A Is For Apple

We didn’t make it to an apple orchard this year. Oh, there were definitely invitations, and I do love fresh cider doughnuts. But the timing was never right, and I try and avoid apples because they do hurt my tummy.

This is not to say we didn’t have apples all season long. Just the opposite: A half dozen in the week’s CSA box, plus some generous houseguests bearing bags from their favorite orchard, meant that we definitely had plenty of fresh, local apples. So many in fact, that I became quite a fan of this recipe.

I’ve been on the fence about sharing the recipe. Not that I don’t love it, but it just takes a bit of time. Coring and slicing five apples very thinly takes a while, the eggs and orange juice have to be at room temperature, and the cake takes about an hour and a half to bake. So you really do need a little time set aside to make the cake, but it’s totally worth it. And even though it is practically December, there are still plenty of apples to go around.

I found this recipe in Joan Nathan’s Jewish Holiday Cookbook, and I always get a laugh when I say the name of it: “Jewish” Apple Cake. When Joan Nathan labels something “Jewish,” you know it’s authentic. It’s probably because it’s parve; it uses oil, rather than butter or lard in the batter. Joan Nathan goes on to say that she found the recipe in two local Maryland cookbooks, and that the crumbly exterior and moist texture reminded her husband of all the Polish-Jewish cakes his mother and aunts made during his childhood.

For me, whenever I take a bite of this cake, I am transported to the end of a Friday night dinner or a nice kiddush at shul. Really. This is the cake that’s served at your aunt’s on Rosh Hashana, or the cake that your grandmother used to make. If your aunt/grandmother was Jewish, of course.

If you’re not familiar with Joan Nathan, I highly recommend checking out one of her guest posts in The New York Times. She’s their go-to Jewish cookbook author, a title that she definitely earned and deserves. She is not the only good name in Jewish cookbooks, but is definitely the most famous. And with good reason.

“Jewish” Apple Cake

5 large apples (Granny Smith, Golden Delicious, Gala or Jonathan) unpeeled

Juice of 1 lemon

2 teaspoons cinnamon

2 cups sugar

4 eggs, at room temperature

1 cup vegetable oil

1/2 cup orange juice, at room temperature

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3 cups unsifted flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 10-inch tube pan (ie, a bundt pan) and dust with flour.

2. Core and cut the apples into thin slices. Place in a large bowl, toss with the lemon juice, and sprinkle with the cinnamon and 5 tablespoons of the sugar.

I'll be honest. It does take a bit of time to prep all these apples.

3. Beat the eggs and gradually add the remaining sugar, oil, orange juice, and vanilla.

4. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add to the wet mixture and mix thoroughly with a spoon.

5. Pour one third of the batter into the pan. Layer with one third of the apples. Repeat for 2 more layers, ending with apples on top.

6. Bake for 1 1/2 hours, until golden on top. Let sit a few minutes and then run a knife gently around the sides of the mold. Cover with a plate and invert to remove from the pan.

Apple-y goodness, fresh from the oven.

To remove from the pan, place a plate on top and flip...

Viola! We've done this with a bourbon vanilla glaze on top, but it's delicious on its own.

Campaign Cookies: Why I started baking.

Cookies for volunteers.

I never considered myself much of a baker. But when I captained a phone bank in last year’s special election (don’t get me started), I thought the least I could do for my volunteers was to reward them with some good cookies. I came across this recipe and took a liking to it.

After mastering this simple recipe, I realized there was nothing stopping me from baking all sorts of things, from lemon bars to macarons to challah to apple cake.  But today, I found myself wanting to bake these cookies again.

This is a pantry recipe. It involves butter, which should just live in your freezer, so you’ll always have it at hand. You should have eggs in the fridge, and everything else you’d have on hand in your pantry. Chocolate chips and dried fruit? In your pantry. Or, you might have to store chips in your freezer if your pantry gets too warm in the summer.

I actually had a bit of trouble with some of my batches of cookies today. The recipe wasn’t off. My oven was. So the cookies in the pics you have here are not my best work. But I promise you it makes a good cookie. If you’re into chewy with lots of good bits of stuff, this recipe is for you. Side note: I actually like the way these cookies taste the next day more than a few hours out of the oven.

The recipe I like to use is from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, which has the same ingredients as Toll House, but in different measurements.  They also differ on greasing the pans: Fanny is pro and Toll House is con.

The cookies in these pictures are a mixture of the newly invented Cherry Garcia, chocolate and peanut butter chips, chocolate chip and heath crunch. (I intentionally leave nuts out of my cookies when I don’t know who I’m baking for; it’s just safer that way. But if you know who you’re baking for, have fun with the nuts.)

