Posts Tagged ‘Apple’

If you’re reading this you may already be late

Breakfast on the run...

Breakfast on the run...

The brisk fall morning sight of children on their way to school makes me happy. No, it is not the prospect of learning or expanding one’s horizons that cheers me; it is the bald fact that I do not have to go to school anymore. I didn’t hate school, but I didn’t love it either.

Nah. Scratch that. I hated school.

I feel guilty admitting it, for I have a great respect for education. I’d probably be a better—or at least more attentive– student now than I was when I was a kid. I have a friend, a woman of “a certain age” who just got her Master’s Degree. She confided the same thing to me, including the fact that she was now a better student. My unscientific conclusion has always been that you can break school kids into the same basic categories as adults:

Category 1: the workaholic. My high school was loaded with them, including one annoying, “straight A” soul who would refuse to look at her tests as they were handed back with the big red grade on top. When the bell rang she would frantically exit to the hall, then perform ritual leaps of joy in celebration of her A+, like it was a big, freakin’ surprise. It’s several hundred years later and, yes, I’m still bitter and annoyed. (She now works for the I.R.S.)

Category 2: the rest of us. The “…For Dummies” series of instructional guides always manage to catch our eye. I don’t want to say that I was a bad student, but I recently flunked a vision test. Honestly, I can’t study a menu without breaking into flop sweat. (Ohhhh, I‘ve got a million of ‘em…)

I know that there are many of you out there who feel at home in this category.

The interesting thing is that being in one category as a kid doesn’t guarantee that you’ll end up in the same category as an adult. The workplace is littered with formerly indifferent students who now consistently take the later train home because they have “… just a little bit more to do.” I wish I’d been a better student, but as an adult part of me rejoices that I will never be labeled a workaholic. There’s so much other stuff to do…

Like you, I had a ten mile commute to school through forty inches of snow in one hundred degree heat. Uphill. Both ways. I would forestall my departure by eating a healthy breakfast. Our cook would have my pancakes, eggs, and bacon ready just the way I liked them, and I would…okay clearly I’ve gone off the rails here. I wrote the word “forestall” and everything went blurry.

The truth is I have only vague memories of eating breakfast when I was a kid. I know I did, but beyond the concept of a bowl of cereal the specifics are hazy. Wheaties? Cheerios? Cap’n Crunch? I’m really not sure. There may have been an experiment with instant Cream of Wheat, but that was short lived. We had a breakfast nook, but I think we used it to eat dinner and to watch my Dad’s 8mm home movies. Harrumph: a whole section of my life haphazardly executed.

Now I am much more deliberate about my breakfast choices. Will I get hungry too soon before lunch? Will it make me fat(ter)? Can I work and eat it at the same time? I look around and watch what others are eating for breakfast and notice with a great amount of apprehension that folks seem to be looking for one vital element in their breakfast: a kick start. Lordy, when did Coca Cola become the breakfast of champions?

No kick start for yours truly; if I wanted that I’d pay someone to slap me across the face a few times. (Don’t even try it.) Slow and steady is more my style. It works for me and I find that most mornings I am fully awake by 1 PM.

Still, I find my busy schedule sometimes doesn’t allow me to linger over breakfast. The question is: short of gruel-like instant oatmeal, what is a supercharged healthy breakfast that I can eat on the run? A chum swears by toast with a swipe or two of peanut butter. I need a bit more entertainment than that in the morning. I have devised my “best in show” breakfast on the run.

I almost resent the health benefits of oatmeal; Quaker oatmeal is practically advertised as an alternative to Lipitor. But I can put my crankiness aside long enough to include it as part of my breakfast. Thumbing through my beloved old copy of The New York Times Cook Book by Craig Claiborne I found a recipe for “Old-Fashioned Oatmeal Bread.” Oatmeal bread has always been a favorite of mine. Usually only mildly sweet, yet slightly dense, this recipe has a delicate crumb and a toasty crust.

