Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The French Laundry's Cranberry and Apple Kuchen with Hot Cream Sauce

Upon returning home after spending twenty-seven days working on a project in Saudi Arabia, the person who shall remain nameless asked 'is there any cake?'. My response was 'what?, cake? did I miss that homecoming request?' As those words were passing my lips, the following 'best if they stayed unspoken' ones were running through my head 'well maybe if you had been able to convince the customs agent to let you out of the country with the jar of preserved lemons there would have been cake!' In anticipation of letting me know one of my two 'could you please bring home?' requests was not going to be fulfilled, he sent a text message saying the beautiful jar of preserved lemons he went out of his way to find would not be one of them. It was probably a good thing I wasn't the one trying to get preserved lemons out of the country as more than likely I wouldn't have gotten out either. But once I saw the scarves he bought at the markets in Bahrain and Damman, I thought 'I need to make a cake'.

Truth be told, I had been thinking about making The French Laundry's Cranberry and Apple Kuchen with Hot Cream Sauce. But now there was an added incentive to go from thinking about it to actually making it. And sooner rather than later. As relatively uncomplicated as the recipe seemed, I could not help but think any recipe coming out of Thomas Keller's The French Laundry Cookbook might not be as simple as it looked. 

The recipe is often called 'Sally Schmidt's Cranberry and Apple Kuchen with Hot Cream Sauce', paying homage to one of the original owners of The French Laundry in Yountville, California. Building on the vision and reputation Sally and her husband Don created, Thomas Keller's passion and flair for food further transformed The French Laundry onto one on everyone's bucket list of must eat at restaurants. Along with Keller's reputation for creating beautiful, absolutely to die for food, comes his reputation for creating recipes sometimes viewed as intimidating to even the most adventurous of home cooks. But in an unseemingly, unpredictable fashion, Keller has also been known to share recipes that make his food accessible without sacrificing any of its' mouthwatering flavor. 

The Cranberry and Apple Kuchen with Hot Cream Sauce happened to be one of them.

The original recipe calls for the use of either Gravenstein or Golden Delicious Apples. Since Gravensteins are grown primarily on the west coast (and for some reason they haven't yet made their way to this side of the Mississippi River), I supposed the kuchen would have to be made with Golden Delicious apples. Only I am not a big fan of this not too tart, less sweet apple variety. Looking at the spectrum of apple flavors, I debated about whether to use a different apple. As if I know better than Keller. Rather than prolonging the decision, following the recommendation of the master seemed to be the right thing to do.

Other than needing a nine inch spring form pan, there are no hard to find, crazy expensive ingredients in this kuchen.

Instead of using my stand mixer, I used the hand mixer (with great results). After creaming the butter, sugar and egg, the dry ingredients and milk are added in alternately. Just be mindful not over mix the batter.

The original recipe calls for the use of 3 to 4 apples. My Golden Delicious apples were on the large size so I used only two of them. Depending on the size of your apples and the design of the apple slices on the kuchen, you may need 3 - 4 of them. Cutting your apples into 1/4 inch wedges after you make the batter prevents them from turning brown.

The use of a springform pan makes it possible to unmold the baked cake with ease. After the batter is spooned into the pan (evening out the surface with an offset spatula), the apples are pressed into the batter (cut side down) forming a bicycle spoke like pattern.

Fresh cranberries line the perimeter and fill the center of the kuchen. Note: If using smaller Golden Delicious apples you may want to create a double spoke pattern and place the cranberrries in rings between the apple slices.

Before placing the kuchen in a preheated 350 degree oven, sprinkle with the cinnamon sugar mixture.

Baking time is 40 to 50 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean inserted in the center of the cake. My less than precise way of testing for doneness is pressing lightly on the cake. If it quickly bounces back and the sides have begun to pull away from the edge of the pan, it is usually done.

Allow the kuchen to cool on a wire rack for at least 15 minutes before removing from the pan and transferring to a platter. If you are not planning on serving the cake immediately (like as in when you have someone who has been waiting 27 days for one of your cakes), allow the kuchen to cool completely in the pan.

Dusting the Cranberry and Apple Kuchen with confectionary sugar is optional, but the sugar gave it a beautiful finishing touch. Conversely, the hot cream sauce should not be considered optional. Butter, whipping cream and sugar come together to create the most heavenly of sauces. Light, yet rich in flavor, it is the perfect compliment to the kuchen. 

I was wrong to even for a millisecond to second guess Keller on the recommendation to use Golden Delicious apples. The tartness of the cranberries combined with the subtle flavor of the apples was kuchen perfection.

If there was only apple cake you were going to make this year, it should be The French Laundry's Cranberry and Apple Kuchen with Hot Cream Sauce. It's versatility makes it a breakfast indulgence, a most satisfying afternoon tea dessert, and/or a blissful end to a dinner. Making this kuchen was a reminder to avoid making assumptions about anything, anyone, and especially any one of Keller's recipes. I can hardly wait to make this kuchen again. This first one lasted less than 36 hours (which sans only one slice, there was only one other person was eating it). The next time it will be for my sister and her husband, the two people I know in this world who have actually had a memorable meal at The French Laundry.

Had I made this cake before the person who shall remain nameless left for Saudi Arabia I wonder if he would have creatively found a way to bring the jar of preserved lemons home. Better yet, maybe I should send this cake with him on his next trip. Because one taste of this cake would make it hard for anyone, in any country to refuse a request. Besides some rules were just made to be broken.

Just in case you are looking to put the now in season fresh cranberries to other uses, consider making the Nantucket Cranberry Pie or Cranberry and Dried Fruit Chutney.
The French Laundry's Cranberry and Apple Kuchen with Hot Cream Sauce (recipe created by Sally Schmitt, original owner of the French Laundry, and shared in Thomas Keller's The French Laundry Cookbook)

6 Tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature, plus more for preparing pan
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg, room temperature
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (recommend King Arthur flour)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg or freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 cup whole milk or light cream
2 large or 3-4 small Golden Delicious (or Gravenstein) apples
1 cup fresh cranberries
Confectionary sugar for dusting, optional.

Cinnamon Sugar
1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Hot Cream Sauce
2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup granulated sugar
8 Tablespoons unsalted butter

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F). Line a 9 inch springform pan with parchment paper. Butter paper and sides of pan. Set aside.
2. In a mixer, beat butter and sugar until well blended. Add egg and mix until mixture is fluffy and lightened in texture.
3. In a medium sized bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt and nutmeg.
4. Add dry ingredients and milk alternately to the butter mixture (beginning and ending with flour mixture). Do not overbeat, mix just until the ingredients are combined.
5. Peel and core apples. Slice into 1/4 inch wedges.
6. Spoon batter into prepared pan. Smooth using an offset spatula.
7. Press apple slices, about 1/4 inch apart and core side down, into the batter, working in a circular pattern around the outside edge (like the spokes of a wheel)). 
8. Arrange cranberries in a ring around the edge of the pan and in the center of the apples.
9. Mix together sugar and cinnamon to make cinnamon sugar. Sprinkle cinnamon sugar evenly over the kuchen.
10. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in center of kuchen comes out clean (my baking time was 45 minutes). Set on rack to cool briefly before removing from pan or let cool to room temperature.
11. For the hot cream sauce, melt butter. Add sugar and cream. Bring to a boil, immediately reduce heat and let sauce simmer for 5-8 minutes, to reduce and slightly thicken. Serve hot/warm sauce with kuchen.

Near the harbor in Portland, Maine on a gray morning.

Harbor in Westport, Massachusetts.

Ocean View from the banks of Bar Harbor, Maine.

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