Wednesday, October 19, 2011

my favorite apple cake

Chilly, blustery fall has replaced warm, sweet fall around here, at least for the time being. And it's so funny how tastes can change with the weather, isn't it? A month ago, the idea of a spicy curry or hot tea, or ooh, warm macaroni and cheese, would have sounded completely unappetizing, but now, now these things are all I think about--all I want.

 I want warm, spicy, creamy and savory. I want cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves. Apples, winter squash, pumpkin, cranberries. Oatmeal. Chili. It's like as soon as the temperature drops, the things I've been eating for the last six months just don't cut it anymore. Smoothie? No. Cucumbers? Meh. Salad? Nope. It's comfort season.

We hear the word comfort used in many different contexts, regarding any number of different things. And they are different for everyone, think about it. Two of my favorites are food and family--and if you know me at all, you're not a bit surprised that I'm writing this. I am fortunate enough to live pretty close to my family at this point in my life--and when I'm able to go back home and spend time, and we're all together, I'm always reminded that the deep love that I find there is one of the best things there is. Home is something that will always be the same. And no matter how our lives change, or where our paths lead us on this earth, we know we'll always come back, to be with one another, to share, to remember...for good hugs and good laughs, and good food. Comfort at its absolute best, as far as I can tell.

When I was back last time, I got to spend a lazy afternoon with my sisters, baking, and making our whole house smell like brown sugar and cinnamon...mmmm. The day was perfect for it, cool and windy, the kind of day you want to spend being cozy and coming to terms with the fact that winter really is on the way again. And really, there was no place in the world I would rather have been than that kitchen.

Our apple trees gave us a great crop this year, and they were spilling out of every fridge space in our house, so they were the obvious choice for baking inspiration. So we made cake. My favorite apple cake in the world. The kind of cake that is so good by itself that it doesn't need anything else--no ice cream, no frosting, no nothing. Just maybe a glass of milk.

It's fall and love and comfort in your face. It's really just that fabulous--big chunks of apple, lots of warming spices, soft and sweet...ooh, everything that makes an apple cake worth eating. And just what we need to make the cold okay again.

My Favorite Apple Cake

adapted from the lovely Smitten Kitchen

6 apples (we used Haralsons)
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon cloves
3 tablespoons sugar

2 3/4 cups flour, sifted
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup coconut oil
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/4 cup orange juice
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
4 eggs
1 cup walnuts, chopped (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a tube pan. Peel, core and chop apples into chunks--made sure to keep the chunks pretty big. Toss with spices and sugar and set aside.

Stir together flour, baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together oil, orange juice, sugar and vanilla. Mix wet ingredients into the dry ones, then add eggs, one at a time. Scrape down the bowl to make sure all ingredients are incorporated.

Pour half of batter into prepared pan. Spread half of apples over it. Pour the remaining batter over the apples and arrange the remaining apples on top. Bake for about 1 1/2 hours, or until a tester comes out clean. Cool in the pan for a bit, and then remove it to cool completely. Oh, and guess what? It's even better the next day!

 "Swinging on delicate hinges
the autumn leaf
almost off the stem"
-Jack Kerouac

And I want you to come over for tea.

Friday, October 7, 2011

apple galette

Creativity takes over when you have to improvise, you know? When you're set on getting something accomplished, but find that somehow you don't have quite the resources you need, you have to call upon have to explore different ways to get where you're going.

This is kind of how we stumbled on the idea of galette. We had fruit, pie pastry, and ample motivation...but no pie pan. And so we discovered the fabulousness that is galette. It was one of those happy mistakes that turned out well--those are the best kind, aren't they?

 So it sounds fancy, at least I think so, but I've decided that just because the word itself is French. But the reality, and really the charm of galettes, is that they are absolutely the opposite--they are incredibly simple. Rustic, even. Yes, I think that is the perfect word to describe them... 

Rus-tic:  1. Charmingly simple or unsophisticated
              2. Having a simplicity and charm that is considered typical of the countryside.

Hmm..I think I need more rustic in my life. It sounds perfect.  

A galette is somewhere between a pie and a tart...but very free-form and easy. There is no crimping or trimming or smoothing. It's kind of a lazy way to make pie--but still every bit as delicious, and still pretty to look at, I think. Especially since I like rustic things.

Since it's the season of apples and cinnamon, the decision to use them as the filling for this version of my lazy pie was an easy one. And oh my, did it smell wonderful baking.

Simple Apple Galette

Dough: (you can use this or your favorite recipe for a one-crust pie pastry)
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, just softened, cut in 1/2-inch pieces
3 1/2 tablespoons chilled water

2 pounds apples (tart, firm, and fresh), peeled, cored (save peels and cores), and sliced
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cloves
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
5 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup sugar

For Dough:  Mix flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl; add 2 tablespoons of the butter. Blend in a mixer until dough resembles coarse cornmeal. Add remaining butter; mix until biggest pieces look like large peas.

Dribble in water, stir, then dribble in more, until dough just holds together. Toss with your hands, letting it fall through your fingers, until it’s ropy with some dry patches. If dry patches predominate, add another tablespoon water. Keep tossing until you can roll dough into a ball. Flatten into a 4-inch-thick disk; refrigerate. After at least 30 minutes, remove; let soften so it’s malleable but still cold. Smooth cracks at edges. On a lightly floured surface, roll into a 14-inch circle about 1/8 inch thick. Dust excess flour from both sides, and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

To Assemble:  Heat oven to 400°F. (If you have a pizza stone, place it in the center of the rack.)Toss apples with spices and 3 tablespoons sugar. Mound apples on dough in a ring 2 inches from edge. Fold dough up and around the mound of apples, making sure to wrap the filling snugly. Brush melted butter over apples and onto dough edge. Sprinkle the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar over dough edge.
 Bake in center of oven until apples are soft, with browned edges, and crust has caramelized to a dark golden brown (about 45 minutes), making sure to rotate the pan every 15 minutes. Make the glaze while the galette bakes) Remove from oven, and slide off parchment onto cooling rack. Let cool at least 15 minutes.

For Glaze:  Put reserved peels and cores in a large saucepan, along with sugar. Pour in just enough water to cover (not too much water!), simmer for 25 minutes. Strain syrup through cheesecloth. Brush glaze over tart, slice, and serve...probably with really good vanilla ice cream. Keep it simple, right?

 ooh, October is my favorite.