Yes, I understand that the thought of baking bread gives most people pause. But if you are in possession of a Kitchen-Aid stand mixer bread making requires very little work and very little expertise. Yes the entire process takes several hours from bag of flour to loaf of bread, but most of that time you can do other things.

I also substituted almond butter for the peanut butter my chum uses. This was a choice dictated only by taste, and I also topped the almond butter with slices of green apple. The combination is almost pastry-like, but you can feel smug in the knowledge that the entire affair is very healthy. You can use any kind of apple you prefer, but I use green apple in the morning on the advice of a friend who is a singer. Green apples have an astringent quality that can help clear your throat of impurities.

That’s good news as a clear throat can help me maintain my phlegmatic demeanor through the rest of the day.


Click here for the recipe for Old-Fashioned Oatmeal Bread.


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The Joys of Applesauce

Making applesauce

Making applesauce

My odd sense of humor has reared its ugly head: “The Joys of Applesauce.” For some reason this has me laughing hysterically. It’s like a chapter from some now obscure 1950’s home ec handbook. The subject of applesauce came up the other day when I started having cravings for Apple Turnovers.

I’m not sure how or why these cravings come over me. This time it could be that my internal calendar and the one on the wall both agree that it is September. It could be that I was minding my own business the other day and stumbled upon the little greenmarket that happens every week across from Lincoln Center. Now that I walk through these greenmarkets more often, I’ve really started to notice the cyclical nature of the offerings. Like some whimsical botanical fashion show, breezy cottons (i.e., tomatoes) have moved off to the marginal tables, while woolens (i.e., apples) have taken center stage.

It may be those very apples that implanted in my mind a craving for hot apple turnovers, straight from the oven. I can practically smell them as I type this sentence. I happened to mention those cravings to a friend who reminisced that his Mom used to serve them hot, straight from the oven, courtesy of Pepperidge Farm.

As much as I crow about baking from scratch, I have to admit that I used to love those too. It’s been years since I had them, but the memories are still as warm as the spicy apples inside the flaky crust. While I’m not crazy about some of the ingredients they use, Pepperidge Farm has one big advantage over my making them from scratch: theirs turn out okay, mine #fail (as the kids write on the Twitter these days.)

Yes, I still struggle with pastry dough. I could blame it on many external factors: my kitchen is too small, my kitchen is too hot, my dog ate my homework, but I think the truth is I just need some practice. I just don’t have a feel for it yet, and in baking and cooking you cannot underestimate having a feel for certain things. I’ve watched any number of folks on TV rolling out seamless, smooth, gigantic sheets of pastry dough that never stick. My pastry dough practices the unholy trinity of crack, crumble, and stick. (Sounds like a bad law firm.)

I suspect that I am too skimpy with the amount of water I add, but specifics aside, my failed Apple Turnovers served as a reminder that I should never get too confident in the kitchen, as there’s always a recipe waiting to take me down a peg.

That’s not to say that I didn’t make Apple Turnovers. I did. There’s a joke that should go here about being able to do something with one hand tied behind my back, I’m just not sure what the joke is, other than the sight gag of seeing my Turnovers. (Gag being the operative word here.)

Yes, the dandy thing about baking is that you can eat your mistakes, and the Turnovers remain in my refrigerator daring me to do so. Sadly though, my feelings towards these failed Turnovers are like a page out of Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Ugly Duckling.” Only one page though, as these Turnovers will never grow to be swans. (Gee, I hope they can’t read.) (Actually they weren’t bad cold the next day)

It’s not all bad news though. Unlike baking pie, when you make Turnovers you usually get the best results if you cook the fruit first. In this case it meant that I needed to make applesauce. In my mind, I somehow think of applesauce as some slow-simmered, long cooking concoction. In reality I worked for a few minutes, the apples simmered for a few minutes, and the result was an ad-libbed, layered, refreshing alternative to the applesauce you buy in jars.

Because the original purpose was to fill the Turnovers, I cut the peeled apples into rather large chunks—no baby food smoothness here. I was using four Rhode Island Greening apples, a tart, green apple, so I peeled them. If you use red apples there can be some value in leaving the skin on and letting it tint the sauce.

