Cake

Apple Cake

Baking cakes is tough work. Bake them for too long, and they turn out dry. Too little time in the oven? The center is dense and mushy, two words you never want associated with your baked creation. That’s what makes this cake stand out from the rest of the pack – with all of the moisture from the apples, it’s practically impossible to overbake. The finished product has a reliably perfect crumb, one that is light, moist, and flavorful with every bite.

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To get started, pick your apples. I like to use a couple of varieties to create a unique flavor and texture – pick apples like Empire, which have a soft, pudding-like effect in the cake. Add a few apples that keep their structure – Braeburns, for example, to create tender apple chunks throughout the batter. Mix the chopped apples with something sweet and flavorful, like sugar and cinnamon, and you have a delicious filling.

For the cake batter itself, feel free to play around with the proportion of white to whole wheat flour. The whole wheat makes the overall flavor more complex, and your apples mean that there is no need to worry about a dry or dense cake. Assemble the cake by alternating batter and apples, and you can pretty much guarantee that the fruit will settle evenly into every slice.

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Can’t finish the cake in one night? Rest assured. Unlike most cakes, it only gets better the next day.

Apple Cake Recipe (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 cups all purpose flour
  • 1.25 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cup canola oil
  • 2 cups + 5 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 6 apples, peeled, cored, and chopped into chunks (I used a mixture of Empire, Braeburn, and Macoun)
  • 1 tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract

Instructions:

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 10 cup bundt pan (or a tube pan is preferable, if you have one).
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flours, baking powder, and salt.
  3. Prepare the apples. In a medium bowl, combined the apple chunks with the cinnamon and  5 tbsp of sugar. Stir to coat the all apples in the sugary mixture.
  4. In a medium bowl, whisk together the oil and 2 cups of the sugar. Once the mixture is smooth, add the orange juice, eggs, and vanilla. Whisk for a minute or so, until the wet ingredients are one uniform color.
  5. Add the wet ingredients to the large bowl with the dry ingredients and stir to combine, being careful not to over stir.
  6. Assemble the cake. Start by pouring 1/3 of the cake batter into the bottom of the bundt pan – this will ensure that your cake lifts out easily and does not stick. Then, add half the apple mixture. Top with another 1/3 of the batter, smoothing out as much as possible, and the remaining apples. Add the final layer of batter and place the cake in the oven. Let bake for 90 minutes or so – this is a very moist batter, so slight overbaking will rarely result in too dry a cake. Stick a toothpick into the center of the cake to check for doneness.
  7. Cool completely; invert the bundt pan to unmold the cake, and serve.

 

 

Salad

Curried Cauliflower Grain Salad

There’s nothing better than a simple salad after an overindulgent Thanksgiving meal. This particular recipe shines the spotlight on cauliflower, a vegetable whose flavor and attractiveness I find to be vastly underrated.

Growing up, I only saw cauliflower in one of two ways: steamed (with absolutely no flavor) or covered in cheese (decidedly delicious, but not the healthiest of options). This cauliflower recipe takes a different turn, relying on roasting to give the vegetable an almost popcorn-like flavor.

While prepping my cauliflower for the oven, I decided to supplement the salt and pepper with a healthy dose of curry powder. Curry powders vary widely, so the variety that you choose will have a powerful impact on the flavors of this salad. I opted for one with a healthy dose of fennel seed, but I’m sure that whatever you have on hand will do.

Curried Cauliflower Salad (2 of 2)

To round out the flavors and nutrients in this salad, I combined the cauliflower with some mixed greens, quinoa, and dried cranberries. The cauliflower adds a significant amount of fiber, while the quinoa adds enough protein to make this a well-balanced vegan entree. The cranberries bring a sweet tang, which contrasts nicely with the spice of the curry. Top the salad off with some mild acid from the vinaigrette, and you have a delicious lunch – great for a lazy Sunday or a busy weekday.

