Pumpkin-Spice Granola

pumpkin-spice granola recipe

When I was little, my brother used to joke that a box of Christmas candy would probably go through so many regiftings that it’d make its way back to its original owner. I don’t think the candy was junk per se, but it carried an air of fatigue, that it was the 124th instance of unbridled sugar. Even when I give gifts, I wonder if the other person begrudgingly eats my stuff.

So this year, I decided to give something healthy yet festive. It also has a long shelf life, so you don’t have to eat it all now, though I hope you do. The idea came to me when I made a care package for a friend who’s spending the holidays abroad. If she couldn’t come here, I’d bring the holidays to her. This is my condensed version of Thanksgiving and Christmas: granola with spices, cranberries, and pecans.

The basic granola recipe is from Alton Brown; I’ve dialed down the sugar and oil for my tastes, and you can create endless variations by adding your favorites fruits, nuts, and spices. For example, Alton’s original recipe calls for coconut, but I like to substitute flax seed or toasted okara (leftover soy bean pulp from homemade soy milk).

Related Link: more edible holiday gifts

Pumpkin-Spice Granola

Rating: 41

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Yield: 10 servings

Serving Size: 1/2 cup granola

Pumpkin-Spice Granola

Inspired by Good Eats

Ingredients

1 cup raw pecans
3 cups oats, rolled or quick cooking
3/4 cup ground flax seed
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
3/8 teaspoon ground cloves
3/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 cup maple syrup
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup dried cranberries

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Toast pecans for about 10 min., or until lightly colored and fragrant. Chop coarsely. Lower oven temperature to 250° F.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the oats, pecans, flax seed, spices, and brown sugar.
  3. In a small bowl, combine maple syrup, oil, and salt.
  4. Add maple syrup mixture to the oats, stir, and spread on two sheet pans. Cook for 1 hour and 15 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes for even browning.
  5. Remove from oven and mix dried cranberries till distributed evenly.
http://www.sugoodsweets.com/blog/2011/12/pumpkin-spice-granola-recipe/

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Caramel Apple Upside-Down Cake

apple caramel upside-down cake

If I mention upside-down cake, you’ll probably picture a neon concoction with pineapple and maraschino cherries. The cake became popular in the early 1900s, when pineapple was first canned. But it’s been with us since the Middle Ages, when cooks used seasonal fruits and cast-iron pans.

Since apples are my favorite way to welcome cold weather (I first made this in the fall, when apples were at their peak. It was so delicious that I had to share.), I used them in upside-down cake. All the recipes I’ve seen call for briefly sautéing the apples, then transferring them to a baking pan. People, you’re losing the yum yums! If you cook something in a skillet, keep the browned bits in there.

I followed the tradition of tarte Tatin by caramelizing apples with butter and sugar in a cast-iron skillet. But instead of topping it with pie dough, I used low-fat yellow cake, from the infallible Alice Medrich. The buttermilk gives the cake tang and tenderness, while the gooey caramel apples glisten like jewels. When I first made this, my friend and I ate a quarter of it, knowing that I’d have to serve it for Thanksgiving the next night. In the following days, three slices easily equaled one serving.

There are dozens of apple varieties, but I recommend Golden Delicious, as it keeps its shape when cooked and isn’t too tart. If you’re lucky enough to score Golden Russets at the farmers market in the fall, they’re even better. Beneath the sandpaper skin lies juicy, gingery flesh.

Caramel Apple Upside-Down Cake

Topping adapted from The 1997 Joy of Cooking; cake adapted from Chocolate and the Art of Low-Fat Desserts by Alice Medrich

Special equipment: a 9-inch cast-iron skillet (preferred), or any pan without non-stick coating. If your pan has plastic handles, cover them  with several layers of foil.

For the caramel apples:
6 medium-large Golden Delicious apples (about three pounds)
1/2 stick butter
1 cup sugar

For the cake:
1 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour (6 ounces)
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/8 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 1/4 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup 1% fat buttermilk (Substitute: place 1/2 tablespoon vinegar in a measuring cup and fill with milk until it equals 1/2 cup. Let stand for 5 minutes.)
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup sugar

Make the caramel apples:
Peel, core, and quarter the apples. Melt butter in the pan. Remove from the heat and sprinkle sugar evenly over the bottom.

Tightly arrange the apples, flat side down, in a ring against the sides of the skillet. Fill in the center of the skillet with the remaining apple quarters. Keep in mind that the apples will shrink while cooking. You may have a couple pieces of apples left.

