October 2008 Baker's Stash
Classic Deep Dish Apple Cake
Deep Dish Apple Cake Part Deux
Dear Bakers and Baking Friends,
Remember that Deep Dish Apple Cake?
(Oh no. Not again.)
I know – how often can I talk about this cake and wasn’t it just fine as is? Why must I futz with things? Because something therein is on a quest….
Last week, I offered a Deep Dish Apple Cake recipe free. But something about the recipe wasn’t quite perfect. Oh, it works (not to worry) and it is lovely but it wasn’t just as I recalled. I made it twice and thought – no. We’re not there yet.
For years, my once mother-in-law, a queen of all things flavourful, made a deep dish apple cake that drew raves. None better. I am the first to admit it. And just last year, albeit we know longer are related, she once again generously confirmed the recipe to be sure I had it right.
Although I followed her recipe like a monk deciphering Da Vinci’s code, my version of her cake, while good, never looked nor tasted quite like hers. I knew how this cake should look and taste. Mine didn’t taste or look like the original. Good but not it. And that is when I finally dug in, threw away the recipe and burrowed into it with my baker’s instinct. I realized the recipe needed less oil, less sugar, more apples, more batter, less egg. I knew what texture it should be and how higher cakes (as mom’s cake was) are always more dramatic. Who wants little and homey when you can have homey taste in a bolder, lofty cake? You know – baking needs a bit of Broadway in it – with Eau de Grandma but we do eat with our eyes. When I indulge, I want it to be riveting from the get go. So, I overhauled that wonderful cake the foundation up and voila! I finally got her deep dish apple cake exactly!
Deep Dish Apple Cake, Part Deux is bigger, bolder, a touch less sweet and no oily taste – but it is so, so good. And I am satisfied now that I have that incomparable legendary apple cake coming out of my own kitchen. It’s not close, it’s not nearly – it is IT.
What is really important is to know that for starters, it takes an impossibly large amount of apples –they should almost overflow the pan. Mom originally said a ‘good 10-12 large apples’ but it is actually 18-24. This cake also takes ages to bake through – 90 minutes or more (but just bake it and let it brown nicely – keeping an eye on it and reducing the temperature if edges are browning and center seems mushy). This is an outrageous, packed with apples, old-fashioned and easy apple cake.
So, why did I not have the recipe right the first time? The fact was, although my deep dish apple cake mentor gave me the recipe accurately, she was in fact, giving me the recipe as she believed she made it versus how she was actually making it.
You see, that’s the thing with baking and cooking. There is how we actually do things and how we record it – and I am as guilty of this as anyone else (except you all take me to task when I flub up) – sometimes there is a gap between what we do and what we say we do (or how).
There is really a challenge to getting a recipe, to its last crumb, to reflect the final results or vision you have. Not only that, but doing it in such a way anyone else can have the same results. That is what inspired recipe writing is all about. Distillation and transmittal (and never mind the chef part). And yet, for all this, the U.S. Library of Congress does not recognize recipes as copyrightable. Shame on them. They have neither a notion of artistic fairness nor a palate.
That first deep dish apple cake I gave you last year and last week is great. But this one? It is higher, crustier, prettier, more impressive and tastes like apple nirvana. Come on, fall’s young – try this one too. It’s free. Use Macs or Cortland, Lobos, Spartans and save those Granny Smith’s for candy apples.
This brings to mind the subject of tweaking recipes. Many of you have also noted that my Majestic Honey Cake is different in my cookbook than on the website and Epicurious (who published it to a 4 fork kudo rating). Why is it different? Here’s the thing. The original is sweet, spicy, and amazing. But it also features a very thin batter than barely hoists itself up and sets. Depending on a bit of luck, baking expertise, the honey/soda/acidity interaction, your flour, you might get the same wonderful cake I do (and most people do) or have an overflow or cave-in. Every five hundred or so honey cakes, and there is one such cave-in and I hand hold someone to a second, successful one. I also get letters from other honey cake haters (I was one such) who tell me because of me, they now like honey cake and they are famous (in Milwaukee, Glen Falls, Sault St. Marie, Manhattan Beach, California and Boston).
But to make life easier for people, I re-did the recipe slightly to offer a great alternative Majestic Honey Cake that is about as good but more stable a cake. I was being helpful –not coy. I also wanted a still-bigger cake and Majestic, Part Deux is a bit bigger (but more stable).
But the two recipe variations did give birth to emails suggesting I was holding back the recipe or there were ‘discrepancies’. Interestingly, these emails come from various sources across the land, and from unique individuals, but they all read the same:
Dear BetterBaking.com and Crew (I always like that because there is no crew. There is me. Sometimes, when I am really tired, there is barely me)
I tried your recipe and while it looked baked and I tested it for doneness (sic I know what I am doing, I took precautions) it collapsed as it cooled. I know what I am doing. I am not a new baker (SIC, the fault is not on my end). I also have a Viking oven (or AGA, Garland, Wolfe, Thermador (sic, not only do I know what I am doing, it’s not the oven’s fault and I’ve invested in the best.) I know honey cakes (sic I was not born yesterday and might have 14 grandchildren who will attest I am the best baker in the family). My dessert was ruined! I had nothing to serve and I am gravely disappointed.