I also added a couple of teaspoons of sugar, the juice and zest of a lemon, a teaspoon of frozen concentrated orange juice, ¼ teaspoon of cinnamon, and the seeds scraped from a whole vanilla bean. It all bubbled and squeaked for eight or nine minutes.

After my pastry dough crumbled into dust, I was left with a pot of this applesauce. Rather than feeling cheated, I felt rewarded by this: the glass was half full, thank you. This chunky apple sauce makes a great quick dessert shortcut. Serve it warm over some vanilla ice cream, or topped with some buttered, sugared, breadcrumbs then baked in a small crock. (Cue the ice cream again.)

These, of course, are only some of the joys of applesauce.

Up next: “An Ode to Tapioca.”


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After dinner tweet anyone?

The Apples, The TV, and Me

Apple Pan Dowdy with

This past weekend I was the recipient of a large bag of apples. This was a gift from a friend who had ventured “upstate”, a term many Manhattan-ites use to describe anything outside of the five boroughs.

The generosity of the gift aside — and who wouldn’t appreciate a bag of orchard-fresh apples– I was left a little bit like the kid in the proverbial candy store. I ate one and saved a few more for the same purpose, but then realized that I needed to kick inspiration into high gear to figure out what to do with the rest.

While I was sitting (okay, lying) on my sofa munching on the apples, I started channel surfing and came upon four females who, for varying reasons led me down the path to my apple solution.

The first was a filly named Zenyatta. I’m not using a diminutive term for women here: Zenyatta really is a filly, a six year old race horse that, up until this past weekend, has raced undefeated. While much of the news coverage of this beautiful animal showed her lapping up a bowl of Guinness Stout, there was also footage of her being fed an apple by one of the reporters. I happened to see the latter just as I was eating the first of my apples. Something about the purity of the scene touched me. There she was, an unassuming female champ in a man’s sport, enjoying some of the basic “finer things in life:” a good, sweet, crunchy apple. A pint of stout. If a horse could kick back and say, “ahhhhh” I’m sure she would have.

Next I came upon a baker named Rachel Allen whose UK-produced program is aired here on the Cooking Network. There’s something serene and peaceful about watching the glamorous yet earthy Ms. Allen baking and teaching. With her soothing, soft-as-linen Irish accent, she coaxes baking peace from a chaotic class of lucky amateurs. Anything seems possible in her kitchen. You can keep 3-D TV; I’ll take “Rachel Allen Bakes!” in Smell-O-Vision HD, please.

This past weekend she made a reliably perfect apple Tart Tatin. It seemed like providence to witness her effortless Tatin as I sat munching my gift o’apples knowing that my large bag o’ apples was waiting.

And yet…as much as I love Tart Tatin, and as much as I think it is an easy way to make a really great, dramatic dessert, I always feel that there is something missing: spice. The star of Tart Tatin is caramel, gooey, sticky, and even a bit crunchy, but the cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, and ginger Americans crave in apple pie-style desserts are missing.

By this time my legs were up on the sofa, and I was in full Saturday couch potato mode. This made me the perfect sucker for repeats of “Two Fat Ladies.” While the two self-described fat ladies, the standards-singing, chain-smoking Jennifer Paterson (who departed for a more heavenly kitchen some years ago), and the über-serious Clarissa Dickson-Wright, would seem like the perfect fodder for a Saturday Night Live sketch, I found myself strangely drawn to their aesthetic. There’s something substantial about their cooking. Surprisingly, in spite of how they billed themselves their brand of cookery is never an exercise in gluttony; rather, there is something worldly, yet straightforward about what they serve in their formidable crockery. Food as a sort of truth. Clearly these were two women who’d been around the block—and who had found all the good meals along the way.

So, from my prone perch, considering my bag of apples, I thought that my mission had become clear: bring the delicacy of Rachel Allen’s Tart Tatin and the starchy, straightforward, authenticity of two fat ladies to my kitchen. Oh, and Zenyatta’s appreciation of simple pleasures. And use up the apples.