Place the skillet over the highest possible heat and cook, stirring, until the juices turn from butterscotch to deep amber, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat. Spear the apples with a fork or the point of a paring knife and flip them onto their uncooked sides. Return the skillet to the heat and boil for two minutes more. Apples will continue to cook even after you turn off the heat.

Make the cake:
Have all ingredients at room temperature. Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 325° F.

In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together.  In a small bowl, beat the eggs together.  In another small bowl, combine the vanilla and buttermilk. Set all three bowls aside.

Cut the butter into chunks and place in a large bowl. With an electric mixer on low speed, beat till softened, about 1 minute. Gradually add the sugar, beating for about 3 minutes. Gradually drizzle in the eggs, beating at medium-high speed for 2 to 3 minutes. On low speed, beat in a third of the flour mixture, scraping the bowl with a spatula as needed. On medium-high speed, gradually drizzle in half the milk, continuing to scrape the bowl.  On low speed, beat in half of the remaining flour, then the rest of the milk on high speed.  Beat in the remaining flour on low speed just until combined, and continue to scrape the bowl as needed.  The batter may look curdled.

Scrape the batter over the apples and bake for about one hour, or the cake starts to pull away from the sides of the pan, the top is golden brown, and a toothpick inserted through the center comes out clean.

Cool for 10 minutes, then invert onto a plate.  If the caramel has cooled too much and becomes hard, place the pan over a low flame for a couple minutes to loosen the caramel.

Related Links:
More apple desserts
Banana upside-down brownies
The history of upside-down cakes

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Pumpkin Gooey Butter Cake from Scratch

Paula Deen Pumpkin Gooey Butter Cake
Photo: Tina Vega/Flickr

Gooey butter cake is exactly what it sounds like: sticky, chewy, creamy—and a heart attack on a plate. But once you try it, you’ll ignore your judgment and want to eat it all. According to legend, the cake originated around the 1930s, when a baker in St. Louis added the wrong proportions of ingredients to a coffee cake (although there are differing stories). The result was a toffee-esque goo that was held by a dense, cakey crust.

My favorite version’s from Paula Deen—she of Krispy Kreme bread pudding fame. Her pumpkin gooey butter cake’s a combination of pumpkin pie and cheesecake, with no fussy crust to roll out. The problem with most butter cake recipes though, is they call for boxed cake mix. Or if they’re from scratch, you have to wait for a yeast dough to rise.

I adapted a from-scratch cake recipe for the crust and slightly reduced the sugar and fat (it’s still a gut bomb, but I did what I could).

St. Louis Pumpkin Gooey Butter Cake (from scratch)
Crust inspired by Food & Wine; filling inspired by Paula Deen

Crust:
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
2/3 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup dry milk powder (optional)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg
1 stick butter, melted

Filling:
1 (8-ounce) package Neufchâtel cheese (reduced-fat cream cheese), softened
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin purée
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 stick butter, melted
1 3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg

  • Preheat oven to 350° F and lightly grease a 13″x9″ glass baking pan.
  • To make the crust: Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and dry milk (if using) in a bowl. Add the egg and butter and mix until just combined with an electric mixer. Pat the mixture into the bottom and one inch up the sides of the pan.
  • To make the filling: In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese and pumpkin until smooth. Add the eggs, vanilla, and butter, and beat together. Next, add the sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and mix well. Spread pumpkin mixture over the crust and bake 1 hour. Don’t overbake, as the center should be a little gooey.

View more Thanksgiving and fall dessert ideas.

*Note: the picture above is of Paula Deen’s original recipe. I lost my pic of the cake, but it looks similar.

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Asian Oatmeal Cookies

five-spice-oatmeal cookies

Goji berries used to be one the best-kept secrets in Chinese herbal medicine. Oddly enough, they’re usually used in savory dishes; my mom drops a handful into chicken or abalone soup. You can also make fruit “tea” by steeping dried gojis, Asian red dates, and logans in hot water. As the fruits reconstitute, they also infuse the water with their sweetness.

Now that gojis have gone mainstream in energy bars, chocolate, and cereal, I look at them not so much as medicine, but as dessert. Since they’re like a cross between raisins and cranberries (but with a slight medicinal aftertaste), why not put them in oatmeal cookies? And while I’m on that route, why not replace cinnamon with Chinese five-spice powder (a mixture of star anise, fennel, cinnamon, Szechuan pepper, and cloves)?

