Archive for the ‘Baking’ Category

French apple cake with rum

12 October 2016

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When fall sidles in with armloads of plums and bright warm days, it is easy to overlook that October has arrived and apples are at their crispest.

Of course, apples will stay with us for a while, resignedly softening in cool cellars, faithfully, to accompany us through the bleakest winter months. We’ll be grateful — if perhaps a little weary — for those last wrinkly fruits as we await spring.

A small part of me always wonders whether it wouldn’t be best to hold out just a little while longer before biting in, to prolong the novelty a few weeks more. But the truth is that I long for apples already in the summer, I miss them in August; something about the comfort of a familiar companion amid attention-grabbing summer harvests.

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Apples are remarkable fruit, and I love all the gnarly varieties (though I can never remember which is which). Smaller varieties, tart and sweet, barely bigger than a large apricot are ideal to bite into — the perfect, well-packaged snack on the go. Bigger apples are less fussy when baking, and so versatile! Is any other fruit equally ideal in cakes, tartes, crumbles, and pies, but also stands deliciously independently, simply baked in the oven stuffed with raisins, nuts, and cream, or stewed into spicy compotes?

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This weekend I jumped into apple season with this perfectly lovely, easy cake that I discovered a few years ago and make regularly. The recipe, which I found on David Lebovitz’s blog, is originally by Dorie Greenspan. I love this cake because it feels very ‘French,’ in that it is un-fussy. Whil

e exported French cuisine is elaborate, French home cooking is usually quite straightforward, and, as Dorie Greenspan writes in her introduction to the cake, skilled French home cooks often don’t use recipes, even when baking. Also, the generous addition of rum is completely essential for this cake — We French do like a good dash of booze in our desserts.

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Apple cake by Dorie Greenspan via David Lebovitz
Here is the recipe, doubled, because I always seem to be feeding a crowd! I’ve reduced the sugar ever so slightly, and added a squeeze of lemon so the apple pieces don’t turn brown.

1 cup (225g) butter plus a little extra for the mold

1 1/2 cups (220g) flour (I usually use white spelt flour, which seems perfectly interchangeable with all-purpose white flour)

1 1/2 tsps baking powder

1/2 tsp sea salt

7-8 large apples (mix of varieties — once the apples are incorporated in the batter, there should be practically more apple than batter)

Juice from 1/2 lemon

4 large organic eggs

1 1/4 cup (250g) soft brown sugar

5 or 6 Tbsps dark rum (but no less, this is what makes the cake!)

1 tsp real vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C).

I’ve made this cake in round springform pans, as the recipe suggests, but also in long rectangular loaf tins, and, here, in a fancy bundt mold that I found this summer while scrounging through my grandmother’s old kitchenwares.

So … choose the desired mold (or two) line it (them) with parchment paper and butter the paper generously. [Parchment paper was impossible with my crinkled mold so I buttered it excessively and added a dusting of flour.] If using a springform pan, place it on a baking sheet, as it may ooze while baking.

Melt the butter and let it cool to room temperature.

Peel and core the apples, then cut each wedge into roughly 1/2 inch (1cm) chunks. Squeeze a little lemon juice over the pieces of apple so they don’t turn brown.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

In a larger bowl, whisk the eggs until foamy, add the sugar gradually, still whisking, then the rum and the vanilla.

Whisk in half of the flour, then half of the melted butter. Add the other half of the flour and finally the rest of the butter.

Use a spatula to stir in the apples, mixing until they are well coated. There will seem to be more apple than batter.

Scrape the batter into the cake pan. Tap the pan gently on the table to even out the batter, and smooth the surface with the spatula. Slide into the oven for a good 50 minutes to an hour. Test (as usual) with the tip of a knife or skewer that should come out clean. [The cake may pull away from the sides of the pan, it doesn’t necessarily mean it is overcooked, first check with a knife!]

Let cool to room temperature before turning onto a serving plate.

I prefer to serve fruity cakes with crème fraîche or clotted cream, but by all means ice cream would be fine too.

Bon appétit!

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Life-saving birthday aka any-day yogurt cake

23 June 2015

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The no-hassle, mindlessly easy, infinitely versatile, all-season, all-occasion cake that will also save a thousand birthdays.

