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.

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