Curried Cauliflower Grain Salad Recipe

Ingredients:

  • curried cauliflower florets (recipe below)
  • quinoa, cooked (click here for a quick guide to cooking quinoa)
  • mixed greens
  • dried cranberries
  • vinaigrette  (recipe below)
  • chopped apples (I didn’t use these, but I think they would be a fantastic addition!)

Instructions:

  1. Toss the mixed greens and quinoa in a medium bowl with the vinaigrette. Top greens with cauliflower and cranberries and serve immediately.

Curried Cauliflower Salad (1 of 2)

To Make the Curried Cauliflower

You will need:

  • 1 head of cauliflower, cut into florets
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 – 2 tsp curry powder
  • pepper, to taste
  • olive oil
  • fresh parsley

Instructions:

  1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Combine spices and cauliflower in a large bowl.
  2. Drizzle olive oil over cauliflower until lightly coated. Transfer to a baking sheet and spread cauliflower into a single layer.
  3. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until cauliflower is tender and easily pierced with a fork. Let cool and top with fresh cilantro or parsley.

To Make the Vinaigrette

You will need:

  • 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard

Instructions:

  1. Combine ingredients in a small bowl; whisk to combine. Refrigerate if not using immediately.
Dessert

Classic Apple Pie

apple pie

If my kitchen was a classroom, pie would be the final exam. The crust requires a level of dexterity and attention to detail far beyond what’s needed for most baking recipes, and even the most minor of errors can affect the final result. The pie filling itself is a test of knife skills and ingenuity, and the technique used for slicing the fruit can make a huge difference in the pie’s overall flavor. Even the construction of the pie requires a certain amount of self confidence, asking the baker to take a leap of faith when draping the top crust over the filling. Naturally, some doubts arise. Will the crust be crispy? Will the top cave in on itself, creating an flood of syrupy fruit?

With that in mind, I’ll admit that this is only the second pie of my baking career. Pie recipes intimidate me with their long list of ingredients and string of “do’s” and don’ts,” and I avoid them as much as possible (see this apple galette as a wonderful pie alternative). To make a worthy pie, I knew I needed to do some research.

Apple Pie DoughWhat did I find, you may ask? From The Kitchn, I learned the importance of  pre-baking the applies before assembling the pie. Since the apples lose water and shrink in size during baking, this step eliminates the potential gap between the top pie crust and the filling. This isn’t too surprising, since lauded bakeries like Baked in Red Hook and Three Babes Bakeshop in San Francisco both bake their apples before using them for pies.

My research also taught me that apple varieties are distinct and should not be used interchangeably. While my original plan was to go with Golden Delicious apples, mixed reviews of the apple’s texture after baking caused me to pick Cortland instead. For a comprehensive list of good baking apples, read this article on Epicurious.

apple pie 2 (1 of 4)Through trial and error, I discovered a few tips for making a good crust. First, keep the butter as cold as possible, chopping it up and placing it in the freezer if necessary. These small pieces of butter will melt during baking, creating a wonderful, flaky texture. Make sure to use ice water (or tap water filled cooled with ice cubes) since this will help keep the mixture chilled during the mixing process.

When it comes to adding the water, be careful to add just the right amount. Too much water will reduce the flakiness of the dough, while not enough water will lead to a dough that is crumbly and and ultimately impossible to roll out. I learned this the hard way, dumping my first version of the crust in the trash after a frustrating round with the rolling pin. When you have just the right amount of water, the dough should come together easily and feel slightly sticky.

apple pie 2 (2 of 4)

Before assembling the pie, stick the prepared pie pan (with crust) in the freezer for 30 minutes or more. You want the crust to absorb as little liquid from the apples as possible, and this method is pretty reliable when it comes to preventing a soggy crust.

apple pie 2 (3 of 4)

Lastly, take the bonding process seriously! The fork marks above aren’t just for looks – they actually hold the filling inside the pie as the entire pastry warms and begins to bubble during baking. If the bond between the top and bottom crusts isn’t strong enough, you’ll notice that some filling will ooze between the layers.

