Monday, May 15, 2017

Pistachio and Rose Water Meringues

There were a million things I should have been doing this weekend. Packing for my upcoming trip; planning my menu for next week's dinner party; finish reading a book I started eons ago so I can start reading the others piling up; purging my closets of clothes highly unlikely to be ever worn again; making order out of the disorder in one of the storage rooms in the basement; doing some research for recipes on my list to try. In other words, anything other than trying out a new recipe. Without too much hesitation, I decided the best use of my time would be to finally get around making Ottolenghi's Pistachio and Rose Water Meringues. (Spoiler Alert: It was or at least I thought so!) The first time I saw a photo of these beautiful, love at first bite, giant, chalkwhite, glossy confections, I was awestruck. However, the discovery made after tasting them was even better. They were unlike any other meringue I had ever tasted. It was their textural contrast, the crunchy exterior and pillowy interior, that redefined what I thought a meringue really was or could ever be. I was in meringue nirvana.

I couldn't have been happier with my decision to spend time in the kitchen. Because giddy may be the best word to describe how I felt when the Pistachio and Rose Water Meringues came out of the oven.

Two kitchen tools are essential to creating a thick, shiny and billowing meringue and ultimately these crispy on the outside, pillowy on the inside meringues. Those tools would be: a standing mixer with a whisk attachment and a metric measuring scale. They make what almost seems impossible, possible. You might be able to get away without having a metric scale (although precision in this recipe is rather important), but not without a standing mixer. If by chance you don't have one or other, this confection should more than justify the purchase of one or both of them. Or maybe I should be a little more emphatic and say they most definitely will.

The techniques for making these meringues is different from most other meringue recipes I have come across or tried. But then again no other meringue has looked or tasted like these. To start, the sugar is heated in a 400 degree (F) oven for approximately 8 minutes before slowly added to the slightly beaten, frothy egg whites. While heating the sugar may seem a little unusual, the heat helps to stabilize the egg whites. 

The meringue recipe called for use of superfine sugar. Also known as caster sugar or Baker's Sugar. If you cannot find any of these sugars, you can make your own superfine sugar by processing granulated sugar in a food processor until it has the texture of fine sand (it worked perfectly). Weighing your sugar on a digital scale before putting it in the food processor helps to ensure your sugar measurement remains accurate. If you don't have a scale and are using the measuring cup method, add a couple of extra tablespoons of sugar before processing to account for the reduction in volume.

In his cookbook, Ottolenghi: The Cookbooka Lebanese brand rose water (e.g., Cortas) was recommended. However, I used Nielsen Massey's Rose Water Extract instead. Regardless of which rose water brand used, know that it has a sweet distinctive, but not at all overpowering flavor. One which not everyone may be a fan of. For this reason, I recommend you add only one teaspoon of the rosewater when adding the sugar to the egg whites. Taste your meringue before deciding whether to add the second or even a third teaspoon of the rose water. Alternately, forget using the rose water altogether and use two teaspoons of vanilla. (Hint: If you use a clear vanilla extract, your meringues will be as white as a billowy cloud in the sky.)

As soon as you take the sugar out of the oven, turn the temperature down to 225 degrees (F). To aid in reducing the oven's temperature from 400 degrees (F) to 225 degrees (F), I left my oven door slightly ajar for a couple of minutes. Not sure if this really works to helping bring the oven temperature down, but at least I felt better.

Ottolenghi's recipe called for whisking the egg whites, sugar and rose water on high speed for 10 minutes, or until the meringue is cold. Somewhere around the 6 minute mark I tested the meringue. While it wasn't 'warm', it wasn't quite cold. But it was thick and had the right kind of glossy sheen. Torn between following the meringue master and trusting my instincts, I ended up whisking the meringue for almost 8 minutes before turned almost 'too thick' and lost its' beautiful glossy sheen. Beating the mixture for 8 or 10 minutes is not as important as having your meringue hold it shape when lifted from the bowl and retain a homogenously silky texture. 

