Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Apple Pie Layer Cake

This past weekend was a blur of travel, family, and celebrations. On Thursday morning, the kids and I bundled up bright and early and headed to the train station to greet my mother as she roared into town for Matthew's Grandparents Day event at school. Unfortunately, when she stepped off the train, it was clear to all of us that Grandma was not feeling quite herself. Her eye was blood red and she was suffering from terrible head pains. We fed Grandma and then tucked her into bed at home in the hopes that a nap would cure the pain. However, when she awoke her eye was even worse than before and it seemed that perhaps she should see a medical professional. Off to the ER we went and after a few hours of waiting and a couple pokes in the eye from the ophthalmologist on staff, Mom was diagnosed with conjunctivitis (aka "pink eye"). Poor Mom.

The prescription eye drops were the only thing that got Mom through a very chaotic Grandparents Day. Matthew certainly loved having her there. Immediately after the program was finished, the girls and I picked Mom and Matthew up outside the school and started the long drive to Indiana. Usually the drive takes us about five hours but thanks to heavy traffic and an accident, we made it in just under eight. I was not happy. While I was in the driver's seat having a conniption, the kids were awesome backseat travelers thanks to repeat showings of Frozen on the laptop.

I guess I didn't mention that Paul had been in Minneapolis on a work trip all week and was scheduled to fly into Fort Wayne on Friday night to meet us. Well, his plane was overbooked and he got rerouted to South Bend instead. Thankfully, my sisters Sophie and Adrienne picked him up from the airport and he enjoyed a fun, girly sleepover with them, complete with a chick flick viewing, facials and nail paintings. Sophie's cat Frodo also took quite a liking to Paul, so he had to share a sleeping bag with the lovable feline.

Saturday morning, Lucy and I took off bright and early to meet Paul in South Bend so he could take the car I was driving to get new tires. We had previously purchased the tires knowing we were going to be in the South Bend area anyway since we could save a lot of money by purchasing them from this particular tire shop. In other words, we like to make life more complicated for ourselves. Thankfully, my sister Amy agreed to accompany me otherwise I NEVER would have stayed awake on the drive over. I arrived at Sophie's apartment, gave Paul a quick kiss goodbye, and then unloaded my daughter and the goodies I had prepared and packed to bring to the whole purpose of our travels that weekend: Mary's Baby Shower!

For the shower, I agreed to coordinate the making of the sweets since sugar and butter are obviously my obsession. I wasn't about to make everything myself, so I employed the help of some of my sisters. Catherine and Amy made a Fruit Tart, Adrienne made Cheesecake-Stuffed Pumpkin Cookies, Sophie made Mint Brownies, and I made two mini Apple Pie Cakes. I also made some sugar cookie cut-outs in the shape of footballs, football helmets, shamrocks, and pendants and employed the help of my very talented cookie-artist friend Lindsay to help me decorate them in appropriate Notre Dame colors since the theme of the shower was in fact Notre Dame Football. Too bad the team isn't doing so hot this season (Booo!).

After Paul finished getting the fancy new tires installed on the car, he swooped in just in time to take Lucy out of my hands and see us "women folk" as he likes to call us off to the party. We arrived at the humble abode of Raymond and Mary and unloaded our treats. Mary's family had already decorated the house in a cute football/fall theme and I was so excited that the decor they had chosen matched my cake toppers perfectly! The last time I saw the house, Raymond and Mary had pretty much just moved in and it was such a treat to see it all set up! The whole house looked so darling. Mary truly has a great eye for decor.

The party was a lot of fun! There was food, sweets, lots of mingling, and lots of laughing! We played a couple games that were a complete hoot, including a diaper race. Everyone discovered that I am apparently the diaper changing queen because I can snap a diaper on a baby's bottom while blindfolded in less than 10 seconds. I'll be sure to add that to my resume.

Too many pictures, but the diaper race was a really fun game...

New Momma gently diapering the fake baby.

Adrienne brought her game face to the diaper-changing.

Poor Baby! My dear friend Tess made a strait jacket out of the diaper. Her second baby is due
any day now so she doesn't have much time to practice getting it right!

There were of course piles and piles of gifts for the new Momma to open! Mary was so sweet and gracious as she unwrapped each and every item. This baby is so incredibly loved - we only have yet to see his sweet face. We have less than a month to wait! I am just praying that the poor child does NOT inherit my brother Raymond's Dumbo ears.

The recipe I am sharing today is the Apple Pie Layer Cake that I made for the baby shower. I once again turned to Milk Bar for the inspiration for this cake partially because I love Christina Tosi's recipes in general but also because the exposed sides of the cakes make for an easy, breezy, presentation without the use of a piping bag. Plus, the acetate strips employed in building the cake provide a natural, easy way to transport the cake during long car trips.