Well, things do happen and I stand my recipes and happy to coach on command when problems occur. And surely, no food professional advocates wasting people’s time or ingredients. But baking is not like well oiled sprockets or new computer software or hardware. It is alive. It is subject to many things. That doesn’t mean one wants failure but unless I am in the kitchen with you, it’s hard to say, where the glitch occurred. But what I notice in those that might have a mishap is a common element of deep unhappiness and sense of blame.
So I was just thinking, given this is a new year, why not start with sweetness? Why not get a bit more Zen about it all. I am the first to confess, given all my baking expertise, stuff happens. When it does, I remember I am still a rather nice person (even when cranky) and the disaster, given what real disaster is really about, is not so grave. Tomorrow is another day and no one will like you less if you show up without dessert. If they do, that’s a bigger truth than a fallen honey cake.
That said – the sweet and sour meatballs from that other free recipe I sent out that you all made and all claimed were fantastic (they are)? I forgot. I usually put in 1-2 teaspoons gravy browning (Baker’s Caramel or Kitchen Bouquet). You might try it too; it gives the meatballs a gorgeous, mahogany hue. The citric acid – might be hard to find but it zaps those meatballs with a dynamite sour hit to the sweet overview. It is having you all make that recipe that made me look at it and how I do it yet again and realize – I can still hone it.
Frankly, I don’t want to give you the best recipe –although I try. I want to give you the best recipe of where I am, as a chef and as a person, so far, and from the perspective of the kitchen season I happen to be in. Along those lines, I don’t want to write cookbooks called ‘bibles’ (although I admire them) or claim I have definitive biscuits (although I know I will sometimes hype things as such) or superlative coleslaw or ‘perfect’ brownies, or quintessential scones or tout my test kitchen as the last word on anything. In essence, I want to give you the zenith of the moving target of my baking evolution. My own tastes change and my expertise improves. Moreover, knowing you all better (my baking friends at large) adds to my insights of what you need and want.
I don’t ever want to get it all perfect and cast in stone. As a person, and as a professional, I want to keep a little lean and hungry and learning. Changing. Growing. Adapting. I want to be a bit humble. I want – when someone tells me their cheesecake is unlike any other I’ve made or tried, to be able to say: Really? Sounds good. I would like to take a look at that. Because the minute we close that door and think we know it all – the vitality and passion leaches out.
There’s something to be said for having expertise and wisdom. I’d be a fool to claim otherwise – especially when you train at your craft. But I think the secret to passion or having your personality upstage your age –is to keep curious and stay open. Leave the door open for a collapsed honey cake. It’s not ‘disaster’; it’s a head’s-up to inquiry and more fun (and tasty) research. Mistakes happen for reasons we cannot even fathom. But I love that I can still bask in the glory of learning a bit more, each time I bake. I am happy that I don’t know everything about sourdough, or tango, or friendships, or winterizing my car, lip gloss, love or life. Often, I prefer not knowing. It means I get a whole new go-round of rediscovery. We want to revisit this life. So leave something undone, unlearned, un-honed. Imperfect. And stay supple. It’s in those gaps that stuff happens.
But for those of you with collapsed honey cake, with the new Viking oven, that was calibrated just last week, and you weighed (not measured) the flour so you-know-it-was-right and you’ve been baking since 1776 so you know what you are doing – if you want to blame the baker –hey – clearly, baker girl that I am, I can take the heat. It’s life. Bring it. May our disputes be over cake and cake alone. By implication, it would have to mean, all else - all that is more important, is all well.
Fyi: check out an interview I did recently http://www.cbc.ca/consumer/foodbytes/2008/09/honeycake_and_challah_for_the.html
I also remind Canucks that anything you need concerning Turkey Day (from stuffing to gravy to cranberry sauce that is almost the best) is in the Complete Recipe Archives. I remind everybody that one of the nicest fruitcakes from my cookbook, A Passion for Baking (Oxmoor House 2007) is the Black Cake. If you are making it, now is about the time you should start marinating the fruits and figuring out where you hid the cheesecloth.
With a smile and a wink and a nod towards, Canadian Thanksgiving, and Halloween and all things spice, pumpkin, heart-warming, and real, I wish you a wonderful October.
Editor and Host
Classic Deep Dish Apple Cake
For years, my mother-in-law made a deep dish apple cake. She gave me the recipe and although I followed it to the letter, my cake, while good, never looked like hers. I finally overhauled it –and voila – I got her cake. It is bigger, a touch less sweet and fatty – but so, so good! It takes an impossibly large amount of apples –they should almost overflow the pan. It also takes ages to bake through – like, 90 minutes (but just bake it and let it brown nicely – keeping an eye on it) This is outrageous- packed with apples, old-fashioned, and easy.