The meringues are shaped using two large spoons (think slightly larger than a tablespoon). One spoon to scoop up a large dollop of meringue (think medium sized apple) and another spoon to scoop onto the prepared baking pan. Instead of first placing the meringues in a plate of finely chopped pistachios, I placed them directly on the pan and then sprinkled pistachios over them. Next time, I will be a little more generous with the pistachios.

I used two 12"x18" baking pans lined with parchment paper. Because the meringues almost double in size during the baking process, I recommend putting only six (6) mounds of the meringue on each. 

The meringues bake for approximately two (2) hours. During the baking process rotate your trays, back to front and top to bottom, every thirty minutes to ensure they bake evenly.

To test the meringues for doneness, lift from the pan, gently prod to make sure the outside is completely firm and the center is still a little soft. You might be wondering 'how do I test the center without breaking open one of the beautiful meringues?'. Without the benefit of having x-ray vision, you have to trust the two hour baking time and the constant 225 degrees (F) oven temperature will work its' magic. But if for any reason you have trust issues, go ahead and break one open (but you really shouldn't have to). When the meringues are done, the inside will have a marshmallowy-like texture.

Considering this was the first time I made the Pistachio and Rose Water Meringues, I could not have been more thrilled with how they tasted and looked (not yet to the level of Ottolenghi perfection but each one was uniquely beautiful). I cannot wait until you experience their amazing contrast of textures. Crunchy on the outside and marshmallowy on the inside. 

There are an almost infinite number of variations to these meringues. Instead of using rose water and pistachios, use vanilla and pistachios or vanilla and almonds or hazelnuts. Or use vanilla only and swirl some cooled melted dark chocolate into the meringue mixture and lightly dust with cocoa powder before baking them. Or maybe add some espresso powder (about 1/2 teaspoon) along with the cooled melted dark chocolate into the meringue mixture before baking them. The possibilities are almost endless.

If you are looking for a new, eye-widening, incredibly scrumptious confection to serve to your family and friends, make these Pistachio and Rose Water Meringues. Nothing may be more impressive or show stopping than a cake stand piled high with these blissfully divine meringues. Nothing. 

Pistachio and Rose Water Meringues (inspired by the Pistachio and Rose Water Meringues from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook, written by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi)
Makes 12-14 large meringues

3 cups (600 g caster, superfine, or Baker's sugar)
10 1/2 ounces (300 g) free-range egg whites, from about 9 to 10 large eggs
1 -2 teaspoons rose water (or 2 teaspoons vanilla, see Notes below)
1/2 cup (60 g) raw pistachio nuts, finely chopped

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees (F). Spread pistachios on a flat plate and set aside.
2. Separate egg whites. (Reserve egg yolks for another use.) Place in a standing mixer fitted with a whisk attachment.
3. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper, ensuring the paper comes up the edges of the pan. Spread sugar evenly on baking sheet. Bake for about 8 minutes or until sugar is hot, over 212 degrees (F). The sugar may begin to dissolve at the edges.
4. While the sugar is in the oven, whisk the egg whites on high speed until the whites begin to froth up (about 1-2 minutes). 
5. After removing the sugar from the oven, reduce the oven temperature down to 225 degrees (F).
6. Carefully and slowly pour the hot sugar into the whisked whites. Add the rose water. Whisk mixture on high speed for up to 10 minutes or until the meringue is cold and looks homogenously silky. At this point, they should keep their shape when you lift a bit from the bowl. Note: Taste the meringue. If you want a more distinctive rose flavor, add a bit more and fold in. 
7. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Put a small dab of the meringue on the underneath corners of the parchment paper so it sticks firmly to the pan.
8. Have two large spoons (oversized tablespoons) ready. Use one of them to scoop up a big dollop of meringue (the size of a medium-sized apple). Then use the other spoon to scrape it off and place on the baking sheet. Generously sprinkle the top of each meringue with the finely ground pistachios. Repeat to  make more meringues, spacing them well apart on the pan as they will almost double in size in the oven. Note: Alternately place the meringue on the plate of chopped pistachios. Roll the meringue so it is covered with nuts on one side. Gently place the meringue on the prepared baking sheet. 
9. Place in oven and bake for approximately 2 hours. To check for doneness, lift them from the pan and gently prod to make sure the outside is completely firm and the center is still a little soft. Remove from the oven and leave to cool on baking sheet.
10. The meringues will keep in a dry place, at room temperature, for quite a few days. 