I received a lot of compliments for the cake at the shower and, after trying a piece myself, was very pleased with the results. My Mom declared it one of the best cakes I've ever made, although her memory has been fading recently. (Love you, Mom! XOXO) The best compliment, however, came when Paul ate his slice - an extra slice saved for him by Raymond and Mary because I had initially neglected to do so. It nearly cost me my marriage. Paul leaned over and told me that he wanted me to make this cake for his birthday. Paul really is not a big fan of cake in general and usually opts for pies and tarts on his birthday, so this was truly a wonderful compliment.

The recipe is lengthy and requires a bit of special equipment, but trust me when I say that it is not at all difficult to make. Just be well-organized and spread the steps out over several days. This is not a cake to make the day you want to be eating cake.

The recipe makes a cute little 6-inch layer cake that serves 12. It's rich, so thin slices are a must.

Apple Pie Cake
From The Milk Bar Cookbook

Yield: One 6-inch layer cake, serving 10-12

Formulae Needed: (See Below)
1 recipe Barely Brown Butter Cake
1 recipe Apple Cider Soak
1 recipe Liquid Cheesecake
1 recipe Pie Crumb
1 recipe Apple Pie Filling
1 recipe Pie Crumb Frosting

Special Equipment Needed: 
1 6-inch cake ring
2 strips acetate (3” x 20”)

To assemble the cake:
Put a piece of parchment or a Silpat on the counter. Invert the cake onto it and peel off the parchment or Silpat from the bottom of the cake. Use the cake ring to stamp out 2 circles from the cake. These are your top 2 cake layers. The remaining cake “scrap” will come together to make the bottom layer.

For Layer 1, the bottom: Clean the cake ring and place it in the center of a sheet pan lined with clean parchment or a Silpat. Use 1 strip of acetate to line the inside of the cake ring. Put the cake scraps inside the ring and use the back of your hand to tamp the scraps together into a flat even layer.

Dunk a pastry brush in the apple cider soak and give the layer of cake a good bath of half of the soak.

Use the back of a spoon to spread half of the liquid cheesecake in an even layer over the cake.

Sprinkle one-third of the remaining half recipe of pie crumbs evenly over the liquid cheesecake. Use the back of your hand to anchor them in place.

Use the back of a spoon to spread one-half of the apple pie filling as evenly as possible over the crumbs.

For Layer 2, the middle:
With your index finger, gently tuck the second strip of acetate between the cake ring and the top ¼ inch of the first strip of acetate, so that you have a clear ring of acetate 5 to 6 inches tall – high enough to support the height of the finished cake. Set a cake round on top of the filling and repeat the process for layer 1 (if 1 of your 2 cake rounds is jankier than the other, use it here in the middle and save the prettier one for the top).

For Layer 3, the top:
Nestle the remaining cake round into the apple pie filling. Cover the top of the cake with all of the pie crumb frosting. Give it volume and swirls, or do as we do and opt for a perfectly flat top. Garnish the frosting with the remaining pie crumbs.

Transfer the sheet pan to the freezer and freeze for a minimum of 12 hours to set the cake and filling. The cake will keep in the freezer for up to 2 weeks.

At least 3 hours before you are ready to serve the cake, pull the sheet pan out of the freezer and, using your fingers and thumbs, pop the cake out of the cake ring. Gently peel off the acetate and transfer the cake to a platter or cake stand. Let it defrost in the fridge for a minimum of 3 hours (wrapped well in plastic, it can be refrigerated for up to 5 days).

Slice the cake into wedges and serve.

Barely Brown Butter Cake

40 g Brown Butter (2 tablespoons)
55 g Butter (4 tablespoons, 1/2 stick)
250 g Granulated Sugar (1 1/4 cups)
60 g Light Brown Sugar (1/4 cup tightly packed)
3 Eggs
110 g Buttermilk (1/2 cup)
65 g Canola or Vegetable oil (1/3 cup)
2 g Vanilla Extract (1/2 teaspoon)
185 g Cake Flour (1 1/2 cups)
4 g Baking Powder (1 teaspoon)
4 g Kosher Salt (1 teaspoon)

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

To make the brown butter, place 2 tablespoons of butter in a microwave-safe bowl and top with a microwave-safe plate. Microwave for 3-5 minutes. The butter will pop while browning. Check the butter, and if not browned enough, microwave again in 1 minute increments. While the brown butter is cooling, stir periodically to incorporate the caramelized bits of butter. Cool completely.

Combine the butters and sugars in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and cream together on medium-high for 2 to 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the eggs, and mix on medium high for 2 to 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl once more.

