Posts Tagged With: autumn

Caramelized apple upside-down cake

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For some, pumpkin spice everything may be all the rage for those fall months when leaves spin slow to the ground and we shake out the coats and scarves so hastily hidden away with summer’s arrival.  But before flavored syrups and the facility of canned pumpkin, another fruit reigned over autumn: the apple.  A New England native, the apple is an automatic October symbol for me.  I think every elementary school student in the area has a field trip to a local orchard.  My town hosts at least five apple picking locations, each vying for some title of prowess – the best cider !  Apple cider doughnuts ! 10 different apple varieties !  Hay rides ! Pick your own ! It’s a glorious, fall-hued chaos that absolutely epitomizes the start of cooler weather, shorter days, and (perhaps most importantly) the baking season.

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Recently, apple pies were made and sold in the center of town and listening to everyone talk about the crust and the filling and the spices and the apples made me ALMOST want to eat pie.

But then I remembered.

I don’t really like apple pie (a phrase not to be uttered in a town that thrives on apple consumption).  In fact, I really just like apples straight up and down: plucked from the tree, polished on my pants, and devoured with an excellent crunch and the occasional spatter.

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So what to do with this bounty of fruit so often relegated to pie filling ?  Oddly enough, the answer came from France, and more precisely from my home-away-from-home in the heart of Bourgogne.  During one of many Dijon visits, my friend’s mother brought out a gâteau aux pommes.  A “simple, family recipe – nothing special” with caramelized apples and a buttery cake that melts in your mouth.  Simple ?  Nothing special ?  Au contraire !  It looks and tastes both classy and purely of apples, as the ingredients can’t hide behind the spices of cinnamon and nutmeg so often paired with American desserts.  This upside-down caramel apple cake relies on sweet apples, butter, and sugar to create a winning dessert that looks chic but is easy to craft.

When I asked Brigitte if I could use her recipe, she sent me a scanned, handwritten version that included instructions such as “carameliser le moule” – caramelize the cake pan.  How…how does one do that ?  How does one even make a caramel, exactly ? As such, I have gone through and provided my “Americanized” version of the quantities and instructions.  While somewhat capricious, I have yet to entirely ruin this cake (and it’s becoming somewhat ubiquitous in my repertoire of apple-based dishes).  Head to an orchard and pick (or pick up) some Macoun, Gala, or Fuji apples and try your hand at this French family “gâteau.”

Ingredients (for the cake):

3-4 medium apples (Use a firm fleshed variety – no McIntosh !)
1/2 stick butter (+ 1 tbsp for the pan)
1 cup flour
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 egg
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
2 tablespoons milk (more as needed)

For the caramel:

You can use a 1:3 ratio of water to sugar – I think I used 1/4 cup water to 3/4 cup sugar but any incarnation of this ratio is fine – if you have apples that are less sweet, use more sugar but you really only need enough to cover the bottom of a 9-inch cake pan.

Directions:

Peel and cut the apple into thin slices. Set aside – do not season with lemon thought you may be tempted to do so !  It is okay if they brown a little during the cake preparation process.

Liberally butter the interior of a 9 inch cake pan and set aside.  I place the pan on the stovetop over a warm eye to keep the caramel from hardening somewhat, but you do not need to do this.

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“Caramelize the cake pan” – yes, the infamous step. I interpret this as making caramel in a pan and pouring it into the cake mould.  Yes, we are going to make a wet caramel and no, don’t panic.

Put the sugar and the water in a pot on medium high heat.  Stir initially to incorporate the sugar into the water but once mixed, just leave it alone on the eye. Let it bubble until it turns a nice deep caramel color – you will see the sugary liquid change from clear, to a light brown, to an amber tone. Take it off the heat and carefully pour the hot caramel into your warm cake pan.  Be sure to cover the entire bottom of the pan (swirl as necessary).

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Arrange the apple slices in the caramel and be careful not to burn yourself !  The caramel may look pretty, but it is essentially molten sugar.  Your skin will not like it.  I like to place the apples in an attractive pattern but you do not need to take the time to do this – it’s your call.  Be sure to evenly place the apples around the mould.

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Once the apples are arranged, mix up the cake batter.  Soften your butter and whip it until light and fluffy.  Add the sugar and beat for 1 minute.  Crack the egg into the batter, pour in the vanilla, and mix again until smooth.  In a separate bowl, combine the flour and the baking powder.  Slowly add the flour mixture to the butter batter and mix until smooth – add the milk to thin the batter to a spreadable consistency.  Depending on the day and the temperature of the butter, I add more or less milk to the batter – start with 2 tablespoons and continue as necessary.

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Pour the batter over the apples and use a spatula to smooth the top of the cake.  Be sure to cover all of the apples !

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Bake for 30 to 35 minutes at 325F.  (Sometimes, I get impatient and increase the temperature to 350F…shh, don’t tell).

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Once the top of the cake is a nice golden brown, remove from the oven.  It is a dense cake – I usually touch the top to check for a little spring, but the cake is done when the middle is no longer jiggly.

Let the cake cool slightly – 10 to 15 minutes – before turning it out onto a plate.  This step is tricky – start by running a knife around the edges of the cake pan.  Then, place a plate over top of the cake pan.  Using oven mitts, in one movement flip the cake onto the plate.  Tap the bottom of the pan and slowly lift it up.  Don’t panic if a few apples have stuck to the pan – just put them back into place. As Julia Child (or perhaps Meryl Streep) said, “When you’re alone in the kitchen – who’s to see ?”