Since I’m not fond of fennel and anise, I made a back-up batch of six-spice cookies (with cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, and cayenne), just in case I couldn’t stomach the five-spice powder.

For the base cookie dough, I used a recipe from Nick Malgieri’s Perfect Light Desserts (thanks to David Lebovitz for the find). As promised, they were chewy but not tough, cakey, or soggy (things that characterize most low-fat cookies). They obviously don’t taste as buttery as traditional cookies, but no one will know they’re “healthy.” BTW, my favorite low-fat oatmeal cookies are the florentines from Chocolate and the Art of Low-Fat Desserts by Alice Medrich, but that’s another post. Now those taste buttery.

In the end, the six-spice cookies were good, but the five-spice ones were better. The latter reminded me of my childhood: dim sum with my grandparents and my mom’s home cooking. They had an earthy taste, and five-spice powder works so well in desserts that I’m going to keep substituting it for cinnamon. It’s really good in coffee fruitcake, for example. Next experiment? My morning oatmeal.

The six-spice cookies had a little bit of heat, and I like that concept too. The point isn’t to make dessert taste like hot sauce, but to give your mouth a little sensation. I have an idea for another cayenne pepper dessert (not with chocolate though; that combination’s been played out enough). Stay tuned for that, if I get a chance to bake more. :-)

P.S. I’m on Twitter. Come find me at twitter.com/sugoodsweets. It is Ruth Reichl‘s fault. I saw her there and realized how fun it is.

Asian Oatmeal Cookies

If the Chinese made oatmeal raisin cookies, these would be it. Goji berries have a sweet-tart flavor akin to raisins and cranberries, and they call out for Asian spices—in this case, Chinese five-spice powder.

For the best results, buy gojis from a reputable natural-foods store. They can cost $20/lb, which is sticker shock compared to the $6-lb bag in Chinese supermarkets, but we know better than to trust Chinese ingredients. I’ve heard horror stories of Chinese gojis that were dyed red. Besides, the better the berries, the more sweet (and less medicinal) they will taste. If you can’t find gojis, raisins or cranberries will work fine.

About 24 cookies

Adapted from Nick Malgieri’s Perfect Light Desserts: Fabulous Cakes, Cookies, Pies, and More Made with Real Butter, Sugar, Flour, and Eggs

1 cup flour (spoon flour into dry-measure cup and level off)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 teaspoons Chinese five-spice powder
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1 large egg
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups rolled oats (not instant)
1/2 cup goji berries

2 baking sheets lined with parchment paper, greased foil, or silicone mats

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and set the rack on the lower and upper thirds of the oven.

2. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and five-spice powder.

3. In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter and granulated sugar until smooth. Mix in the brown sugar, then the egg, applesauce, and vanilla.

4. Stir in the dry ingredients, then the oats and raisins.

5. Drop the batter by rounded teaspoons 2-inches apart on the baking sheets and use a fork to gently flatten the dough.

6. Bake the cookies for 10 to 12 minutes, or until they “look dull on the surface but are moist and soft.” Rotate baking sheets during baking for even heating.

Storage: Once cool, store the cookies in an airtight container at room temperature.

Six-Spice Variation: Substitute the five-spice powder with 1 teaspoon each of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and cloves, plus a big pinch of cloves and cayenne pepper.

Tip: Dough can be refrigerated for several hours before baking, which should make the cookies even better.

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A Season for Ice Cream


pumpkin pie ice cream

There are two reasons why I shouldn’t eat ice cream right now. First, it’s the dead of winter. Second, it’s not healthy. To both those rules, I say, “I don’t care.” Why are ice cream cravings supposed to turn off just because it’s not summer?

While I’m breaking the rules, why not enjoy pumpkin pie ice cream right now? Thanksgiving’s long gone, but like Maida Heatter says, pumpkin ice cream “has no season.”

Whenever I make macaroons, I always freeze leftover egg yolks so I’ll have them for custard-based ice cream, like the one below. Just remember to add 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar or 1/8 teaspoon salt for every four yolks (and label them!), so they don’t get gelatinous. If you have the opposite problem and have too many whites, you can freeze those too, but I heard they don’t whip as well for meringues.

This version is healthier than regular ice cream, since there’s a high proportion of milk to cream. I encourage you to eat it during the summer, Thanksgiving and yes, the middle of winter.

