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.
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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Jane's Sweets & Baking Journalwas born of my ever increasing desire to learn more about the baking and pastry arts, and of my love for anything and everything related to baking. Just as food is meant to be shared, so is knowledge among bakers and among those who enjoy delicious foods prepared from scratch. So, please partake, and feel free to share your thoughts and comments. I'd love to hear from you.
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Visit the PBS site to reminisce about 2013's best food trends. They've assembled an entertaining look at what we foodies focused on--what we ate, cooked, read, watched, and blogged about--throughout the year. Click here!
Interesting article in the Los Angeles Timeson the resurgence in demand for the skills of professional pastry chefs. (It seems we still need them after all . . .but you and I have always known that, haven't we?)
The IACP (International Association of Culinary Professionals) announced winners of its 2013 IACP Food Writing Awards. Have a look at the list. (No surprise that the gorgeous Bouchon Bakery cookbook won for photography and styling; took about a dream of a book! It's gorgeous.)
Food journalist and cookbook reviewer T. Susan Chang, writing for Publisher's Weekly, shared her thoughts in the article "10 Things Every Cookbook Publisher Should Know." Chang clarifies, in a nutshell, what differentiates a great cookbook from an awful dud. I found myself nodding in agreement with every point she made.
An interesting variation on cherries jubilee . . .
. . . made with Grand Marnier, sweet black cherries, pomegranate juice, and homemade vanilla ice cream.
Dutch apple cake . . .
. . . it's divine!
What We Talk About . . .
. . . When We Talk About Banana Cake!
JANE'S FAVORITE BAKING BOOKS
About Professional Baking: The Essentials, by Gail Sokol. This is a textbook, but not one that's intimidating. It contains lots of useful info, including interesting personal profiles of professional chefs.
All-American Cookie Book, by Nancy Baggett. Another winner of the IACP award. Loads of good looking cookie recipes with lots of very appetizing photos. (Don't you love cookbooks with tons of pictures? I do.)
All-American Dessert Book, by Nancy Baggett. Wonderfully detailed, with very reliable recipes, Baggett does it again in this valuable cookbook. Definitely worth your time!
Art & Soul of Baking, by Cindy Mushet. This large Gourmet Cook Book Club Selection is a feast for the eyes. I love the page layout, the photos, and the author's reassuring tone. Recipes range from the quotidian ("classic sugar cookies") to the ridiculous ("Moroccan-spiced sweet-potato tiropetes") to the absolute sublime ("duo-tone chocolate pots de creme"). Worth acquiring.
Baking and Pastry: Mastering the Art and Craft, by the Culinary Institute of America. This is a heavy duty textbook, not for the faint of heart. Intimidating, sure, but also kind of fascinating if you're an obsessive bake-a-holic like me.
Baking with Julia, written by Dorie Greenspan and based on the PBS series hosted by Julia Child. Yet another hefty and dazzling coffee-table-worthy cookbook. Wonderful to have around. (My copy was autographed by Julia herself!)
Betty Crocker's Picture Cookbook, published in 1950 and available in a facsimile edition, holds a special place in my heart. This is the book my mom primarily used, or so it seemed, when I was a kid. The photos are such period pieces, and the little notations that accompany recipes are pricelessly cute and corny. I have an ancient copy that I still use. Every girl needs a copy of this in her house, for good karma if nothing else.
Bitter Sweet -- Recipes and Tales From a Life in Chocolate, by Alice Medrich. Much more than just a cookbook with a focus on fine dark chocolate, this is also a memoir of sorts from a legendary chocolate-dessert creator. Medrich is often credited with awakening American tastes to the finest aspects of superior chocolate. Very interesting read!
Bread: A Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes,by Jeffrey Hamelman. An indispensable book for anyone who is seriously interested in learning to make fine yeast breads, Hamelman shares far more than just technical knowledge. Like fellow bread guru Peter Reinhart, his warmth of spirit and deep love for the tradition of bread baking shines through on every page.
Breakfast Book, by Marion Cunningham. Not to be confused with the character of the mom on Happy Days, the real Marion Cunningham has a long list of writing accomplishments, the most well known being that she completely revised The Fannie Farmer Cookbook. A contemporary of the late James Beard's, she is still held in high esteem.
Cake Bible, by Rose Levy Beranbaum. Rose is really into the science of baking, which can be helpful in some respects and off-putting in others. Like gardeners who talk mostly about soil components without conveying their joy in the plants themselves. Maybe I'm too sensitive? Probably so, as many consider this to be an invaluable classic. Despite my reservations, I wouldn't part with my copy. One of several highly detailed books by Rose. Her latest book, Heavenly Cakes, is much more down to earth, loaded with photos, and truly beautiful.
Cake Book, by Tish Boyle. I've called it a treasure trove before and please allow me to say it again here. This book is jam packed with wonderful stuff that's well explained. I used the Sacher-torte recipe in the fall of '09 for a culinary school project and it didn't let me down. I can endorse this book without reservation. I love it.
Complete Book of Pastry Sweet & Savory, by Bernard Clayton, Jr. When this book appeared in 1981, famed food editor Craig Claiborne praised it in the NYT as "one of the most important cookbooks of this year, if not of this decade." No photos, but don't let that dissuade you.
Craft of Baking, by Karen DeMasco & Mindy Fox. In 2009, some great new cookbooks were published and this was one of them. Down to earth, straightforward without being condescending, this smart guide offers creative and simple twists on dozens of diverse and well-proven "cakes, cookies, and other sweets."