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Serve warm or cool as dessert, a tea cake, or even (in my house) as breakfast !  Add a scoop of vanilla ice cream for an extra touch. Bon appétit ! 🙂

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Pumpkin and Rosemary Braided Bread

Autumn has finally descended upon my neck of the woods (so to speak) and with it, the arrival of “all things pumpkin” as the Internet (and Starbucks…and Trader Joe’s) tends to tout.  I will freely admit that I have a sweet spot for pumpkin – its flavors hint at nostalgia without the tears.  My roommate, after a Trader Joe’s run, returned home with pumpkin soup, pumpkin chai tea, pumpkin rooibus tea…and then there was me with my gigantic can of pumpkin purée.

The question is, however, what can you do with pumpkin puree that is new and exciting ?  I’ve made the muffins, I’m made the quickbread, and the pie has a place on a Thanksgiving table.

So began the hunt for a new way to use pumpkin.  I knew I wanted something more on the savory side…like…a dinner roll !  A yeast bread !  Hm !

I found a great recipe from the King Arthur Flour webpage- a simple google search will bring you there (I may have misplaced the link…).  I modified it slightly – the recipe here is halved but makes LOTS of bread (I snuck two medium loaves from these quantities) and I added honey, rosemary, and salt to the mix.  An experiment, the work paid off (nibble nibble nibble) because it tastes just sweet enough to be paired with honey butter or even a marmalade OR a savory dish with chicken or a sauce.  Oo.  Asiago cheese would probably pair well with this concoction as well.  The possibilities are endless !

A wonderfully soft texture and a rich color to boot, this recipe is worth the time and will certainly have a spot on my Thanksgiving table…or my kitchen table.  🙂

For the dough :

1/4 cup warm water
1 package (1 tablespoon) active dry yeast
1/3 cup warm milk
1 large eggs, beaten
1 cups puréed pumpkin, either fresh or canned
1 tablespoons olive oil
3 1/2 cups (approximately) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
A few shakes of ground ginger
3 pinches rosemary

For the glaze :

1 egg yolk,
Some water
Some honey
Some rosemary
Some salt

In a large bowl, combine the 2 1/2 cups flour, brown sugar, yeast, ginger and rosemary.

Stir to combine well.  Add the warm water and begin to stir.  In another bowl, combine the pumpkin, oil, eggs, and milk.

Be sure to allow the pumpkin and eggs to reach room temperature before combining with the other wet ingredients.  Also, the milk should be warmed – yeast likes a warm environment because it stimulates their life cycle/reactions.  And we want those little yeasties to have a party in our bread dough !

Add the pumpkin mixture to the flour mixture and stir to combine. Add about 1/2 cups more of flour (or more) until the dough is tough enough to knead.  Mine looked like this and it worked out well.


Turn dough out onto a floured surface. Knead, adding flour as necessary, until you have a smooth, elastic dough.  This took me about 10 minutes for me, but knead until you can mold it into a ball without difficulty OR extremely messy fingers.

When you are kneading bread, you are creating gluten networks between the starch molecules.  This changes the texture and facilitates the trapping of the gas released by the little yeasties.  Food.  It’s snazzy.

Place dough into an oiled bowl and cover with a towel (or a plastic bag), letting it rise until doubled, about 1 hour.  If it rises for longer, it won’t be an issue.  But an hour is certainly enough time to get a fantastic reaction out of the dough.

When ready, turn dough out onto a well-floured work surface. Divide dough in half – I did not because I didn’t think I would have such a huge loaf of bread so I have two uneven loaves SO do yourself a favor and split it up). This bread can easily be shaped into loaves or dinner roles…but I thought a braid would be more elegant given the rich color of the dough.

Braiding is actually simple (though it looks tough).  Start by spreading the dough out into a large rectangular shape (photos to follow).  Using a sharp knife, make 4 long cuts in the dough – you are essentially creating a giant jellyfish, with the bit you are cutting turning into tentacles.  (Please excuse the metaphor.  I’m an English minor).  When you make the cuts, LEAVE THE TOP CONNECTED.  You’ll see what I mean in the photos.  Reshape the tentacles so that they are even and then braid them !  Braiding with five is easy – just pull the outside layer from the left to the inside, then the outermost RIGHT side layer to the inside, then left to the inside and right to the inside blablabla until BAM !  You have a giant braid on your hands.  For the last part, just twist them and tuck them under the end of the braid. (The photos are with four strands because I didn’t have an assistant when I did five…)  Pow.  Like magic, you have a snazzy looking loaf of bread.

Lay the bread on a well-oiled baking sheet.  Mix together the egg and water and brush over the top of the bread.  Drizzle honey over the top of the braid, followed by a sprinkling of rosemary and some sea salt crystals.

Let rise for about 45 minutes or until nice and puffy.  Place in the oven and let cook for about 30 minutes or until the top is golden brown.  The bread will NOT sound hollow when cooked, as it is very soft, but I just used my nose.  You can also use a thermometer to test the “doneness” of the bread (I believe it’s 190F….might want to check on that as I possess not such a thermometer.)

Serve nice and hot with melted butter…or place on your table (with a TARDIS !) and let your roommates devour it.  🙂

Bon appétit !

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