Pumpkin Pie Ice Cream

Inspired by Frozen Desserts, Chocolate and the Art of Low-Fat Desserts, Gourmet and The Perfect Scoop

Makes about 5 cups

1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
3 egg yolks
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 cup pumpkin puree (canned is fine, but make sure it has no added flavorings)
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon brandy or vodka
1 1/2 cups crushed graham crackers or gingersnap cookies

In a 2-quart heavy saucepan bring milk, cream, and about half of sugar just to a simmer, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Remove pan from heat.

Have ready a large bowl of ice and cold water. In a bowl with an electric mixer beat yolks, spices and remaining sugar until thick and pale. Add hot milk mixture in a slow stream, whisking, and pour into saucepan. Cook custard over moderately low heat, stirring constantly, until a thermometer registers 170° F, or the mixture coats the back of a spoon. (Do not let boil.) Pour custard through a sieve into a metal bowl set in ice and cold water. Add the brandy/vodka and vanilla and cool. Chill custard, covered, until cold, at least 1 1/2 hours.

Freeze mixture in an ice cream maker. While the ice cream is freezing, scatter a handful of cookies in the bottom of an airtight storage container. When the ice cream is finished churning, quickly fold in the rest of the cookies. Transfer to the storage container and put in freezer to harden, 1 to 3 hours.

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Chunky Chocolate-Apple Coffee Cake

chunky chocolate-apple coffee cake

I admit I’ve scooped several cartons of cookies ‘n’ cream ice cream, taking the Oreo chunks and leaving behind the vanilla ice cream. I’ve seen other people maim crumb cake, slowly picking at the top until it resembles a giant network of holes. It’s all for the love of chunky bits. Tell me, what’s the latest topping/mix-in that you’ve picked at?

For all of us chunk stealers, I wanted to make a coffee cake that would never run out of bits, no matter how many times you picked at it. I started with seasonal apples, added chocolate (because everything tastes better with chocolate), then walnuts and streusel. To keep the batter light, I first looked to a butterless, eggless recipe in the Joy of Cooking. While it could easily be veganized (substitute the buttermilk with soy milk and apple cider vinegar), it actually had more sugar and fat than the regular recipe.

Vegetable oil is a “good” fat, but if you use a lot and it doesn’t have any flavor, it’s not worth it. I’d rather use a small amount of the good stuff. So, eggs and butter were back in. Traditional cakes get their light texture by whipping air into butter and sugar. Then eggs are added, just until they are incorporated. Since this recipe doesn’t have a lot of butter, you instead beat the heck out of the eggs, until the mixture becomes light and fluffy.

All the mix-ins balance out the lean cake. If you’re looking for something lighter, you can omit the streusel topping (see the variation below) or chocolate chips. Don’t be scared by all the steps below; they’re only there because of all the goodies.

Chunky Chocolate-Apple Coffee Cake

Chunky Chocolate-Apple Coffee Cake

This over-the-top cake gets its chunks from apples, walnuts and chocolate chips. The streusel sinks into the cake and resembles soft cinnamon bun filling.

(Start to finish: 1 1/2 hours, 30 minutes active)

Adapted from recipes and techniques from The Joy of Cooking, Coffee Cakes and Chocolate and the Art of Low-Fat Desserts

For the cinnamon streusel:
1/3 cups Grape-Nuts cereal
1/3 cup lightly toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 egg white
1 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1/4 tsp vanilla

For the cake:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 large Golden Delicious apples, peeled, cored and diced into half-inch cubes (about 2 cups)
2/3 cup chocolate chips
1 cup plain yogurt, buttermilk or sour cream
1 tsp vanilla
5 Tbsp (1/2 stick plus 1 Tbsp) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs

  1. Position a rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease and flour a 9″-round springform pan.
  2. To make the streusel:
    • In a small bowl, stir together the Grape-Nuts cereal, walnuts, sugar, flour and cinnamon.
    • In a separate bowl, beat together the egg white, butter and vanilla.
    • Stir the egg white mixture into the cereal mixture with a fork. Cover and refrigerate.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together. Set aside.
  4. In another medium bowl, toss the apples and chocolate chips with 1 Tbsp of the flour mixture. This way, they won’t sink to the bottom of the cake.
  5. In a small bowl or cup, combine the yogurt (or what you have chosen) with the vanilla and set aside.
  6. In a large bowl (the last one, I promise), cream the butter with an electric mixer until soft, about 1 minute. Add the sugars gradually, beating for about 3 minutes. Beat in the eggs, one by one, at medium-high speed until light colored and airy, about 2 to 3 minutes.
  7. Add the flour mixture in three parts, alternating with the liquids in two parts, beating on low speed or stirring until smooth and scraping the sides of the bowl with a spatula as necessary. Just before the batter comes together, gently stir in the apples and chocolate chips.
  8. Scrape the batter into the pan and spread evenly. Evenly sprinkle the top with large dollops of streusel.
  9. Bake for 45-60 minutes, or until the edges are brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean (except when touching the apples and chocolate chips). Cool the cake on a rack for 15 minutes, then unmold. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature. Serves 12.

