
Run a thin metal spatula or knife around the edge before removing the sides. Then, invert the cake quickly and carefully onto a flat plate; lift off the bottom of the pan, peel off the parchment circle if it's stuck to the cake, then quickly reinvert the cake-bottom back onto the cooling rack. Let the unpanned cake cool fully on the rack.
To make the glaze:
With the confectioners' sugar in a medium-small bowl, begin adding in the boiled cider one tablespoon at a time, adding in more and stirring continually until all lumps are gone and the glaze is as thick or thin as you prefer.
Drizzle the glaze over the cooled cake, or serve it warm, drizzled over individual slices.
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