“Easy, peasy” to quote the late Ms. Paterson.

The weather has cooled off in my neck of the woods. After almost hitting eighty degrees a couple of weeks ago, we’re getting down into the thirties some nights. My mind is already on Thanksgiving. Last Thanksgiving I wrote about a classic, old dessert, “Baked Indian Pudding.” While I never make any claims that “Baked Indian Pudding” will have a renaissance, I like the basic flavors this somewhat austere dessert holds: cornmeal, maple, and molasses. It’s kind of a Plymouth Rock trifecta. Surely I can reference the flavors in a dessert that is a bit more accessible?

One of my favorite hot desserts is Apple Pan Dowdy. Named for its plain –dowdy—appearance, it belongs to the same family as crisp, cobbler, buckle, and brown betty. The Pan Dowdy version is baked in a shallow baking dish with a biscuit crust. This is my candidate for the Indian pudding treatment.

The obvious place to start was with my favorite part: the crust. Normally I would have used a Pâte Sucrè – a sweetened pie crust—on top of the apples. But by fiddling around (a bit of cornmeal here, a dash of molasses there…) I was able to bring the dark notes of Indian pudding to the brightness of baked apples.

The result is a hot dessert perfect for a cold night, or at least to counter the scoop of ice cream you will invariably plop on top.

The pilgrims never had it so good.


Click here for the recipe for Apple Pan Dowdy with “Baked Indian Pudding” Crust.


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Sandra Lee or Boyardee?

Apple Ravioli

Apple Ravioli (cheddar optional)

Too much information: I just read that fall begins on Wednesday, September 22 at 11:09 pm. As a baker I admire such exactitude, but I’m sure we will all be forgiven for not counting down the seconds á la New Year’s Eve. Besides, the passage from summer to fall is (in my opinion) a more psychic one than the passage from old year to new. And yes, as I have written ad infinitum, for me, it all comes back to food.

A large maple tree monopolizes the view from my living room. In the summertime its leaves are a perfect — yes — forest green. In a matter of days the leaves will abandon their summer mufti in favor of more ceremonial attire, a final blushing smile before surrendering to the winter chill. The leaves will leave and the color of the daylight in my living room will reflect their absence. Maybe I am influenced by these changes around me, but whatever the reason, when the weather begins to cool I am drawn to a different palette of flavors.

Enough of my waxy poetry. I’ll just paraphrase Ed Norton, by saying, “Hellooo Fall!”  Out with the barbecue and watermelon, in with the roast beef and apple pie. That’s not bad news: I love the fall.

Wheeling my cart around Whole Foods the other day I spotted local apples for sale. It is still early enough that I was suspicious of their vintage; have these apples been stored since last year? (A common practice.) I was not at a greenmarket, so there was no one reliable to ask. What would have been the point?  I was in the mood for something warm, apple-y, and cinnamon-y, so I cautiously bought a few. What the heck: if ya can’t eat ‘em, cook ‘em, right?

A few aisles later, I found I had somehow landed firmly on the side of cooking the apples. At first I thought of applesauce which is really easy, and when made at home really superior to the kind you buy in a jar. But the beauty–and danger–of planning a meal while still in the market is that inspiration is often just a shelf away. (Danger – temptation—usually takes the form of chocolate for me. Ah, but my lack of will power is not why you called…)

In this case the first bit of inspiration was the market’s sale on extra sharp Farmhouse cheddar cheese. I’m not sure if this is a New England “thing”, but alongside ice cream and whipped cream on the list of acceptable choices for apple pie topping we always had cheddar cheese. You heard right: cheddar cheese on apple pie. Before you dismiss this remember all of the wine and cheese you’ve had over the years. It’s the same basic dynamic. I believe the technical term is “yummy”.

Pie was not on the agenda; I was looking for something a bit lighter and less labor intense. Walking past the frozen foods I noticed frozen blintzes. I paused momentarily to consider making apple blintzes, but I just made crepes—the basis for blintzes—last week. And what would I write here? “Dear Reader: please re-read last week’s posting and add apples.”