Nutrition per serving (121 g): CALORIES 330 (32% from fat); FAT 12 g (sat 8g); PROTEIN 6 g; CHOLESTEROL 52 mg; CALCIUM 10%; SODIUM 193 mg; FIBER 3g; CARBOHYDRATE 53 g. (If made with 50% whole wheat flour and plain low-fat yogurt.)

Variations:

Whole wheat coffee cake: Substitute 1 cup whole-wheat flour for 1 cup of all-purpose flour.

Simplified: Omit the streusel and add 1 tsp cinnamon to the flour mixture. Sprinkle the top of the batter with 1/2 cup toasted, coarsely chopped walnuts.

Notes:
This is an experimental recipe. I used a couple tablespoons more buttermilk than called for, and the middle took a long time to cook while the edges got dry. That’s why I reduced the liquid to one cup. I also only baked half a cake for 45 minutes, so the cooking time above is an estimate. My oven loses heat quickly, so it should take you less time. I also only used half a stick of butter, and my edges were slightly rubbery (the result of gluten formation and over baking). The extra tablespoon of butter should do the trick.

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Fall for this apple cake

fog on the apple farm

During fall in New York, the air gets refreshingly crisp, just like the season’s apples. You know the CRUNCH you hear in the Washington Apple commercials? It’s so loud that it sounds fake, but it’s exactly how good apples are over here.

King David apples

On this first day of fall, my friends and I went apple picking (we city folk are easily entertained). Here’s a recipe to put the season’s bounty to use. It’s the only 100% whole wheat cake worthy to be called dessert. Instead of being thrown in for the sake of being whole grain, the whole wheat lends an extra earthiness to the fruit. The flour’s bitterness is offset with boiled cider. (King Arthur’s Whole Grain Baking says that any acid, such as orange juice, masks whole wheat’s bitterness. You only need to add a little, and you won’t taste the oranges.) While this cake is high in fiber, it’s by no means low fat. The deep, caramel flavor is lovely, so you skip the frosting it if you like.

apple cake

Legacy Apple Cake (adapted from King Arthur Whole Grain Baking)

Makes 1 rectangular or 9-inch round cake

Cake:

Butter (for greasing the pan)
2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour (traditional or white whole wheat), plus more for the pan
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice, or 2 teaspoons apple pie spice
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup boiled cider or apple juice concentrate
3 apples, peeled, seeded, and chopped or 1 1/3 cup applesauce
1 cup toasted walnuts, chopped

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour a 9-by-13-inch square pan or a 9-inch round pan.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice or apple pie spice; set aside.
  3. Using an electric mixer in a large mixing bowl, cream the butter with the brown and granulated sugars until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, stopping between each addition to scrape the sides and bottom of the mixing bowl. Beat in vanilla, cider (or apple juice) and the applesauce (if using).
  4. With the mixer set on low speed, beat in the flour mixture until evenly moistened.
  5. Toss the walnuts and apples (if using) with 1 teaspoon of the flour mixture. This step ensures that the chunks don’t sink to the bottom of the cake.
  6. With a rubber spatula, fold the apples (if using) and walnuts into the cake batter.
  7. Spread the batter in the prepared pan. Bake for 45-60 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. The round cake pan will take closer to 60 minutes.
  8. Remove the cake from the oven and set on a wire rack to cool.

Frosting:

Double this recipe if frosting a double layer cake

5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons milk
1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

  1. In a small pan over medium heat, melt the butter. Stir in brown sugar and salt. Cook, stirring, until the sugar melts. Add the milk, bring to a boil, and pour into a mixing bowl. Cool for 10 minutes.
  2. Stir in confectioners’ sugar and vanilla. Beat well; if the mixture seems too thin, add more confectioners’ sugar. Use the frosting while it is still warm.