I’ve mentioned before that I don’t have the heart of a baker. I rarely follow recipes precisely, I am exasperated when a cake I’ve made a few times doesn’t work because the butter or the continent or the ambient humidity has changed. I like the idea of baking, however. I like cakes. And I like to think I can make a cake for my children’s birthdays, at the very least.

So I gravitate towards simple recipes such as this one or this one. And yogurt cake.

Yogurt cake is a classic in France; it is the cake most French children first learn to make. While French home cooks use scales, not volume measures such as cups, this cake is an exception: the unit of measurement is a pot of yogurt, the one whose contents are emptied precisely for the cake.

Because my family is not classically French, I discovered yogurt cake a bit later, in my twenties. It is brilliantly easy, and very clever, and can be easily spruced up for a special occasion.

Here first is the simple original recipe, though I hardly make it as is. The variations are just as easy.

Yogurt Cake, original French recipe
The measurement used is one empty pot of yogurt (empty once the yogurt has been used for the cake!). In Anglo-Saxon countries where yogurts are not as ubiquitously sold in the same standard-size pots I use a measure of 100ml.
1 ‘pot’ = 100ml see explanation above

1 pot of plain unsweetened yogurt

1 pot of oil or melted butter

2 pots sugar

3 pots flour

2 eggs

Baking powder

Lemon zest

Mix all the ingredients together and bake in a medium oven for 35 to 40 minutes.

*

Yogurt Cake, adapted recipe
I have doubled the quantities, reduced the amount of sugar, substituted part of the flour with ground almonds, and added raspberries which are conveniently in season for my boys’ birthdays.

2 pots (200 ml) of plain unsweetened yogurt

1 pot (100ml) melted butter

1 pot (100ml) olive oil

3 pots brown sugar

3 pots flour

3 pots almond flour

4 eggs

2 tsps baking powder

Zest from 2 lemons

Fresh raspberries

Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C).

Line a 10-inch (26cm) baking tin with parchment paper and butter generously.

Mix all the ingredients together except the raspberries to obtain a smooth batter. Add the raspberries and incorporate gently in order not to squash the berries. Pour the batter into the baking tin, slide into the oven, and bake for 50 min to an hour, until the cake is set and a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and let cool. Sprinkle with icing sugar and a handful of raspberries for decoration.

Additional variation (pictured above)

For a festive cake without nuts, use 6 pots of flour (and no almond flour).

Once the cake is baked and cooled, cut it in half carefully crosswise. Smear raspberry jam on the bottom half of the cake and place the top half back on top. NOTE: I don’t do the jam filling with the almond flour version as it renders the cake incredibly moist and crumbly, which would make it difficult to cut through.

Make a lemony mascarpone icing and decorate with fresh raspberries and a generous sprinkling of popping candy.

Two chocolate cakes

17 April 2015

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I only just recently happened upon these two chocolate cakes, and already they are indispensable.

Until now I had little need for chocolate cake. I rarely make it, because I rarely crave it; when, about once a year, I do long for a chocolate dessert, I bake these really good brownies. For years my children didn’t care much for chocolate cake. Until Louise.

In this decidedly un-chocolatey family, Louise loves chocolate. Worse things happen. So for this little one’s birthday, I needed a chocolate cake recipe. I found two.

One is an intense though surprisingly light dessert; the faultless chocolate touch at the end of a lingering meal. The other is cakey and moist but not too crumbly; slices hold together well in clumsy little hands. It could be stacked into layers with cream or cherry jam. A flawless tea-time cake.

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The flourless, almond olive-oil chocolate cake, which I discovered via the same friend who pointed me toward the revelatory date cookies (food-obsessed friends are the best kind), beat all expectations. It is light and predictably nutty, perfectly moist with a bare hint of olive. Also ridiculously easy to make. The recipe, by Nigella Lawson, also happens to be wheat and dairy free, which bears mentioning. The recipe is here, as I have not altered it one bit.

I found the second cake in a cookbook from which, until now, I had never actually cooked. Alice Waters’ The Art of Simple Food. It is the perfect party cake. Pointedly described as ‘moist and versatile,’ and which ‘can be made in any format from cupcakes to a multitiered wedding cake.’ I had intended an extra chocolatey frosting, but time ran out so it was just a dusting of icing sugar and plenty of smarties.