Then from somewhere—who knows where inspiration comes from (oh, please!)—came the idea for apple ravioli. Sounds complicated, you say? Don’t worry: I’m not Martha Stewart, so I won’t be making pasta from scratch.

There’s an old trick, one you may have seen on TV, and that I used to see chefs use when making “house-made” ravioli. Wonton skins: the easiest ready-to-use, pre-made pasta on the market. Not perfect, but just right for my use.

Hustling into the kitchen, I peeled and diced the apples, then sautéed them with a bit of cinnamon, sugar, and just the slightest whiff of clove, and set them aside to cool. I grated the cheddar, and combined it with the cooled cooked apples. To mellow the mixture, round out the flavor, and bind everything together into a proper filling, I added a dab or two of cream cheese and cottage cheese. (Perhaps I still had blintzes on my mind?)

Assembling the ravioli was as easy as brushing the wonton skins with water, dropping a generous teaspoon-full of filling on top and sealing another skin on top. I used a fluted biscuit cutter to cut them into rounds – but that’s entirely optional.

To cook them, you have a choice: boil or pan fry. While pan frying isn’t quite as healthy as boiling, the trade off for frying them results in a toasty, crunchy treat with a gooey, cheesy filling. Then I sprinkled them with cinnamon and sugar which makes them sweet and adds yet another layer of crunch. (What is it with me and crunch?) They are deceptively addictive. While a caramel sauce would be nice, or perhaps a blob of vanilla ice cream, none of that is necessary. They are great on their own.

Did I mention they are also portion-controlled?


Click here for the recipe for Apple Cheddar Ravioli.


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Last things first…

I thought you were buying the batteries!

I thought you were buying the batteries!

The fall is a blessing to someone who writes a blog about food. After Labor Day, food-related holidays pop up, fast and furious, like wooden ducks at a carnival sharp shooter’s booth.

With Thanksgiving having just passed, we are at my unofficial halfway point of this shooting match, and the beginning of the holiday season. December always brings to mind George Jetson walking his dog Astro on the treadmill. There is so much to do, there are so many people to see, places to go, and yes, good food to eat, that by the time New Year’s Eve has ended we are like poor Mr. Jetson yelling, “Jane! Jane! Get me off this crazy thing!”

I love the holiday season, but I know my Kitchen Aid mixer will be marking off each December day on the calendar in anticipation of a well-earned January rest.

Even my usually sedate calendar is frothing with obligations. Among other things, I’m scheduled to bake cookies for a couple of parties (and, of course, for Santa,) and I have promised to bake a “Buche de Noel” (the holiday Yule log cake) for a Christmas party.

So why is it that my mind has already skipped ahead to Christmas morning breakfast? Does the anticipation of all the activity on my docket make me think I need to start off with a good breakfast?

Could be. But it makes me realize that every December volumes are written about holiday cookies, cocktail party finger foods, and jokes about how to prop open your garage door with Aunt Dottie’s fruitcake. Yet Christmas morn gets nary a word: are people merely grabbing fists-full of Cheerios and gulps of coffee between bouts of gift wrap decimation? I hope not, because breakfast is my favorite meal.

So in recognition of the fact that most people have other things beside breakfast on their minds in the early hours of December 25, I’m here to lobby on behalf of a proper holiday breakfast.

Even if you’ve spent Christmas Eve in a frenzy of gift wrapping and bicycle assembling I’m here to tell you that a special holiday breakfast is no sweat. If it is just the two of you then your motivation should be even more apparent: breakfast can be intoxicatingly romantic.

The concept is to use a bit of pre-planning and light advance work to make a home-made breakfast appear on the table with a fleet-footed magic that is not unlike Donner, Dasher, and Blitzen. Kids won’t notice, but your house full of adult guests will be suitably impressed, and perhaps even envious. They’ll wonder if you made a special deal with Santa to bring breakfast along with all the other sleigh-borne goodies.