To serve:

Frost the cake. If you are making a round layer cake, level the cake with a large serrated knife. Then cut the cake into two even layers. If only it were that easy, right? The norm is to saw the knife back and forth into the cake. I always get raggedy edges with lots of crumbs.

Baker Linda Dann taught me an easier way. If you are right handed, hold your cutting arm against your body. With knife in hand, bend your forearm so it’s parallel to the cake. Steadily place your free left hand on top of the cake and turn it counter-clockwise into the knife. Don’t move your cutting hand. Keep pushing/rotating the cake into the knife, and you’ll get a clean cut. If you are left handed, switch the hands and rotate the cake clockwise.

Notes:

Boiled cider is simply apple cider that’s been concentrated till it’s thick and syrupy. To make it, reduce 1 1/2 cups of regular cider in an uncovered pot till you have 1/4 cup. I think this took me half an hour.

For a reduced fat version, replace 1/2 stick of butter with 1/4 cup of applesauce. Add the applesauce with the cider.

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As Easy as Tarte Tatin

tarte tatin

If America could be symbolized as one object, it could be an apple pie. Round, wholesome and homey, the pie evokes images colonial cooking. Just imagine crisp apples freshly picked off of trees and combined with a hand-formed crust.

Never mind that apple pies actually came from Europe, and the phrase “As American as apple pie” was a marketing campaign created by New York apple growers. Plus, pie crusts are prone to innumerous problems: tearing, sticking, toughening, and getting soggy.  So pie isn’t exactly easy.

Enter the solution: the easiest yet most impressive looking “pie” is the French tarte tatin. Legend has it that in 1898, the Tatin sisters accidentally left apples stewing on the stove and rescued the dish by putting pastry on top and flipping it over.

I love tarte Tatin because it doesn’t matter if you have a misshapen crust. It will be covered by the apples. Don’t be fooled by the short ingredient list; neither spices, thickeners nor lemon juice are needed. Fresh out of the oven, the caramel is gooey, the apples chewy and the crust crispy. The recipe below makes one of the best apple pies I’ve ever had in my life.

It’s important to choose apples that keep their shape after cooking. Generally, sweeter apples like Galas don’t hold up, while tart apples like Granny Smiths have great texture. The best compromise is a Golden Delicious or Jonagold (a cross between the tart Jonathan and sweet Golden Delicious). I usually buy whatever apples are on sale, but the apple type really matters. Don’t use Macintoshes or Jonamacs (a cross between Jonathans and Macouns): you’ll just get apple sauce. More info about apple varieties is at the New York Apple Association’s site.

The crust has two unusual ingredients: egg and vinegar. Egg makes it rich, while vinegar makes it flake on contact. The vinegar also makes the crust shrink after baking, but it’s a slight shortcoming. After trying this all-butter recipe, you may never go back to a vegetable shortening crust again. (Cooks use shortening because it’s less likely to melt from the heat of your hands, but it does nothing for flavor or texture.)

Pie Crust

Adapted from a Sunset magazine cookbook
Makes barely enough for three single-crust 9-inch pies or too much for two.

3 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 1/4 cup (2 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 egg, well beaten
1 Tbsp vinegar
4 Tbsp ice cold water

Combine flour and salt in a bowl. Add butter and cut into flour. You may use a pastry blender, two knives or your hands. Smoosh the butter with the flour and continue till the biggest pieces are pea-sized and the smallest pieces resemble bread crumbs.

Combine egg and vinegar in a small bowl and add it to the flour mixture. Add water 1 Tbsp at a time, just until the crust just begins to come together. Smoosh the dough together so it forms a solid mass. You should still see large striations of butter.

Divide dough in half and press each half into a round flat disk, and wrap tightly in plastic. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, preferably for several hours and for up to two days before rolling. This step lets the dough relax so it doesn’t get tough. The dough can also be wrapped airtight and frozen for up to 6 months; thaw completely before rolling.

If you refrigerated the dough for more than a couple hours, let it warm up on the counter for about 15 minutes so it’s pliable. You want the dough to be cold, so the butter doesn’t melt. But if it’s too cold, it will be stiff and crack when you roll it.