Notes: (1) If using a 12"x18" sized baking tray to bake the meringues, you will need two of them. Put no more than 6 meringues on each tray as they almost double in size during baking. (2) If your oven isn't wide enough to put trays on a single rack, rotate the trays every 30 minutes to ensure even baking. (3) When whisking the egg/sugar mixture, check the consistency and temperature of the mixture starting at 6 minutes. It is important for the meringue to remain shiny and hold its shape when scooped with a spoon. (4) Instead of rose water, consider using vanilla extract. If using the rose water, recommend begin using only 1 teaspoon when whisking the egg/sugar mixture. Taste before adding the additional teaspoon. While I loved the taste of the meringues made with 2 teaspoons of the rose water, some found the flavor too overwhelming. (5) A standing mixer with a whisk attachment is a must for making these meringues. (6) Strongly recommend using a metric scale to measure the ingredients. (7) The recipe makes 12-14 humungous meringues. If you only want or need 6-7 of them, cut the ingredients in half.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Amatriciana Estiva (Summer Amatriciana)

Time flies much too fast. In less than two weeks Laura, my favorite niece, will be graduating from college. And we will all be making the trek out east to witness and celebrate her milestone moment. There are still days when I look at her and clearly see her three year old, five year, and eighteen year old faces, to name just a few. I feel fortunate to have been able to watch her grow into a beautiful, kind, smart, funny, accomplished young woman. And to this day, I remain more than grateful to God she didn't break her three year old neck landing hard as she flew off a swing while under my watch. Laura has so many admirable, enviable qualities I don't know where to begin listing them all. The one making the earliest appearance in her life was her fiercely determined spirit. As a preschooler she had very strong feelings about how to comb (or not comb) her hair or what she wanted to wear (or rather not wear). Thankfully she possesses a strong forgiving spirit. Or we may not have as close as a relationship we share today. To say that I am proud of the person Laura has become would be an understatement. If the world gave her back only some of what she has given it already, she will have a blessed, happy, successful life. But, of course, as her aunt, I want the world to give her more. 

Her graduation weekend will include meals filled great food and amazing wine. It is fitting we are having a celebratory dinner at the Italian restaurant in Boston my sister has raved about as Laura spent a study abroad semester in Florence. As much as I am looking forward to what will undoubtedly be an amazing dinner, I am also looking forward to making her this Amatriciana Estiva when she comes back home for a couple of weeks. 

Amatriciana, one of the better known sauces in Rome, means "in the style of Amatrice" (a town in the province of Rieti located in central Italy). This traditional, classic tomato sauce is prepared with guanciale (cured pork cheek), tomatoes, and grated pecorino romano cheese. Garlic, onions, and olive oil have worked their way into variations of Amatriciana, however, onion is the least favored ingredient. This version, shared in the cookbook 'Tasting Rome: Fresh Flavors & Forgotten Recipes from an Ancient City" adheres very closely to the early 19th and 20th century recipes as there is an almost negligible amount of extra-virgin olive oil and only clove of garlic.

Simple, fresh ingredients are the hallmarks of the Amatriciana. Fresh cherry tomatoes, garlic, basil, pecorino romano cheese, and guanicale. Considered by some to be a delicacy, guanciale is an unsmoked Italian bacon made from the pig's cheek. Nothing else adds the same kind of luxurious flavor to a sauce. In other words, there are no substitutions for it in an Amatriciana sauce.

The original recipe called for the use of bomboletti pasta. Translated it means short ribbed pasta. If by some chance you don't find a pound bag of pasta labeled as bomboletti, look for a mezzi rigatoni. Mezzi rigatoni comes in varying sizes. For this recipe you want to find one, preferably imported, about an inch long and about a half inch wide. I used this one, a Mezzi Rigatoni 18 made by Divella. 