Cheesecake Stuffed French Toast with Cidered Apples
Big thick slices of leftover challah or brioche are stuffed with cheesecake filling and smothered in caramelized apples. Brunch fare, weekend treat, or break the fast. You choose.
Enough already, leave a tender moment alone. But I can’t. I thought : why always cream cheese icing on top of carrot cake. Why not some cheesecake filling in the carrot cake, swirled in like a marble cake. This takes ages to bake but the reward speaks for itself. A gorgeous, moist carrot cake with a tunnel of cheesecake filling running through it, topped with a soft cream cheese frosting. Serve it cold, in thick, satisfying wedges. This is one of my best.
Traditional Noodle KugelFREE
Use flat egg noodles for this kugel. This is the serve-with-anything, noodle side dish. It is never refused! This is gently kissed with onion powder. Yes, I know - nothing beats real onions but I find this lighter onion approach ensures kids devour this dish. You can vary it by adding sautéed mushrooms and onions for a more adult approach.
Potato 'N Cheddar Scones
These easy-to-make hearty wedges go well with soup or salad. They are moist, golden brown, savoury scones that are a nice change from bread and rolls. Up the whole wheat flour for more nutrition and leave the skins on the potatoes for fibre.
Heavenly Caramel White Chocolate Almond Biscotti Cookie Chunks Sticks
Caramel miniatures from Kraft (mini buds of caramel, no unwrapping to do), white chocolate almond bark hunks, and milk chocolate hunks in a not-so-hard biscotti that you cut in slabs, vs. sticks. They cost a fortune to bake up but one batch will convince you why this biscotti, found my friend Wendy (let’s see if Marcy can replicate this one, Wendy) and further enhanced by the caramel chips Patti Reed had shipped to me. If you don’t have the mini caramels, use the regular ones, cut up in chunks, use caramel or butterscotch chips, or you can leave them out.
Golden Pear Cranberry Muffins with Spiced Oatmeal Streusel
We always forget pears and they are so in season and so luscious in these muffins.
Chocolate Velvet Honey Cake
Tender, chocolaty, and kissed with honey and the lightest hint of spice – this cake is queenly. Most honey cake recipes call for tea or coffee but coca-cola is my secret ingredient in those, and this new recipe. The fusion of mellow honey, pure cocoa, coca-cola, and a gentle wave of spice makes this sublime. This is a tall, moist, dark and wondrous cake. A dusting of cocoa or confectioners’ sugar is fine or a drizzle of melted bittersweet chocolate is all it needs – if anything.
Vidalia Onion Bread
This butter bread is chock full of onions. It's baked in a round pan. A wedge of this fragrant loaf with Swiss cheese, Dijon mustard and pastrami or smoked turkey is heavenly.
Apple Cinnamon Sticky Buns
Everything you like about cinnamon buns but the added perk of apple chunks.
This buttermilk sweet yeast dough is the best!
Filo Pumpkin Tart
This is a cradle of golden filo pastry that swathes itself around a silken pumpkin pie filling. So quick and easy, so sinfully good.
Apples and Honey New Year's Rugulah
What is more natural at this time of year than an exclusive and new rugulah? Apples and honey fill a tender, buttery dough and bake up into exquisite pastries. These are perfect for coffee klatch anytime but for Yom Kippur, you can make them ahead, freeze unbaked and bake them (undefrosted) as you enjoy the savoury meal. They will be warm-from-oven in time for dessert. You can also make them 2-3 days ahead and they are still delicious. This makes a big batch of dough but you can divide the recipe in half or freeze extra dough packets for up to 3 months. These are also good with a smear of raspberry jam before adding in the apples. These taste like miniature Danish, more than crisp rugulah.
Chocolate Skinny Cookies
The skinny on egg and butter free chocolate cookies is that they are ….healthy. Use Omega 3 eggs and hearty-healthy semi-sweet chocolate, with the other good things in this easy recipe. This is great when you want chocolate decadence and still want to feel noble. These are sprawling, chewy-crisp cookies that simply taste like super cookies – i.e. don’t tell people they are healthy or skinny or anything else but delicious.
Caramel Oatmeal Crisp Apple Pie
This is just like a caramel spice oatmeal cookie landed on top of an apple pie. Just imagine mounds and mounds of juicy, baked apples under a sweet and crisp crown. The pastry bottom holds it all in place. In this recipe, the topping is incredibly generous and the filling, graced with miniature caramels now on the market, mounded extra high for a pie that commands attention.
Rainforest Cafe Safari Soup
A zesty broth, filled with nice chunks of eggplant and other good things. Adapted from the Rainforest Cafe version.
Chocolate Mandarin Tea Blend © Marcy Goldman Tea Blend Original
You cannot imagine how good a strong black tea is when coupled with chocolate notes and a sweep of orange! This is dessert in a cup. An extravagant, outrageously, decadent cuppa tea. You could vary this by using white chocolate instead of the milk chocolate. This is a great tea to bring in a canister or pretty cello bag tied with a pretty ribbon as a gift or for serving to guests with spice cake, butter cookies, or a delicate pastry
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