Posts Tagged ‘Apples’

Discovering Chris (likes cake)

Apple Skillet Cake

Apple Skillet Cake

It was nice to get out of my apartment after being holed up waiting for Hurricane Sandy to have her way with us. I had a standing invitation to visit an elderly friend who just re-did his apartment and was having a few friends in so he could show it off.

Like so many New Yorkers Chris has lived in the same place for many years, and his views and location are—shall we say—extraordinary. The downside is that it is a sixth-floor walk up. It’s a climb. But Chris, having long ago retired (he was in the shipping business) never leaves his perch.

My goodness. For an elderly gent he’s the life of the party. He spent the entire time standing on his new coffee table.

Naturally I couldn’t show up empty handed. The question was: what shall I bring to a housewarming…or to be more accurate, a “redecoration-warming”?

It’s Fall. Every fall, this young(!) man’s fancy turns to apples.

That’s not entirely accurate. I should say my fancy turns to apple cake. A nice piece of apple cake just hits the spot for me on a chilly fall day. Hey, you can’t just eat chocolate all the time. (What the heck am I saying? Of course you can…)

I’ll admit that there are only so many ways to make apple cake. My ideal would be a cake that is not too sweet, not too heavy, that would have apples just tinted with a sting of cinnamon, and cooked through. Too many apple cakes end up with dull, undercooked apples. Don’t let this happen to you!

My standby trick for the latter problem is to cook—sauté—the apples first. Some people may object to this, after all, it is an extra step, and yet another pan to be washed, dried and put away. But I’m afraid I must insist.

Photobombing Chris

We couldn’t get him off the coffee table…

I kept thinking of all the big puffy apple pancakes I have made or been served over the years. You may have seen these referred to as “Dutch Babies” or “Dutch Apple Pancakes”. Kin to popovers, they owe their appeal to the high amount of eggs in the recipe that make the pancake puff so dramatically in the oven. The eggs, in turn, give the pancake a richness and heartiness that can be very satisfying.

Nice…but it’s not cake. And I want cake.

I do love my All-Clad skillets, and what better place to cook apples than there? While I’m at it, why not bake the cake in an nice shiny skillet and bring the whole thing as a gift to ol’ Chris?

I started off with three large apples cored, and thickly sliced. (I used a couple of Braeburns and a Cortland. I don’t think the variety matters all that much in this recipe.)

In the large skillet I slowly melted butter and sugar until I had a rough approximation of a light caramel sauce. Then I added the sliced apples and let the whole thing bubble until a lot of the liquid cooked away.

After removing from the heat, I made a very simple bowl and spoon cake batter (no mixer!). I poured it over the apples and spread it in an even layer. It seemed like there may not be enough batter to cover everything, but since the recipe calls for a healthy dose of baking powder, I knew that the heat of the oven would give it enough of a “whoosh” to cover everything.

I have to admit that I was experimenting: taking a little bit from this recipe and a little bit from that—not always a smart thing to do when baking. When you’re cooking on top of the stove you can taste as you go and adjust the seasonings as needed. Baking is a little like pottery: sometimes you really just don’t know what you’ll get until the timer beeps and you open the oven door.

In this case you get what seems like an unassuming cake in a pan…straight from the oven it almost looks like baked polenta. But then you turn it over and serve it apple-side-up, dusted with some confectioner’s sugar, and you have a gentle, homey snack, dessert, or even breakfast that would not have been out of place in a colonial tavern.

I could tell that Chris was thrilled, although he wouldn’t let on, being the stone-faced hombre he is. His apartment is beautiful, but as I wandered around I questioned whether he’d actually ever use the shiny, new skillet that the cake came in.

He doesn’t have much of a kitchen.


Click here for the recipe for Apple Skillet Cake

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Law & Order: After School Special

Apple Snack Cake

after school snack 101: my major

I was summoned for jury duty last week. I no sooner arrived at the courthouse when a few tumbles of my name in a little metal drum and a few generic questions resulted in my being seated on a jury.