Cut into matchstick pieces, the guanciale is cooked in one teaspoon, yes only one teaspoon, of extra-virgin olive oil until it is a beautiful golden brown and crispy. Using a heavy bottomed cast iron pan the guanciale took almost ten (10) minutes to be cooked to perfection. After removing and placing the pieces of guanciale on a plate lined with a paper towel, the rendered fat is poured into a heat proof glass measuring cup. Making it easier to return only half of it back into the pan before adding the garlic. As a self-professed garlic lover, I wanted to use more than one clove of garlic. But instead had a feeling this was a sauce calling for garlic restraint. For all of you garlic lover kindred spirits out there, one clove was all this sauce needed. Any more and it would have been an unfortunate distraction.

There are one and a half pounds of cherry tomatoes in this sauce. While cherry tomatoes are not yet in abundance at the farmer's markets, the cherry tomatoes on the vine found in many grocery stores worked well. I happened to find some San Marzano tomatoes at one of my local ethnic grocery stores. They are about the same size as a cherry tomato although they have an oblong shape. I decided to use a combination of the two tomatoes. While I can't compare sauces made with only one tomato variety or two, I can tell you I absolutely loved the depth of tomato flavor from the use of both the cherry and San Marzano tomatoes. So if you can find them near where you live, try this variation. 

In less than ten minutes over medium heat, the tomatoes fall apart, creating a thick, velvety sauce. Some fresh basil, sea salt, grated pecorino romano cheese, and the cooked guanciale all add to the complexity of this rather seemingly simple sauce. 

If you are planning on serving this dish immediately, start bringing a large pot of water to a rolling boil while you begin making the sauce. By time the sauce is almost finished, you should be ready to put the pasta in the water. Cook only until very al dente. Not al dente, very al dente. Note: The pasta will continue to cook in the sauce. After adding the very al dente pasta to the tomato sauce, add about one cup of the pasta water or enough to barely cover the top of the pasta. Some of the water will evaporate as well as be absorbed by the pasta. If one cup of pasta water is not enough, you can always add more. If you add too much at the start, you risk having a runny sauce or very overcooked pasta.

The one half cup of freshly, finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese used in this dish is divided equally. Half is mixed into the sauce itself, the other half is used to finish off the plated pasta. I don't know about you, but measuring grated cheese in a measuring cup had been a challenge. A half cup of grated Pecorino Romano cheese weighs two (2) ounces. To overcome this challenge as well as to avoid turning beautiful finely grated cheese into an ugly clump, I use a scale. It's one of those kitchen tools I can't live without. After using a scale for awhile you begin to get a sense of what a half-cup of grated Pecorino Romano looks like (and it doesn't look like it would fit into into a half measuring cup). If you don't have one, consider getting one. They are worth their weight in gold.

Before plating the pasta on a platter, I had added all of the cooked guanciale. The original recipe called for adding only half to the sauce and using the other half to sprinkle over the top of the dish. I suppose one reason was to make sure everyone gets a few pieces on their plate. Glossing over that little detail, I added all of the cooked guanciale to the sauce. Having tasted the Amatriciana Estiva, I would do the same thing again.

Have a bowl of some additional freshly grated cheese available on the table for those who love their pasta heavily draped. Whatever you do, don't buy the pre-grated, pre-packaged pecorino romano cheese. It doesn't taste the same as freshly grated. Really, seriously, it doesn't. 

I could, but probably shouldn't, eat this Amatriciana Estiva weekly for the rest of my life. I don't even know where to begin in describing this Amatriciana Estiva. If I used even half of the adjectives that came to mind when I took my first bite, I wouldn't come close to doing justice to this deceivingly simple, intensely flavorful and deeply satisfying dish. I could not think of a more fitting pasta dish to serve at a celebratory dinner.

With summer cherry tomato season just around the corner, I am predicting Amatriciana Estiva will be making regular appearances on the dinner table here. 

