Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Fresh Apple Upside-Down Cake

Apple Cake. Made with fresh apples, not dried. Bursting with appleness. Hinting at apple pie flavors, but truly a cake. How difficult can that be? Damned difficult, it seems. My search for a satisfying apple cake began with Dorie Greenspan's Fresh Apple Custard Cake which won honors for aroma but seriously underperformed in flavor. I thought my Swedish Apple Custard Cake was an improved appley version of the same, but it was still somewhat between a cake and a custard. My hunt continued.

The latest cake came from a Martha Stewart recipe for an apple upside-down cake. Pineapple upside-down cakes are certainly a classic American dessert, one made popular in the 1920s soon after James Dole introduced pineapples precut into rings. Martha's fresh apple version sounded tempting.      

My first attempt yielded a dry interior and over-caramelized bottom (flipped to become the top). Adjust the baking time/temperature and try again. The second cake was an improvement, adequately moist but still not appley enough. Add a dollop of whipped cream or scoop of ice cream and no one would turn down a slice or two. I might make this recipe again, though a box cake version would tempt me, but THE apple cake recipe remains one of my dreams.


Fresh Apple Upside Down Cake

based on a Martha Stewart recipe

Makes one 8-inch cake

½ stick (1/4 cup) butter, melted
¼ cup brown sugar, firmly packed
¼ cup walnut bits, chopped 

1 large tart apple, peeled, cored & sliced thin
1 TBS lemon juice

2 large eggs
¼ cup granulated sugar
½ tsp vanilla

½ cup AP flour
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp cardamom

sweetened, flavored  whipped cream or vanilla ice cream as an optional topping or accompaniment

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Pour the melted butter into an 8-inch round cake pan, tilting to cover the entire bottom, and sprinkle with the brown sugar. Scatter the nuts over the top.

Core, peel and cut the apple into thin slices; place in a small bowl and toss with lemon juice to retard browning. Arrange in overlapping circles over the surface.

 In a medium bowl use an electric mixer to mix the eggs, sugar and vanilla. Blend for at least 3 minutes or until the mixture pales, thickens and forms a ribbon when lifted.

Place a mesh strainer over the bowl; add the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and cardamon to the strainer and sift into the egg mixture, folding gently but thoroughly until incorporated.

Pour the batter evenly over the apple slices; bake in the middle of a preheated 400 F oven for 25 minutes or until a tester comes out clean. Remove from the oven, run a butter knife around the side of the pan, and invert onto a serving dish. Best served warm, sprinkled with powdered sugar or accompanied by a bowl of whipped cream or ice cream balls.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Savory Hand Pies with Three Fillings

Random thoughts as I played with more filling combinations for Savory Hand Pies and a Minty Cucumber Sour Cream Sauce.

Photo: Savory Sausage Hand Pie with a side of Minty Cucumber Sour Cream Sauce

More Savory Hand Pies? Well, why not? my Asparagus Mushroom Hand Pies were a success (after tweaking the recipe and adding some lemon zest) and I was on a roll with some new filling combinations to try. Once again frozen pie dough made for a quick and easy baking session. 

Asparagus starred as a repeat ingredient, of course, since it was local and fresh. This time I severed the tips, halved each thick spear lengthwise and then cut them into short pieces. Tossed with oil and minced garlic, all of the pieces were sauted in a cast iron skillet until softened and lightly browned. Sprinkled with lemon zest they were tempting to nibble on "as is".

Caramelized onions should add a sweet/savory backnote to each of the three filling combinations. The thin slices of white onion cooked low and slow in a dash of oil and butter until lightly caramelized. Some recipes call for a finish of brown sugar and balsamic vinegar, but this batch did not require any flavor boost.

Sweet Italian pork - crumbled, cooked and drained - joined the party as a savory meat option. Yum! a flavor-packed spicy sausage, asparagus and onion mixture would be perfect for a cool-weather Spring treat.

Sausage and kale pair well tastewise in any season, so a bowl of braised kale joined shredded cheeses and toasted pine nuts as the remaining filling choices. 

Left column: skillet roasted asparagus, caramelized onions pies topped with mozzarella.
Center column: braised kale, Italian sausage, caramelized onion pies topped with mozzarella.
Right column: all of the above ingredients plus lemon zest and pine nuts.

All three of the fillings rated high marks, though my personal favorite was the everything hand pie. I love my pizza slices loaded with ingredients and evidently prefer hand pies the same way. That said, next time I'll simplify the ingredient mix, experiment with new flavor combos, and make a sweet hand pie or two for RL to enjoy.   

The simple asparagus/caramelized onion filling surprised me with its overly sweet flavor punch. A quickly mixed faux tzatziki sauce tamed the sweetness, balancing sweet and savory with some light flavor pops. The same sauce boosted the appeal of the kale/sausage/onion filling.

...and what do you do with leftover spoonfuls of filling? I tossed it all into a ramekin for a delicious baked snack. Once again... Yum!

Minty Cucumber Sour Cream Sauce - faux Tzatziki

1/2 English cucumber, shredded and wrung dry in a tea towel
2 green onions, green and white parts minced
2 Tbs fresh mint leaves, minced
1 tsp dried dill
1/2 cup sour cream 
1 Tbs lemon juice
dashes of green Tabasco, to taste (optional)

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