If I could just have that kind of luck with lottery tickets.

At the beginning I’m sure my fellow jurors and I shared the same thought: “Golly, this is just like “Law & Order.” Actually, that’s not true. It’s much easier to be seated as a member of a real jury than it is to be cast on “Law & Order.” But it doesn’t take long for it to dawn on you: that man in the robe is a real judge, those are real police, and they are carrying real guns. However, those are minor realities when it dawns on you that the impact your verdict could have on the direction of a young person’s life could be profound. This weighed heavily on us.

I won’t bore you with the details of the case except that it was for a minor felony. Unlike “12 Angry Men“, our deliberations were a model of civility and compromise, and our verdict was one that I’m sure brought us all peace of mind. We were a fairly diverse group, albeit with some similarities that were the reasons the prosecutor and defense attorney chose us. A jury in the midst of deliberations is a great study in group dynamics.

The latter is no idle thought. I have recently been conversing with a friend who, at mid-life, has returned to school for a Masters degree in Social Work. Her specialty at the moment? Group dynamics.

I always consider the fact that I do not have to return to school in the fall one of the great rewards of adulthood. But that’s me. I certainly understand the desire and / or need of returning to school, but it always makes me think of when I was a kid and had to dive into a cold lake: I’d pinch my nose and close my eyes and gird myself for the inevitable shock of the chill.

Adults who return to school, and who, like my friend continue to work full time, have their hands full. Time was, students heading off to college would be given dictionaries or typewriters as gifts. Obviously computers have made those obsolete. Actually, wouldn’t a better gift for adults returning to school be a nice roasted chicken with sides? That’s one or two less meals they’ll have to worry about. Kids have a slightly easier time of it, although you do hear a lot about how kids are oversubscribed with after-school activities these days.

When I was a kid, I would return home from school (a twelve mile walk through three foot deep snow in ninety degree weather) with my mind focused on my afternoon snack. This is where I realize how much times have changed since I was a kid. What I considered a snack back then would now seem downright skimpy: a few graham crackers, or maybe a few Ritz Crackers with peanut butter (“everything sits good on a Ritz…”). Every now and then a bowl of cereal would find its way onto the snack menu. Let me clarify: my snack was not all of the above. It was one of the above. And the cereal was likely Rice Crispies or Corn Flakes; my Mother was suspicious of Cap’n Crunch. Was she concerned about my sugar intake? Hardly. Her concern was more that I would not “…ruin my appetite for dinner.”

I’m not going to tell you that we were much more active than kids are now: the TV and I had a rather intimate relationship. But I can tell you that our eating habits were different. Were our expectations lower?

Inspired by this, I decided to make some minor magic: a little cake that kids and adults could snack on that wouldn’t break the caloric bank. Not (by any stretch of the imagination) diet food, but an appealing, tempting snack that was actually fairly healthy. The type of thing we used to call “wholesome” before that became uncool. A Marie Osmond cake in a Paris Hilton world.

It’s fall. What better starting point than apples?

Apple Cake is a fairly standard dessert in New England, certainly also in diners everywhere. I realized that as popular as Apple Pie is, many people find making the crust daunting. Apple Cake solves that problem. The downside is that unless quite a bit of sugar has been added, baking sliced apples in cake batter always tends to blunt the sweetness of even the tangiest of apples. I solved this by stealing a page from the Apple Pancake playbook: I cooked the apples separately, and then added them to the already cooled cake. In the cake, canola oil takes the place of butter, and low fat Greek yogurt adds a little lightweight richness. Actually, the cake is so good that it will pair with anything, and would be a great light alternative to biscuits for a twist on Strawberry Shortcake. I topped the cake with a bit of yogurt I’d sweetened with confectioners’ sugar—totally unnecessary, but a nice little bonus.

Since the cake is assembled in just a few simple steps, parents and kids will have a fun time making this cake together.

That’s my kind of homework.


Click here for the recipe for After School Apple Snack Cake.


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