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Chocolate cake for a party by Alice Waters The Art of Simple Food

115 g (4 ounces) unsweetened (or very dark) chocolate

2 cups flour

2 tsps baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

6 Tbsps (unsweetened) cocoa powder

115 g (8 Tbsps) butter plus more to butter the pan

2 1/2 cups brown sugar

2 tsps vanilla extract

3 eggs

120 ml (1/2 cup) buttermilk

300 ml (1 1/4 cup) boiling water

Preheat the oven to 170°C (350°F) and take the butter, eggs, and buttermilk out of the refrigerator to soften and bring to room temperature.

Line the bottom of the cake pan with parchment paper. Butter both the pan and the paper, and dust the paper with flour or cocoa powder, shaking out any excess.

Heat some water in a large frying pan/skillet. Roughly chop up the chocolate, place it in a heat proof bowl, and slowly melt it over the water bath (bain marie), stirring occasionally, until just melted and smooth. Remove from the heat.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder. Set aside.

In a large bowl (or stand mixer), beat the butter until creamy. Add the sugar and vanilla extract and continue beating until light and fluffy. Whisk in the eggs one at a time and stir until fully incorporated.

Stir in the melted chocolate. Add half of the dry ingredients and combine. Stir in the buttermilk. Then add the other half of the dry ingredients.

Finally, gradually pour in the boiling water, until just combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared bake tin, slide carefully into the preheated oven as the batter will be fairly liquid, and bake for about 45 min, until a knife of skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean with just a  crumb or two attached.

Allow the cake to cool completely before turning it out of the tin. (The cake keeps well. If not using immediately, leave in the tin and cover tightly with aluminum paper.)

Date cookies

13 March 2015

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I have three most vivid food memories of Jerusalem, which I visited nearly twenty years ago: yemeni malawach, a thick deliciously greasy flaky pancake served hot with raw crushed tomatoes and za’atar; addictive sachlab, a thick drink so unctuous and sickly sweet that it at once repels and keeps you coming back for more; and the date cookies from Damascus gate.

It was the spring of 1997 and I spent a few weeks in Israel visiting a friend — not ‘a’ friend, my oldest childhood friend, my next door neighbor for years, my daily play companion. She was studying in Jerusalem, so, apart from a few days around Purim during which we traveled together to the Sinai, and a few days when I ventured North alone, I spent most of those three weeks in Jerusalem, wandering. I paced the old city endlessly. Memories fade but snapshots remains. I remember the stones, the steps, the incline, the precarious wiring, the satellite dishes. I took the back way, I met mostly children. I was often halfway lost. Inevitably, the streets washed me toward Damascus gate, the buoyant pulse of Old Jerusalem.

There, a few paces removed from the falafel stands, standing alone, a little closer to the gate, was a cart piled high with date cookies.

I think I bought just one or two at first, to try. I came home with a very large bag. And although Tamara didn’t care for them, a few days later I was back for more. And then again to take some back to Berlin. This was nearly twenty years ago.

Here in London the other day a friend mentioned date bars. Then promptly — as she is wont to do — forwarded the recipe link. These are not the date cookies of Damascus gate, but, in a Proustian twist, they have transported me back to a forgotten moment, a faraway place, a cherished time, a magical trip.

Dan Lepard’s date bars share the Jerusalem cookies’ best qualities. They are subtle and layered, the understated flavors develop slowly and get under your palate. I cannot stop eating them.

Dan Lepard’s date bars (Click on the link for the recipe)

NOTE: I made just two slight adjustments:

I used only 15ml each of rose water and orange-blossom water because the ones I have are quite potent and I did not want the perfume to be overpowering. I would suggest tasting the dough and adjusting the amount accordingly.

Also, I cut the bars into 2cm (1-inch) pieces as I preferred a cookie feel rather than the larger bars.

Merry Christmas Stollen

24 December 2014

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It’s Christmas Eve and finally time to cut the Stollen!

Read my story on Food&_ about this favorite German Christmas tradition and the proper way of savoring it (then bookmark the recipe for next year!).

A very merry Christmas and happy holidays everyone!


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