As you can probably tell, this recipe takes time. But for those that are patient and ready to invest some effort, I promise that this recipe will impress a crowd!

Classic Apple Pie Recipe

Pie crust (adapted from Smitten Kitchen’s “Pie Crust 102” post):

  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 sticks butter unsalted butter, cold
  • 1/3 – 1/2 cup ice cold water

Apple filling (adapted from the NY Times):

  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 1/2 pounds apples (I used 5 very large Cortland apples)
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp all spice
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 2 tsp cornstarch
  • 1 tbsp acid (either cider vinegar or lemon juice)

Egg wash:

  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten

Instructions:

For the pie crust

  1. Combine flour, sugar, salt, and cold butter in a large bowl. Make sure that the butter is very cold (if you like, you can even stick it in the freezer for a few minutes before beginning this step). Using a pastry blender, begin to slowly cut the butter into the dry ingredients. This process is complete once the mixture attains a crumbly texture – each crumb should be the size of a small pea. Be careful not to over mix the dough, as this will interfere with the flakiness of the crust.
  2. Prepare the ice water. I always fill a cup with around 2 cups of water and add 3-4 ice cubes, and then remove the amount of water requested in the recipe.
  3. Slowly drizzle 1/3 cup ice water into the dough. Begin by using your pastry blender to integrate the water into the mixture, but switch over to using your hands once the dough become too sticky. Add the remainder of the water until the dough comes together easily into a ball – it’s still too dry if the dough cracks easy and falls apart into the bowl.
  4. Using a knife, cut the dough into two halves. Form each half into a round ball, flatten it, and cover with plastic wrap.
  5. Store overnight in the fridge before using.

For the filling

  1. Peel and core apples. Cut each apple into 1/4 – 1/2 slices, depending on how chunky you would like your pie filling to be.
  2. Melt the butter over medium heat in a large saucepan. Once hot, add the apples and stir to coat with the butter mixture. Quickly add the sugar and spices, stir well, and reduce the heat to medium – low. Allow the mixture to simmer for 5 minutes more.
  3. Add flour and cornstarch to the saucepan and stir to combine. Cook for 3-5 minutes more, until the apples are tender but do not lose their structure. Add the cider vinegar or lemon juice and allow to cool completely before adding to the pie.

For prepping the pie shell

  1. Remove the dough from the fridge and let rest at room temperature for 5 minutes.
  2. Lightly flour your work surface. Using a rolling pin, begin to gently roll out your dough into a 12 inch circle. Remember, technique is key here – if you go too quickly or use too much pressure to roll out your dough, it will begin to crack. (Tip: Every 3-4 strokes, pick up your dough and rotate it 90 degrees. This will ensure that the dough does not stick to the surface).
  3. Gently pick up your dough and place it in a 9 inch pie plate. The dough should hang about 1/2 inch over the edges of the pie plate (this will help you later to bind the top and bottom pie crusts).
  4. Cut off the excess dough with scissors or a sharp knife and place the prepared pie shell in the freezer.

For putting together the pie

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and place a large baking sheet inside the oven.
  2. Once the filling is completely cool, roll out the top pie crust following the same directions as above. It can be a little smaller, around 10 inches in diameter.
  3. Remove the pie shell from the freezer and pour the filling into the pie. Gently place the top pie crust over the filling, making sure that the dough hangs over a bit on all sides.
  4. Using a fork, lightly press into the edges of the pie to bind the top and bottom crusts. This part is important, since the filling will seep out during cooking if the edges are not bound correctly.
  5. Cut three slits all the way through the top pie crust using a very sharp knife. If the dough is soft and too hard to cut, place the pie in the fridge for a few minutes before completing this step.
  6. Brush the pie crust with the egg wash and sprinkle withe the remaining sugar.
  7. If you would like to make the tiny leaves on this pie, roll out the excess dough from the pie crust. Using a cookie cutter, cut out 5-6 little leaves. Use the egg wash as a binding agent, lightly coating one side of the leaf with egg wash and placing it on the top pie crust in the desired location.