Amatriciana Estiva (Summer Amatriciana) - an ever so slight adaptation to Katie Perla's and Kristina Gill's Amatriciana Estiva recipe shared in their 'Tasting Rome: Fresh Flavors & Forgotten Recipes from an Ancient City" cookbook

1 teaspoon good quality extra-virgin olive oil
3 to 3 1/2 ounces Guanciale, cut into matchsticks
1 large garlic clove, smashed
1 pound cherry tomatoes and 1/2 pound of San Marzano tomatoes (or 1 1/2 pounds cherry tomatoes), cut in half
6-8 fresh basil leaves, torn into pieces
1/2 cup (2 ounces) Pecorino Romano, finely grated, divided
Sea Salt
1 pound bomboletti style pasta (short, ridged, tubular shaped)
Additional grated Pecorino Romano for serving

1. Begin to bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil while you make the sauce.
2. Heat olive oil in a heavy bottomed pan over low heat. When oil begins to shimmer, add the guanciale. Cook, stirring, until golden brown and crisp (approximately 10 minutes).
3. Using a slotted spoon, transfer guanciale to a plate lined with a paper towel. Set aside.
4. Pour rendered fat into a measuring. Return half of the rendered fat back to the pan. 
5. Over medium-low heat, add garlic. Cook until it turns golden (approximately 4-6 minutes).
6. Add tomatoes. Increase heat to medium and cook until the tomatoes lose their shape (approximately 10 minutes). Stir in basil.
7. When water reaches a rolling boil, add at least 1 tablespoon of sea salt. When salt had dissolved, add the pasta. Cook until very al dente
8. Remove pasta from the pot using a skimmer (reserve pasta water) and add to sauce. Stir to coat.
9. Add enough pasta water (approximately 1 cup) to barely cover the pasta. Add more water as needed.
10. When pasta is al dente, remove pan from the heat.
11. Add 1/4 cup of the grated Pecorino Romano. Stir until cheese has melted. Add all of the cooked guanciale (or alternately add only half of the guanciale, reserving it for sprinkling over the top of the plated pasta).
12. Season to taste with sea salt.
13. Transfer to a serving platter. Top with remaining 1/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese and, if not already mixed in, the remaining guanciale. Serve immediately. 
14. Optional: Serve with some additional grated cheese.

Notes: (1) This dish is best served warm, but even at room temperature it remained delicious. (2) The first time you make this, use only one clove of garlic. I would bet you won't be tempted to increase the amount the garlic the next time you make it. (3) Use the ripest cherry tomatoes you can find.

Cantigny Park, Wheaton, Illinois (May 2017)

Friday, May 5, 2017

Cinco de Mayo Round-Up

Happy Cinco de Mayo! However you decide to celebrate, I hope it includes some great food and beverages. And it goes without saying, a really good tequila! One of the great things about the foods typically enjoyed on Cinco de Mayo is they are all great year round. I mean, can you imagine if we waited to eat guacamole and drink margaritas once a year? The mere thought of this is almost unfathomable. So here are some recipes to include in your fiesta as well as in any of your upcoming gatherings.

Amy's Shortbread Cookies - Cinco de Mayo Style

Monday, May 1, 2017

Apple Cake

A foodblogger recently posted to Instagram a photo of some of the 'vintage' Gourmet magazines she scored from her parents house. As someone who only recently and discretionally purged years worth, or rather decades worth, of some of my food magazines, I thought how much happier her parents must have been to see their collection find a good home. Freeing up storage space, the icing on the cake. If her parents were anything like me, I would venture to guess many of these magazines had not seen the light of day in a very, very long time. However, as ridiculous as this may sound to many of you, the idea of putting any source of inspiration in a recycling bin is something on par with making any one of life's gut wrenching decisions. Over the years I became incredibly skilled at rejecting all of the myths framed as rational arguments for reducing my food magazine collection. Myth 1: "All of the recipes can be found online." Definitely not true. Myth 2: "It would take you two lifetimes to make all of the recipes in those magazines." Probably true. But one newly rediscovered recipe could make a meal legendary. Myth 3: "Along your collection of cookbooks, it isn't humanly possible to find the magazine with the recipe for a dish you had made once, maybe twice." Some of us with strong visual memories can usually find the needle in the haystack. Although, as time goes on and the number of cookbooks and magazines continue to increase, I may be forced to accept this one as fact.