Roll the dough on a flat floured surface (a wax-paper lined counter works well). Lean into a floured rolling pin and roll from the center out, stopping just short of the edge. Keep rotating the dough 90 degrees to ensure that it’s not sticking and to shape it into an even circle. If the dough cracks or tears, push it back together. If the shape is uneven, cut off the portruding piece and patch it on the short side with cold water. If the dough becomes too soft and starts sticking, slide it on top of a rimless cookie sheet and refrigerate it until it firms up. It is not unusual for all these things to happen. The crust should be about 1/8-inch thick.

If you plan on making a custard pie (ie pumpkin, lemon meringue or pecan), prick the crust with a fork and blind bake (cover the shaped crust with foil and weigh it down with dried beans, rice or metal pie weights) at 425F for 12 minutes. Then remove the foil, brush with egg wash and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for a few minutes more, until the crust is golden brown. I have never had a soggy pie crust with these directions. When you bake the filling, cover the edges of crust with foil (you’ll need several pieces plus tape). If making a double-crusted pie or tarte tatin, there’s no need to blind bake. But do brush with egg wash and sprinkle the crust with sugar to keep it crispy.

If you have extra pie dough, make empanadas by filling small disks with chocolate chips, mashed bananas, Nutella or nuts. Fold each disk over and seal. Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with sugar. Bake at 425F for about 20 minutes, or until golden brown.

Tarte Tatin

adapted from The Joy of Cooking

You will need any ovenproof, deep, heavy skillet measuring 7-8 inches across the bottom and 10-11 inches across the top. Cast iron works well because of its heat retaining properties, but you may find it too heavy when unmolding the tart. I’ve heard you can use a pan with a plastic handle if you cover the handle with several layers of aluminum foil. I’m not sure if a Teflon-coated pan can withstand the heat though, especially in light of recent lawsuits.

Ingredients:

1/2 recipe pie dough, puff pastry or store-bought pie dough (make sure it has real butter!)
6 medium-large Golden Delicious apples (about three pounds)
1 stick butter (can reduce to 1/2 stick)
1 cup sugar

Prepare the pie dough. Roll into a 12-inch round, slip a rimless cookie sheet beneath it, and refrigerate. If using puff pastry, dock the dough with a fork so it doesn’t rise to be one-inch thick in the oven.

Position a rack in the upper third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 375F.

Peel, core, and quarter lengthwise the apples. Melt butter in the skillet chosen for the tarte. Remove from the heat and sprinkle sugar evenly over the bottom.

Arrange a ring of apple quarters against the sides of the pan, standing the apples on the thin edge of their cut side so as to fit as many as possible. Fill in the center of the skillet with the remaining apple quarters. You may have a piece or two of apples leftover.

Place the skillet over the highest possible heat and cook, stirring, until the juices turn from butterscotch to deep amber, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat, spear the apples with a fork or the point of a paring knife, and flip them onto their uncooked sides. Return the skillet from the heat and slide the prepared crust onto the aples. Being careful not to burn your fingers, gently tuck the edges of the dough against the inner sides of the skillet. If the crust tears, patch it up with a paste created with flour and water. Brush the crust with egg wash (a beaten egg and a Tbsp of water) and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake the tart until the crust is richly browned, 25 to 35 minutes. Let cool on a rack for 20 minutes, then loosen the sides with a knife and invert the tart onto a serving plate that can withstand the heat. Return any apples that stick to the skillet to their proper place on top of the tart. If you let the tarte cool too long, the caramel will harden and the apples will not come loose. In that case, just heat the pan on the stove to remelt the caramel.

Serve immediately or let stand at room temperature for up to 8 hours. When ready to serve, warm the tart to tepid in an oven heated at the lowest setting.

Notes:

The apples have a great buttery caramel taste, but the tart’s only one inch tall (I like the texture of deep-dish apple pie).  Anyone have suggestions on how to caramelize apples in a traditional pie without cooking them to death? Tyler Florence’s Ultimate Caramel Apple Pie looks promising.

If the apples don’t come out on the first flip, don’t force them out with a spatula. Instead, reheat the pan over the stove to soften the caramel. Otherwise, you’ll end up with broken pieces like this:

full tarte tatin

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IMBB 20: Chocolate Chestnut “Su-fle” Cake

chocolate chestnut souffle cake

It’s a shame what Jeffrey Steingarten has done. The Vogue food writer’s two versions of lobster soufflé take 10 hours to prepare, enough to scare away even expert cooks.

For Is My Blog Blog Burning 20: Has my Blog Fallen?, Kitchen Chick sought to convince people that soufflés aren’t so difficult to make after all. Souffles are simply custards that have been leavened with beaten egg whites. Although souffles are notorious for collapsing quickly, soufflé cakes are easy to make because they’re meant to be served in their non-peak state.