For baking

  1. Place the pie on the hot baking sheet and let it bake at 425 degrees for 20 minutes.
  2. Reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees. Allow pie to bake for 35-40 more minutes, or until the crust is flaky and assumes a deep, caramel color.
  3. Let pie cool completely at room temperature.
Dinner · Vegetarian

Caramelized Tofu and Brussels Sprouts

I’ll admit, the first time I read this recipe I was doubtful. In my Own “Flavor Bible” that I’ve developed over the years, I never imagined that Brussels sprouts would pair well with tofu. Roasted with olive oil and bacon? Definitely. Pan fried with Parmesan cheese? Delicious. But stir fried with soy and Asian flavors? That seemed unlikely.

Caramelized Tofu and Brussels Sprouts

Enter the shredded Brussels sprout. These sprouts are sliced thinly and stir fried, replacing the typical halved-and-roasted sprout that makes a seasonal appearance on household menus everywhere. Furthermore, these sprouts retain their crunch throughout the cooking process, behaving like green or red cabbage when put over high heat.

To shred the sprouts by hand, cut the bottom off the sprouts and slice them in half lengthwise. With the cut side down, chop the halves into thin strips. Most sprouts, especially the leafier ones, will shred easily. To cook, stir fry the sprouts in hot oil for 3-5 minutes, until leaves appear charred and tender.

Toss the Brussels sprouts with some garlic, soy sauce, and caramelized tofu for a quick dinner that’s both sweet and salty – a combination that’s bound to satisfy everyone at the table.

Caramelized Tofu with Brussels Sprouts (Adapted from 101 Cookbooks)

Ingredients:

  • 7 ounces firm tofu, cut into cubes
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/3 cup pecans or walnuts, chopped
  • 1.5-2 tbsp tablespoons light brown sugar (depending on desired sweetness)
  • 1/2 pound Brussels sprouts, shredded
  • 2 green onions, sliced
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 cup brown rice, cooked
  • Neutral oil, like canola oil or safflower oil

Instructions:

  1. Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the tofu cubes and stir fry until golden, 2-3 minutes on each side.
  2. Add the garlic and nuts and stir fry for another minute or so. Reduce the heat slightly and gently add in the brown sugar, stirring quickly for 30 seconds to ensure that the sugar doesn’t burn. Remove tofu mixture from the pan to rest.
  3. Add shredded Brussels sprouts to the pan. Salt lightly and cook until slightly softened and charred, about 3 minutes. Stir in the green onions and soy sauce and stir fry for another 30 seconds. Add tofu mixture back to the pan to combine flavors. Let cool slightly and serve over brown rice.

Serves 2.

Cake · Dessert · Fruit

Plum Torte

Despite being knee deep in October, plums are still bountiful at my local farmers market. This unexpected harvest inspired me to try the recipe below, shared long ago by the NY Times and now a mainstay in many home cook’s kitchens. This plum dessert makes a surprisingly great neighbor to your other fall favorites, pairing nicely with the season’s pumpkin breads and apple pies.

Plum Torte (3 of 4)

After trying this recipe, there’s no wonder why it continues to rage in popularity. The batter is practically effortless –  the entire recipe can be prepared in one bowl, should you decide to sift the ingredients directly into the batter. The preparation process takes less than 10 minutes, and the majority of your time will be spent salivating at the smells coming out from your oven.

While the original recipes calls for a springform pan, I didn’t have one of those in hand. Instead, I pulled out my handy non-stick cake pan, lined it with parchment paper, and gave it a good coating of butter. This method worked seamlessly, and my cake popped out without a crumb. If you don’t have a springform pan either – there’s no reason to write off this recipe!

Plums for the plum torte (1 of 1)

Plum Torte (1 of 4)

For the topping, lay the plums neatly on the top of the torte. They should be side by side, with little space in between. This will prevent the plums from moving around and sinking into the batter unevenly. There’s no need to push the plums in, though – they collapse naturally into the batter once baking.

