Credit for today's recipe goes to Heidi Swanson at www.101cookbooks.com.
Welcome back to the kitchen. As the season darkens and the weather continues to chill, I find myself looking for more and more excuses to warm up with a hot cup of tea or coffee. I’ve found one of the better excuses for this kind of break is the need to test, or re-test, a home-baked treat. But what to bake?
Well, we live in the apple capital, and thanks to the wonders of cold storage, these sweet and crispy fruits will be one of our standbys for local ingredients after the harvest. Yup, in our future I see stewed apples and baked apples and apple salad and dried apples and apple tarts and apple sauce and apple brown betty and apple… oh you get the idea!
So I want to find another great way to celebrate the local fruit that has done so much to put our valley on the world map. Now, I grew up in rural Massachusetts, and we were no strangers to family owned apple orchards. I have vivid memories of spending a crisp, sunny afternoon selecting what to my eyes were the most perfect apples in the world.
We’d take a big paper bag of fruit home and my dad would have me help bake up several apple pies. The best of them had walnuts, cinnamon, and a cup or so of dried currents for an extra sweet kick. Lemon juice keeps the apple slices from browning in the mixing bowl. We were a lattice-work top pie crust family. Oh, and being a New England boy I like a nice slice of extra sharp cheddar cheese with my apple pie. And don’t you dare wrinkle up your nose until you’ve tried this masterful combination for yourself.
OK, so we could do a classic nostalgic apple pie, and I could even share with you my Aunt Perry’s trick to make the pie dough with ice cold vodka, which will make the dough easier to work with and will steam off and make the crust even flakier in the oven.
But we’ve all had apple pie. Instead, for today’s recipe I’m reaching way back to elementary school and craving an old-fashioned apple cake. This is a delicious, simple cake that traces its roots back to the earliest American settlers and even further, back to the old country.
For the backbone of this apple cake recipe, I turned to Heidi Swanson and her incredible food blog 101 Cookbooks. Swanson’s Unfussy Apple Cake is a masterpiece of understated cooking. And I particularly like her inclusion of buttermilk to make things more interesting. Of course, I couldn’t leave well enough alone, so I had to make a few alterations to the recipe.
So for our Cooking Local Apple Cake, we’ll need
-2 cups sweet, crisp red apples, cut into ¼” cubes (peel on)
-2 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour, or just plain old unbleached all-purpose flour if it’s all you’ve got
-1 tablespoon aluminum-free baking powder
-2 teaspoons cinnamon
-a dash of nutmeg
-1/2 teaspoon almond extract
-Swanson’s original recipe calls for 1/2 cup dark Muscavado sugar (or other fine-grain natural cane or brown sugar), lump-free. I’m opting for conventional brown sugar in my version
-1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
-1 cup buttermilk, which is the tart milk left behind once the butterfat is removed
-1/4 cup butter, melted and cooled a bit
-3 tablespoons large grain sugar, like the big crunchy stuff used on holiday cookies
-1 teaspoon finely minced fresh ginger root
-1/2 teaspoon each of lemon and orange zest
-1/2 cup dried currents (little baby raisins)
-1/2 cup toasted and chopped local hazleuts
Preheat the oven to 400F degrees, racks in the middle. Butter and flour (or line bottom with parchment paper) one 9-inch square baking dish or tart pan.
Place the chopped apples in a bowl of water along with the juice of one lemon. Set aside. Combine the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, brown sugar and salt in a large bowl. And in a separate smaller bowl whisk together the eggs, almond extract, and the buttermilk. Whisk in the melted butter. Add in the citrus zest, currents, and chopped hazlenuts.
Pour the buttermilk mixture over the flour mixture and stir until barely combined - try not to over mix. Now drain the apple, shake off any excess water, and fold the apples into the cake batter.
Spoon the batter into the prepared pan, pushing it out toward the edges. In a small bowl, mix together the minced ginger and the large grain sugar. Sprinkle the cake with most of the sugar mixture. Bake for about 20-25 minutes or until cake is just set and a touch golden on top. Swanson says she prefers her version of this cake slightly inderbaked, for more moisture. It will continue to bake a bit even as it cools down out of the oven.
To really knock this apple and hazelnut buttermilk cake out of the park, let’s top it with some fresh whipped cream. I like to spruce up my whipped cream with a little dash of vanilla and sweetener, like maple syrup. For this apple cake I think we can really make a kick ass apple brandy or calvados whipped cream. Just mix up 1 cup of heavy whipping cream with 2 tablespoons of superfine sugar (or a bit less maple syrup) and 2 tablespoons of apple brandy (or a big dash if you cook imprecisely like I do).
And there you have it, a sweet, tangy spiced apple cake with a killer rich and boozy topping. Oh yeah, this will help get us through the cold and dark season ahead of us. I hope today’s dessert recipe has inspired you to get in there and keep seeking out what local ingredients you can find all winter long. And I admitted on an earlier show that I’m not all that confident at baking, and we can always challenge ourselves to learn something new in the kitchen.
Well, that’s about all the time we have for this week, but I’d love to hear what you’ve been cooking. Send me any questions or comments to my email, email@example.com. Now, sisn’t I have a hot cup of tea somewhere? Cooking local in the KOHO Kitchen, I’m Isaac Kaplan-Woolner.