The Instagram post caused me to shift my attention from boxes of stored food magazines to the significant number of cookbooks I had not opened in awhile. Quite awhile actually. Parting with food magazines is one thing, but parting with cookbooks?! Unless they are going to a home of someone I love, this would be sacrilegious in my world. As I scanned the bookshelves, my eyes were drawn to my collection of Maida Heatter's cookbooks. For those of you who, for any number of reasons had never heard of or made any of her recipes, she is genuinely a baking goddess. Definitely someone to learn from. A self-taught baker, she graciously shared her knowledge of baking in nine cookbooks. It was in her first cookbook, Maida Heatter's 1974 edition of the Book of Great Desserts, where I gain confidence as a baker as my knowledge of baking deepened. Her books might best be described as containing recipes falling into those elusive 'heirloom and 'foolproof' categories. "Her recipes are known for their precision; each step in integral, each ingredient is essential. Her sense of time and care when it comes to baking are impeccable...." wrote Food52 in a great tribute article shortly after her 100th birthday last September. As precise as they may be, all of her recipes are easily accessible to the home baker.

I pulled one of my two copies of her book Maida Heatter's Best Desserts Book Ever off the shelf. (Yes, I have two of these books. I won't even begin to explain why I have two of them.) As the weather was a bit gloomy, I was in the mood to bake a cake. As I was skimming through the book, the "Apple Cake from the Catskills' was one of the recipes catching my attention. In her description, she wrote 'once you have made it you will want to make it again and again'. Simple, genuine, honest, words and a prophetic endorsement. After reading them, there wasn't any doubt as to which cake I would be making.

Other than finishing the cake with a confectionary sugar glaze instead of a confectionary sugar dusting, I wasn't going to make any other recipe ingredient changes on my first attempt at baking this cake. Sometimes you need to, or rather should, trust the baking goddess.

The recipe specified Granny Smith apples. So Granny Smith apples it was going to be. 

The most time consuming part of assembling this Apple Cake is peeling, coring, and cutting the 1 3/4 pounds of apples into a 1/3" dice. Some of my pieces may have unintentionally and only slightly exceeded the 1/3" size. Fortunately, that didn't seem to be a deal breaker in this cake.

You should have everything you need for this cake in your refrigerator or pantry. Which means, if there was ever a cake you could bake on a whim, this would be it.

The sequence of making the batter is unlike that of most cake batters. It begins with beating the eggs to mix. Then beating in the oil, vanilla, granulated sugar and apple juice (or Calvados or applejack). Lastly, the sifted dry ingredients are mixed in at low speed until the batter is smooth (and it will be on the thick side). 

I thought my favorite Nordicware Heritage Pan fell within the recommended bundt pan size (13-14 cup capacity) for this cake. I learned after the fact it wasn't (it's capacity is 10 cups). Whether or not it was my lucky day or lucky pan, it worked. You need a large capacity pan to hold the batter, apple/nut/raisin, and spiced sugar mixture. Unless you place a baking pan under the bundt when it goes into the oven, the intoxicating aroma of the cake baking will be ruined with that of burnt cake drippings. Because I love the finished look any any cake baked in this pan I would use it again in the making of this cake.  Only next time I will put a pan lined with aluminum foil underneath to catch any overflow drippings.

Even if you use a non-stick bundt pan, you will still need to be prepared it using a vegetable spray (or butter) and dusting of flour (of fine bread crumbs). 

This Apple Cake is layered. After pouring in half of the batter into the pan, half of the apples/raisins/walnuts and half of the spiced sugar mixture are added. This sequence is repeated again before the cake is tightly covered with aluminum foil and placed onto the lower rack of a preheated 350 degree (F) oven. Once the Apple Cakes bakes for 25 minutes with the tight aluminum foil cover, it continues to bake for another 75 to 85 minutes without it. (Important note: You will cover the cake loosely with aluminum foil for the last 25-30 minutes of baking to ensure the top does not over brown.) The total baking time for this cake ranges from 1 hour and 40 minutes to 1 hour and 50 minutes). My baking time was closer to 1 hour and 50 minutes (but this may have been due in part to the size of my bundt pan).

After the baked cake is removed from the oven, it should be allowed to rest on a cooling rack for 20 minutes before it is unmolded. And then allowed to cool whether you are finishing it with a confectionary sugar glaze or dusting of confectionary sugar. I waited at least 30-40 minutes before glazing.