When I think of a proper breakfast, my mind’s eye sees toasty waffles with a puffy interior, and a stack of fluffy pancakes to keep them company. But if there’s such a thing as a “mind’s nose” then that’s what Christmas morning breakfast should tickle: the smell of really good coffee brewing, maple syrup warming, and something good cooking. If you have any chance of getting the kids away from their new Wii (with the Water Sport Resort module—are you listening Santa?) and over to the breakfast table, this is it.

So (you ponder) what’s the problem here? Stock the freezer, and then Christmas morning fire up the toaster, you say? No sir (or ma’am): no frozen waffles for this blogging breakfast maven. The prepackaged mixes seem like the breakfast version of mystery meat to me, so I’ll pass on those as well. Who knows what some of that stuff is, and anyway, you often still have to use your own oil, eggs, and milk, so what’s the point?

The dirty little secret is that there’s no magic here. Simply make the pancake batter the night before. Are you worried that you’ll feel chained to the pancake griddle when you should be firing up that new digital HD Camcorder (hello? Santa?) to capture your loved ones laying waste to several tons of wrapping paper and ribbon? Don’t worry, because we’ll let your oven do all the work.

The waffles are only slightly more labor intensive, but for a good reason: these are yeast waffles. For my money, if you haven’t eaten yeast waffles you haven’t eaten waffles. Period. (It occurs to me that I may have crossed some kind of foodie line here. I mean, when you get snobby about waffles there’s no going back…but what can I say? They are airy, tangy, and crunchy. They’re really good.)

The pancake is based on the Dutch Baby or Dutch Skillet Pancake recipe that’s been around for years, which is a not too distant relative of popover or Yorkshire pudding batter. The recipe is very simple, and the result is actually somewhat lighter than regular pancakes. Here is where I’ve added the vanilla and cinnamon to scent the air and help you call everyone to the table.

Christmas Eve, when not a creature is stirring you can whisk together a very few basic ingredients, and stash them in the fridge. In the morning, pour the batter in a preheated skillet and then just pop it in a hot oven. Fifteen minutes later a puffy brown pancake appears, no elves required. Slice into wedges like you would a pizza, and it is ready for whatever you want to throw on top. Even though there are sautéed apples in the pancake my topping of choice is even more sautéed apples and a snowy dusting of confectioner’s sugar. Eggs? Fine. Bacon? Go for it.

The waffle batter is slightly more challenging in that the addition of yeast requires a bit of planning. But the good news is that the yeast-infused batter will also be sleeping in the refrigerator while Santa does his work. Christmas morning someone will need to be on waffle iron duty, but truth be told, cooking waffles in a waffle iron isn’t much harder than reheating frozen ones in a toaster: once they’re working you can walk away for a few minutes.

(Obviously both of these recipes are perfect year ‘round for any special breakfast, and the waffles are also incredible with fried chicken.)

Now that my furnace has been suitably stoked with a hearty breakfast—or the thought of one—I’m ready to plug in my happy little pre-lit tree (it spins!) and get moving on my holiday fun.

And Santa, if you’re reading this, I’ve been extra nice and I’m serious about that Wii.

Click here for my Dutch Apple Pancake recipe, and here for my Yeast Waffle recipe.

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Happy New Year!

Pumpkin Apple Praline Cake

Pumpkin Apple Praline Cake

No, I am not calendar-challenged; this Friday marks the beginning of the Jewish New Year holiday, which starts with Rosh Hashanah, and ends the following week with Yom Kippur. 

On the lunar-based Jewish calendar this year will be 5770, and yes, I agree, time flies: seems like it was just 5760.

Here’s the “Emily Post”: Yes, by all means wish your Jewish friends a Happy New Year, but do not say, “Happy Yom Kippur.” Yom Kippur is all about fasting to atone for your sins, and mourning those we’ve lost. Stick with, “Happy New Year” and you’re covered.

In spite of the fact that the holiday includes a day of fasting, as with any big holiday there is also a big meal. My baby niece (that’s what I call her in spite of the fact that she is a college graduate) is the event planner. I have been tasked with providing desserts. Baby Niece (or “BN” as she will heretofore be known) assigned me this task as much for my skills in the kitchen as for the fact that we are simpatico when it comes to our choice of which desserts should be served on any given holiday.