The amount you want to pay attention to is 1 cup of chips to half a cup something else, say dried fruit or nuts. Make sure to chop up whatever that is, be it dried fruit, or nuts, or both. The Cherry Garcia cookies, for instance, were 1 cup of chips to half a cup chopped dried cherries — which Ocean State Job Lot always has on hand. The Heath Bar Chip? A cup of chips to a half cup Heath Bar bits; the Heath English Toffee Bits, “Bits O’ Brickle Toffee Bits” were actually a pantry addition by Rich and Mike.

Whatever “side” your on, if you want to help out on a campaign but feel weird about talking to strangers, you can pitch in by baking a batch of cookies for the volunteers.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Adapted from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook

As you can see, the recipe doubles easily

1/4 pound butter

1/2 dark brown sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 egg

3/4 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup and two tablespoons flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 cup chopped nuts or chopped dried fruit, or both

6 ounces semisweet chocolate chips (1 cup)

Preheat oven to 375 and grease some cookie sheets. Cream the butter, then gradually add the two sugars, beating until light and smooth. Beat in the egg and the vanilla. Mix the flour, salt and  baking soda and add it to the first mixture blending well. Stir in the nuts/dried fruit and the chocolate chips. Drop by teaspoonfuls* onto the cookie sheets about 1 inch apart and bake for 8-10 minutes or until lightly browned.

*Please read below for more on this cookie scoop.

Both recipes say you can make an average of 55 cookies with this recipe. It’s more like 2 dozen.

*I don’t usually complain about products, but feel I must in this case. Two weeks ago I had attempted to make cookies for the campaign, but my cookie scoop lost one of its rivets that held the sweeper in place. I couldn’t bring those to the campaign; what if someone bit on that rivet? I brought it back to Crate and Barrel, and they replaced it immediately. This is what happened during today’s baking.

This product is garbage.


“Sometimes you eat the bar…”

Making lemon curd used to scare me until this recipe.

I grew up in a very conservative town, and my nose ring, pink hair and green Doc Martens cast me as a bit of an outsider. But, that doesn’t mean I was alone. I developed some wonderful friendships in high school, and still carry on those friendships to today.

One terrific friend in particular was Caitlyn Webster. I haven’t seen Caitlyn in years — she’s spent the past five years living in Thailand as a web designer. Thailand is pretty darn far away from Western Mass. where we’re from, so whenever Caitlyn would feel homesick, she’d bake all sorts of wonderful things that she used to bake with her grandmother growing up. Her baking became so popular that she ended up writing a book “American Baking by Cee!” — in both Thai and English on facing pages. It’s full of her adventures baking American treats like chocolate chip cookies and the WORLD’S BEST LEMON BARS.

I guess Caitlyn goes by Cee now.

If you’re interested in getting hold of Caitlyn’s wonderful cookbook, please feel free to contact me. In the meantime, check out her gorgeouswebsite about Thai cooking.

Caitlyn will be moving back stateside in the next year to settle down in Portland, Oregon. I’m really looking forward to having a visit with my dear friend from high school, and do things like, as she said this week, “ride our bicycles, go to farmers’ markets, and hear live music.”  I can’t wait, but in the meantime, I have her lemon bars, and now you can, too.

The nice thing about this recipe is that it’s all stuff you should have in your pantry, and even the perishables are things you should keep on hand in your fridge. Lemons are always at least two for a dollar, anywhere. Eggs are always a good thing to have on hand, except these. I have no preference on a brand of butter. For me, the cheapest works just fine. If you see butter on sale, buy a few boxes and store them in the freezer. It will always thaw beautifully and be good to go for baking things, shmearing things, or frying things in a jiffy.

Lemon Bars

From American Baking by Cee!

Makes 12-16 pieces (one 8×8 pan)

Don’t fret if you don’t have a stand mixer. In fact, Caitlyn uses no machines at all in her entire book. All her baking can be and is done by hand.

Ingredients

Crust

Looks like I'm gonna need more flour after tonight.

½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature

¼ cup powdered sugar

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/8 teaspoon salt

Curd

3 eggs

1 ½ cups white sugar

1 tablespoon lemon zest

½ cup fresh lemon juice [I use a whole lemon — MP]

½ cup all purpose flour

Directions

  1. Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350.
  2. To make the crust: cream the butter and sugar until soft. Add the flour and salt and mix. Press evenly into an ungreased pan and cook for 12 – 15 minutes until lightly browned.

This is my most absolute favoritist dough to work with.

While the crust is cooking, whisk the eggs, sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice and flour in a bowl. Pour this over the finished hot crust and continue baking for another 23 – 25 minutes, until set.

Remove from the heat and let cool completely before cutting.Top with sifted powdered sugar just before serving.