Maida Heatter was right. You will want to make this cake again and again. The exterior of the cake had a perfect crunch-like texture and the interior is not only moist, but evenly fruity and spicy. It is everything a great apple cake should be. If you love apple cakes, you will be mad for this one. 

After I posted a photo of this cake on one of my social media pages, a friend asked if the recipe called for the flowers. Laughing, I told her it didn't. But I just couldn't resist decorating this cake with some of the most beautiful blooms from the white flowering crab apple tree. In the event you don't have any edible or non-toxic flowers available to you when you make this cake, please know it is equally beautiful without them. And definitely, no less delicious. 

Happy May Day everyone! I hope you bring someone important to you flowers today! I also hope you make this Apple Cake. Because just as the baking goddess Maida Heatter said, 'once you have made it you will want to make it again and again'.

Apple Cake (a very slight adaptation to the Apple Cake from the Catskills recipe in Maida Heatter's Best Dessert Book Ever cookbook)
Serves 10-12 

Spiced Sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

3 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
4 large eggs, room temperature
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup vegetable oil (or canola oil)
2 teaspoons good quality vanilla 
1/3 cup apple juice (or Calvados, applejack or brandy)
Generous 1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped (divided)
Generous 1/2 cup raisins (divided)
1 3/4 pounds (about 5-6) Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1/3" chunks (divided)

1 1/4 cups confectionary sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon good quality vanilla
2 to 3 Tablespoons whole milk (begin with 2 Tablespoons and add in 1 teaspoon increments if needed)
Pinch of sea salt

Spiced Sugar
1. In a small bowl, combine sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and cinnamon.
2. Whisk until combined. Set aside until ready to use.

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F). Adjust a rack one-third up from the bottom of the oven. Spray a 13-14 cup capacity bundt pan and dust with flour or fine bread crumbs. Tap out excess. Set the pan aside.
2. In a medium sized bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and kosher salt. Set aside.
3. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, beat the eggs to mix.
4. Add in oil, vanilla, apple juice and granulated sugar, beating until blended.
5. On low speed, add the dry ingredients. Beat only until smooth.
6. Pour half of the batter into the prepared pan.
7. Sprinkle with half of the chopped apples, walnuts and raisins. Press down lightly into the batter.
8. Sprinkle 3 1/2 tablespoons of the cinnamon sugar over top. Note: This is approximately half of the cinnamon sugar mixture.
9. Repeat with remaining batter, apples, walnuts, raisins and cinnamon sugar.
10. Cover the top of pan with aluminum foil, folding down to make it airtight. Note: If batter comes to top of your bundt pan, dome the aluminum foil as the cake will rise.
11. Put bundt pan in oven. bake for 25 minutes. Remove foil. Note: Place a baking sheet under the bundt pan as the the batter may drip over sides of the pan.
12. Return cake to the oven and continue baking for 75 to 85 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean. Cover pan loosely with foil during the last 30 minutes of baking to prevent overbrowning. 
13. Remove from oven. Place bundt pan on cooling rack. Allow the cake to cool for 20 minutes.
14. Top the pan with a wide cake platter or cake stand. Turn the pan and plate upside down. Remove the pan. Let cake cool completely before icing. Note: Wait at least 30 minutes or the icing may melt into the cake.

Glaze and Assembly
1. Whisk together confectionary sugar, vanilla, and milk until you have a thick but pourable consistency.
2. Pour icing over the cooled cake. Allow icing to set (approximately 15 minutes).
3. Serve immediately.

Notes: (1) The original recipe called for a dusting of confectionary sugar versus a confectionary sugar glaze. (2) Use a beautifully shaped bundt pan to give this cake an impressive presentation. The Nordicware Heritage Pan is one of my favorites. It is only a 10 cup capacity, however, it worked perfectly. (3) Mixing the glaze in a pourable glass measuring cup makes it easy to evenly ice the cake. (4) If you want your cake completely glazed, double the confectionary sugar glaze ingredients. (5) I very lightly pressed the apples/walnuts/raisins and spiced sugar into each batter layer as I was unsure if they will evenly sink into the batter during batter. The light pressing turned out to be a good idea.