The tradition of desserts on this holiday is not a particularly rich one. Traditional Jewish New Year desserts include apples dipped in honey (a symbolic gesture of hope for a sweet new year,) Honey Cake, Sponge Cake, and Taiglach, which could be wonderful, but ends up being soup nuts coated with “honey” (I use that term loosely), and tossed with chopped almonds and a few confused-looking maraschino cherries. This is usually sold in a disposable aluminum pie tin.

Maraschino cherries in a disposable pie tin. Tempting. If you’re a smelter with a sweet tooth.

Jewish food is basically a reflection of the various places we have lived; for some this means a largely Eastern European influence, and for others a largely North African and Southern European influence.

As I am several generations removed from the Eastern European experience, I think it is time to reflect (and celebrate) the rich traditions of the place where I grew up.

Welcome to “Extreme Makeover: Jewish New Year Desserts” edition.

The sponge cake is the first to be shown the door. The role has been recast with Lemon Yogurt cake, a simple recipe from Ina Garten, a/k/a the Barefoot Contessa, which has a fizzy lemon intensity that belies its humble name. (My family and I do not observe kosher laws, so we can have a cake made with yogurt, a dairy product, in the same meal as meat.)

I have a few ideas for the Taiglach, but they’ll need some work in the lab before I can use them, so I’m moving on, for now, to the honey cake, which is joining its sponge cake buddy in blessed retirement.  Perhaps they’ll drop us a note now and then.

BN and my mom have been tempted of late by pumpkin which I think fits the harvest celebration aspect of the New Year beautifully.  But flabby, over spiced pumpkin loaf recipes abound, and frankly, with the homey simplicity of the Lemon Yogurt cake something equally rustic, but slightly more stylish is needed. There’s also the fact that I learned my lesson about over spicing pumpkin several Thanksgivings ago when my mom, between shovelfuls of my Pumpkin Pie paused long enough only to breathe and say, “Delicious! But I can’t taste the pumpkin.”

So, a light hand with the spice. The earthy intensity would come from the use of brown sugar and maple syrup which would sweeten the cake, and reflect my New England background. A few wisps of orange zest would supercharge the pumpkin flavor. With a nod towards the apples and honey tradition, there would need to be apples in the cake, but more fun I thought, if the apples could be sliced and end up on top of the cake. The goal is like the lovechild of a cake and a clafouti.

Then I had second thoughts.  It sounded good, but the lily needed a bit of gilding: the cake still seemed a bit plain, and I like things to have a bit of crunch, which, unless I was clumsy with an eggshell, is not something for which cake is usually known.

Hmmm…my mind lingered for a moment on the almonds and honey in the Taiglach. What if the honey and almonds could somehow be a source of crunch on the cake? This is frequently done using crushed praline, which is simply sugar cooked with nuts, then allowed to harden, and crushed into a powder. Why not do the same thing with honey and almonds?

The story, I’m happy to report, has a happy ending. A trial run revealed the need for a few adjustments: a bit less orange zest here, a slightly greener apple there, and the use of cake flour instead of all purpose flour to dry the crumb a bit. But all in all, a wonderful makeover for that tired old honey cake.

The cake, once cooled, was first dusted with confectioner’s sugar, then with the honey praline. The apples were cooked on the bottom of the pan so they would be on top when the cake was turned out of the pan. Combined with the confectioner’s sugar they formed a thin, almost “jammy” layer. The pumpkin cake retained the buttery brightness of the pumpkin and orange zest, but revealed the smoky sweetness of the maple syrup. The praline was the best surprise of all, starting and ending each bite with a toasty, honeyed crackle that said, “Happy New Year!”

And the good news is that the cake is perfect for any occasion during fall and autumn, from a gathering as big as Thanksgiving, to one as intimate as coffee with a chum.

Click here for my recipe, and “L’shana Tova!”

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