Dessert University, by Roland Mesnier. As the White House executive pastry chef for over two decades, Mesnier has a lot of wisdom to impart. He does so well in this book, which is designed specifically for home bakers. A good book!
Grand Central Baking Book, by Piper Davis and Ellen Jackson. Readers are welcomed into these pages with a tone of warmth and familiarity. The photos alone will have you scribbling a grocery list. Try the berry kuchen recipe--simple and scrumptious.
Hershey's Chocolate Treasury, published in 1984 by Hershey Foods and chock full of old reliables. The recipe for Black Magic cake is one I've used again and again--invaluable!
How to Bake, by Nick Malgieri. The writing style is matter of fact and fairly informal. That's one of my favorite things about Malgieri's books.
Magical Art of Cake Decorating, by Carole Collier. Sometimes at a used book sale you find an old gem like this. Published in '84, I found it very encouraging when I first began decorating cakes. The recipes are rock solid reliable.
Maida Heatter's Book of Great Chocolate Desserts, by Maida Heatter. Famed baker (apparently her "Palm Beach Brownies" are known far and wide), whose work has centered on wondrous chocolate desserts, Heatter received a James Beard award for this book, one of many she's published over several active decades.
Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook, by Martha Stewart. Beautiful photos, but I must admit I've come to have reservations about the reliability of some of the recipes. Is it just me? Though I love flipping through the book for ideas, I'm a bit on the fence with this one when it comes to actual usage.
Martha Stewart's Wedding Cakes by Martha Stewart. Talk about a stunning and inspiring book! Chances are you may never decide to actually make one of the cakes from this glorious volume, but it's enough just to page through the gorgeous pictures and interesting recipes. Expensive? For sure, but worth it.
Passion for Baking, A by Marcy Goldman. If you're curious about how professional bakers manage to make things come out nicely every time, you'll appreciate this book. Goldman, in her highly approachable style, divulges many of their simple--but enormously helpful--tricks and techniques, and shows readers how to implement them throughout the wondrous array of down-to-earth recipes that pack this great book. Loads of enticing photos, too! I love this book!
Perfect Cakes, by Nick Malgieri. Can't say enough about Malgieri's books. Absolutely worth using, versus just reading! The white and dark chocolate cheesecake is to die for; I've made it a few times, along with many other recipes from this book, and it is superb.
Peter Reinhart's Artisan Breads Everyday, by Peter Reinhart. This book is a revelation for anyone who approaches yeast recipes like a vampire approaches the dawn. Talk about down to earth, encouraging, and flexible! This guy knows how to talk to rookie breadmakers. Well worth reading, and using, this volume will find a comfy place in your cookbook collection--a worthwhile purchase, undoubtedly!
Professional Cake Decorating, by Toba Garrett. I get the impression that this book is perceived as the most thorough and comprehensive text available for serious students of cake decorating. This is the text that we used for my culinary school Beginning Cake Decorarting class (which means I finally own my own copy!).
Sarabeth's Bakery: From My Hands to Yours, by Sarabeth Levine. Almost too pretty to use, but use it anyway! This big book is so appealing, and the photos so remarkably enticing, you'll want to pick it up like a sandwich and bite right into it. Fine recipes for updated classics, well explained, from the famous Manhattan bakery. Worth buying. (You'll love it!)
Secrets of Baking, by Sherry Yard. A must have, bakers! This cookbook's forte is the way it's organized; master recipes are presented with full explanations of how they can be used, and related recipes follow, section by section. An exceptional manual to refer to. Get your own copy!
Sky High: Irresistible Triple-Layer Cakes, by Alisa Huntsman and Peter Wynne. Huntsman is the professional pastry chef behind this beautiful book, filled with many tempting recipes, all designed specifically and scaled perfectly for three layers. I've made the Devil's food cake thus far, and it was exceptional--it rose well, was very moist, and had great depth of flavor. I'll be using this book more in the future, without a doubt. Love the photos also!
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. . . to never endorse a product of any kind on Jane's Sweets & Baking Journal that I do not believe in. I've never done so thus far, and I vow never to do so. If I tell you I think something is great, or that I think it is worth spending real money on, then I mean it, rest assured. I promise. And, if I ever talk about a product that I've been given to review or try out, I will disclose that in the post.
I'm a mom with two great sons (both now in college), and a really nice husband. I left a long editorial career in reference publishing a few years ago and I've had nary a regret. I recently finished (after four part-time years!) a Baking & Pastry Arts Certificate program in the Culinary Studies Institute at a local community college. It was a lot of fun, a lot of work, and I am so glad I did it. These days, I do a lot of freelance editorial work, something that I really enjoy.
"Jane's Sweets" was the name of a very small baking enterprise that I started in late 2007. It bloomed a bit, for a little while, with encouragement from my husband, my aunt, and my first cake decorating teacher, Cindy. Because my Aunt Lydia was my most ardent female supporter in this baking endeavor (she was a lifelong independent business owner herself), this blog is dedicated to her memory. If heaven is real, then I know she's there with my mom, baking up a storm. Like Lydia said one day, just before her 80th birthday, while she and my mom and I were baking in my mom's kitchen, "It's been a fun ride. I'd do it all over again!"
If my house were on fire, I'd grab my family, then I'd grab my KitchenAid mixer.
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