The following originally appeared on 11/28/08 at Exit 51.
Nobody Bakes A Cake As Tasty
Preparing Thanksgiving dinner is a lot of pressure. Expectations are high and people come to the table HUNGRY. So when dishes don’t quite hit the mark, it can be disappointing. I’ll give you an example. Actually, I’ll give you three.
That Mushroom and Barley Pie that I snagged from Smitten Kitchen – everything about it said winner. Simple flavors, minimal ingredients, and make ahead preparation; these are all good things in the kitchen. When I pulled it from the oven, the puff pastry had risen to golden brown heights and the smell of mushrooms and bacon filled the kitchen. At least it looked good. The taste was not what I had hoped for. The filling was dry and overwhelmed by the shiitake broth that I used to cook the barley. Note to self, next time don’t use rehydrated dried shiitake in the mushroom mix. Stick with fresh portobello or crimini and use beef stock for cooking the barley. I think I’ll be much happier with those flavors. And what about the flavor of the red onions that I painstakingly caramelized for the better part of an hour? They completely disappeared. Terribly disappointing. Especially when the smell of buttery cooked onion lingers for days in the house. Ahhh, what could have been.
And what about the stuffing, you ask. It’s definitely got potential but I wouldn’t say it lived up to it yesterday. I have very fond memories of stuffing…moist but not gummy, firm but not dense. Mine wasn’t bad, but it’s got room for improvement. I’m going to have to quiz The Grandma this weekend on how she got hers just right. How do you know when you’ve added enough liquid to make it moist but not soggy? Clearly, I should have paid more attention to what went on in her kitchen.
Maybe most frustrating was the roasted butternut squash. I say maybe most frustrating because I KNOW how to make this. But I decided to get a little fancy and try Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics version. This one incorporates maple syrup. Yes, it should have occurred to me that maple syrup in a 400 degree oven for 40 minutes may have a tendency to go beyond caramelized and straight to burnt. Nothing says Happy Thanksgiving like the wail of a smoke detector. Fortunately, we were able to salvage most of the squash and the grated parmasean cheese added at the table gave it a nice touch of flavor.
But the saving grace of the day was dessert. I won’t lie, the Caramelized Apple Crumb Cake is not a quick recipe. Don’t think you can leave this till last and just knock it out in a jiffy. It’s going to take you some time. Although you could probably make the cooked apples and topping a day or so in advance and then only have the batter and baking to do. Even then, it’s a needy recipe. Bake for 15 minutes, add apples and a portion of topping, bake 15 minutes more, reduce heat and add remaining topping, bake till done. Not exactly an Easy Bake Oven recipe. But I promise you this, it will be worth it. And yes, it may just remind you ever so slightly of a TastyKake Coffee Cake. But it will be way better than that.
Now if you will excuse me, there is some leftover stuffing that I need to take care of.
Caramelized Apple Crumb Cake
Juliet Mackay-Smith’s Recipe posted on Washington Post
- 4 to 5 medium cooking apples, such as Honeycrisp, York, Ida Red or Granny Smith (about 2 pounds)
- Juice of half a medium lemon (about 1 tablespoon)
- 1 tablespoon frozen orange juice concentrate
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
For the topping
- 1 cup flour
- 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
For the cake
- 18 tablespoons (2 sticks plus 2 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for greasing the baking dish
- 1 1/2 cups plus 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
- 3 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 2 1/4 cups flour
- 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup low-fat or whole buttermilk, at room temperature
Peel and core the apples and cut into 1/2-inch dice. Toss them in a large bowl with the lemon juice and orange juice concentrate until they are evenly coated, then add the cinnamon and sugar, tossing until well incorporated.
Melt the butter in a large saute pan or skillet over medium heat. Add the apple mixture; increase the heat to medium-high and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 to 7 minutes, until the apples begin to caramelize yet are not too soft. Remove them from the heat and let them cool. (If the apples have released a lot of liquid, use a slotted spoon to transfer them to a bowl, then boil the pan juices to reduce them until they are thick and syrupy. Combine with the apples to cool.)
Combine the flour, brown sugar, cinnamon and salt in a medium bowl. Use 2 forks, a pastry cutter or your fingers to cut the butter into the dry mixture, forming a crumbly topping. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with a little butter. Combine the butter and 1 1/2 cups of sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer on medium-high speed and beat for 2 minutes, until well incorporated. Reduce the speed to add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl after each addition. Add the vanilla extract and mix for about 5 minutes, until light and fluffy.
Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar in a separate bowl or on a sheet of wax paper. Reduce the mixer speed to low and alternate additions of the flour mixture and buttermilk to the batter, beginning and ending with the dry mixture. Mix just until combined, being careful not to overmix. Transfer to the prepared pan and bake for 15 minutes, then remove from the oven and spread the caramelized apple mixture in a single layer over the entire cake layer. Then sprinkle half of the topping over the apples. Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 325 degrees.
Remove the cake from the oven and sprinkle the remaining topping evenly over the cake. Bake for 15 minutes, or until the cake is golden brown and a toothpick or cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool before slicing.