Plum Torte (4 of 4)

Plum Torte (adapted from the NY Times)

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup sugar, plus extra for dusting
  • 1 cup unbleached flour, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 eggs
  • Pinch of salt
  • 10 plums
  • Cinnamon for dusting
  • 1/2 a lemon

Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and butter a 9 inch cake pan. Line the bottom with parchment paper and butter again (you can skip this step if you have a springform pan).
  2. Cut plums in half and remove pits.
  3. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.
  4. Using a stand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar on medium speed until smooth and light in color, about three minutes.
  5. Add the dry ingredients and eggs to the bowl. Beat on low to medium speed until just combined.
  6. Pour batter into the prepared cake pan. Top with plum halves, skin side up. Dust with sugar and cinnamon and squirt with lemon juice.
  7. Bake for 45-50 minutes and let cool completely.

 

Dessert · Fruit

Free-form Apple Galette

Finished tart

In DC, it’s easy to miss the arrival of fall.  September days often reach up to 80 degrees, and it’s totally acceptable to wear shorts and flip flops outside the house.

Since I can’t count on the weather to indicate the changing of seasons, I’ve come to rely on other context clues.  This year, that clue was the arrival of apples.  Sometime around the middle of September, apples began to pop up everywhere, taking the place of peaches at the farmer’s market and lining the center stands in grocery stores.

And just like that, it’s apple season! Apple season is one of my favorites for the following reasons:  1) I love apple picking 2) I can’t get enough of apples with peanut butter 3) apples usher in a baking season full of spices, pumpkin, and cranberries. I decided to celebrate, searching for an apple recipe that was fancy looking but not too difficult.

forming the galette

Enter the galette, or what should be known as the “lazy man’s pie”.  The galette still looks and tastes like your favorite apple pie, but takes about half the prep time.  It also requires no special pots or pans, taking its form from the filling and sitting on your everyday baking sheet.

Despite the reduced difficulty level, the galette doesn’t lose any of its flavor. In this galette, the flavor is due largely to the combination of chopped and sliced apples.  The chopped apples bake until soft and almost melted, taking on the texture of a chunky applesauce and creating a unique texture in every bite.  The galette dough also browns wonderfully, producing a flaky texture that looks like it came from a bakery.

gallete

Free-form Apple Galette (adapted from Food and Wine)

Ingredients:

Galette Pastry:

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 10 tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1/3 cup water, ice cold

Filling:

  • 4 apples, about 1.5 pounds (I used golden delicious)
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1 tbsp of cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

Instructions:

Galette dough:

  1.  In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, and salt.
  2. Using a pastry cutter, slowly mix the butter into the dough.  Add about half at a time, mixing until butter is well incorporated and the dough has a crumbly texture (some small chunks of butter can still be present).
  3. Slowly add the water to the dough and mix with the pastry cutter.  Once the dough becomes too sticky, finish kneading it with your hands.
  4. Turn the mixed dough onto a floured cutting board and form it into a small flat disk.  Chill the disk in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Apple filling:

  1. Peel and core the four apples, cutting half of the apples into slices and the other half into 1/2 inch chunks.
  2. In a small bowl, combine the sugar and cinnamon and set aside.

Forming the galette:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Remove the disk of dough from the fridge and place on a large piece of parchment paper. Using a rolling pin (or a cold wine bottle, in my case), roll the dough out to a 12 x 14 rectangle.  If the rolling pin sticks to the dough, rub it with flour.
  3. Transfer the rolled out dough to a large sheet pan.  Spread the chopped apples on the dough, leaving a 1-2 inch border from the edge (you’ll need this in order to fold up the edges to form the galette). Top the chopped apples with 1 tbsp of honey.
  4. Place the sliced apples on top of the chopped apples in vertical lines.  Top the sliced apples with the cinnamon sugar mix.
  5. Dot the top of the galette with the remaining butter and fold up the edges. Place the galette in the oven and bake for 45-50 minutes, or until the galette is golden brown on top and the apples are soft when poked with a fork.