The chestnuts in this low-fat “su-fle” (ha ha, get it?) cake add wonderful creaminess. You won’t taste the chestnuts unless someone points them out, but they definitely contribute to the cake’s texture. On the first day, it resembles chiffon cake but on the second day, its flavor develops and resembles mousse. Your patience will be rewarded!

Chocolate Chestnut Soufflé Cake

Adapted from Chocolate and the Art of Low-Fat Desserts by Alice Medrich

Ingredients:
4 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped fine
1/2 cup plus 1/2 tablespoon unsweetened Dutch process cocoa
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup boiling water
1/2 cup chestnut spread (sweetened chestnut puree) (picture)
2 egg yolks
1 Tbsp rum
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 egg whites
1/4 tsp cream of tarter or 1/2 tsp vinegar or 1/2 tsp lemon juice
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 to 2 tsp powdered sugar, for dusting
vanilla ice cream, vanilla frozen yogurt, whipped cream, creme fraiche, sour cream, or sweetened pureed cottage cheese (optional but recommended)

Instructions:

  1. Position the rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 350F. Place a round of parchment paper on the bottom of the pan and grease the sides.
  2. Combine the chopped chocolate, cocoa and half of the sugar in a large mixing bowl. Pour in boiling water and whisk until the mixture is smooth and chocolate is completely melted.  Stir in the chestnut spread, egg yolks, rum and vanilla.  Set aside.
    chocolate mixture
  3. Combine the egg whites with the cream of tarter, lemon juice or vinegar. Beat at medium speed until soft peaks form. Gradually sprinkle in the remaining sugar and continue to beat at high speed until stiff but not dry. Whisk the flour into the chocolate mixture. Fold in a quarter of the egg whites. At this point, you don’t have to be too careful because you’re just lightening the chocolate so it will be easier to combine later. Then, carefully fold in the remaining whites. (Cut a spoon or spatula into the bottom of the bowl and plop the chocolate on top of the whites. Turn the bowl 90 degrees and repeat until no white streaks remain. The batter doesn’t have to be perfectly uniform in color. When in doubt, err on the side of undermixing so you keep the volume in the whites.) Scrape the batter into the pan and smooth the top. Bake until a skewer or toothpick inserted into the center comes out with a few moist crumbs clinging to it, about 30 to 35 minutes. Cool torte in the pan on a rack. rise
    [Rise...]It will sink in the center as it cools.
    fall
    [...and fall]Cake may be prepared to this point and stored, covered at room temperature or refrigerated for 2 days or frozen, well wrapped, for up to 2 months.
  4. To serve: Slide a thin knife or spatula around the sides of the pan to release the cake.  
    Remove the sides and bottom of springform or invert cake onto a platter. Remove the paper liner from the bottom and turn the torte right side up. Dust with powdered sugar and serve with a dollop of dairy, if desired.

Notes/tips:

  • While this cake did not taste low-fat, I didn’t think it was rich enough. I used mildly sweetened chestnut puree and forgot to add the cocoa, so your results may vary.
  • For a milk chocolate-flavored cake, use unsweetened chestnut puree and do not add cocoa.
  • You may make your own chestnut puree by boiling canned roasted chestnuts with enough water to cover and brown sugar (I used 2 Tbsp for 14 ounces of chestnuts. My puree was slightly sweet but not like a confection.) for 45-60 minutes, or until most of the water is absorbed and the nuts are soft. Puree the mixture with 1/2 tsp vanilla in a food processor until creamy.
  • I’m not big on garnishes, but a dollop of a plain dairy product really enhances the chestnut’s creaminess.  Regular yogurt is not recommended though, because it’s too tangy.
  • Eggs are easier to separate when they are cold (the yolks are less prone to break), but the whites whip better when they’re at room temperature.
  • Cream of tarter, an acid, stabilizes the whites to insure against overbeating. You’ve overbeaten the whites when a white glob floats on top of a watery mess. For a couple bucks, you can buy one ounce of cream of tarter, a uni-tasker. Or, you can buy a big bottle of vinegar for less than a dollar and save it for a ton of other uses.  ;-) Simply substitute twice the amount of vinegar or lemon juice for cream of tarter in all of your whipped egg white recipes.

Tagged with: IMBB # 20 + Souffle

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