Stream in the buttermilk, oil, and vanilla while the paddle swirls on low speed. Increase the speed to medium-high and paddle 5 to 6 minutes, until the mixture is practically white, twice the size of your original fluffy butter-and-sugar mixture, and completely homogenous. You’re basically forcing too much liquid into an already fatty mixture that doesn’t want to make room for it, so if it doesn’t look right after 6 minutes, keep mixing. Stop the mixer and scraped down the sides of the bowl.

On very low speed, add the cake flour, baking powder, and salt. Mix for 45 to 60 seconds, just until your batter comes together and any remnants of dry ingredients have been incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Mix on low speed for another 45 seconds to ensure that any little lumps of cake flour are incorporated.

Pam-spray a quarter sheet pan and line it with parchment, or just line the pan with a Silpat. Using a spatula, spread the cake batter in an even layer in the pan. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes. The cake will rise and puff, doubling in size, but will remain slightly buttery and dense. At 30 minutes, gently poke the edge of the cake with your finger: the cake should bounce back slightly and the center should no longer be jiggly. Leave the cake in the oven for an extra 3 to 5 minutes if it doesn’t pass these tests.

Take the cake out of the oven and cool on a wire rack, or, in a pinch, in the fridge or freezer. The cooled cake can be stored in the fridge, wrapped in plastic wrap, for up to 5 days.

Apple Cider Soak 
makes about 60 g (1/4 cup)

55 g Apple Cider (1/4 cup)
5 g Light Brown Sugar (1 teaspoon tightly packed)
0.25 g Ground Cinnamon (pinch)

Whisk together all of the ingredients in a small bowl until the sugar is completely dissolved.

Liquid Cheesecake

227 g Cream Cheese (8 ounces)
150 g Sugar (3/4 cup)
15 g Cornstarch (1 tablespoon)
2 g Kosher Salt (1/2 teaspoon)
25 g Milk (2 tablespoons)
1 Egg

Heat oven to 300 degrees F. Put cream cheese into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle, and beat on medium speed for 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the sugar and mix for 1-2 minutes, until the sugar has been completely incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Whisk together the cornstarch and salt in a medium bowl. Whisk in the milk in a slow, steady stream, then whisk in the egg until the slurry is homogenous.

With the mixer on a medium low speed stream in the egg slurry. Paddle for 3 or 4 minutes, until the mixture is smooth and loose. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Line the sides and bottom of a 6” x 6” baking pan with parchment paper - I use a 8x4" loaf pan with good results. Pour the cheesecake batter into the pan and bake for 15 minutes. It is done when it is set on the edges but still jiggly in the center. If the edges aren't quite set, bake for 5 minute increments until it's done- no more than 25 minutes.

Cool completely to finish the baking process and allow the cheesecake to set. It will be creamy, and spreadable and can be stored in the fridge in an air-tight container for up to a week.

Pie Crumb 
makes about 350 g (2 3/4 cups)

240 g Flour (1 1/2 cups)
18 g Sugar (2 tablespoons)
3 g Kosher Salt (3/4 teaspoon)
115 g Butter, melted (8 tablespoons, 1 stick)
20 g Water (1 1/2 tablespoons)

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F

Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and paddle on low speed until well mixed.

Add the butter and water and paddle on low speed until the mixture starts to come together in small clusters.

Spread the clusters on a parchment – or Silpat-lined sheet pan. Bake for 25 minutes, breaking them up occasionally. The crumbs should be golden brown and still slightly moist to the touch at that point; they will dry and harden as they cool.

Let the crumbs cool completely. Stored in an airtight container, the crumbs will keep fresh for 1 week at room temperature or 1 month in the fridge or freezer.

Apple Pie Filling 
makes about 400 g (1 3/4 cups)

1 Lemon
300 g Granny Smith Apples (2 medium )
14 g Butter (1 tablespoon)
150 g Light Brown Sugar (2/3 cup tightly packed)
1 g Ground Cinnamon (1/2 teaspoon)
1 g Kosher Salt (1/4 teaspoon)

Fill a medium bowl halfway with cold tap water. Juice the lemon into it. Fish out and discard any seeds. You will use this lemon water to keep your apple pieces looking fresh and pert.

Peel the apples, then halve and quarter them. Put each apple quarter on its side and cut a small slice down the length of the apple to remove the seeds and core. Cut each apple quarter lengthwise into thirds and then crosswise into fourths, leaving you with 12 small pieces from every apple quarter. Transfer these pieces to the lemon water as you go.

When you’re ready to cook, drain the apples (discard the lemon water) and combine them in a medium pot with the remaining ingredients. Slowly bring to a boil over medium heat, using a spoon to gently stir the mixture as it heats up and the apples begin to release liquid. Reduce the heat and simmer the apples gently for 3 to 5 minutes. Be careful not to cook the apples so much that they turn into applesauce.

Transfer to a container and put in the fridge to cool down. Once completely cooled, the filling can be stored in the fridge in an airtight container for up to 1 week; do not freeze.

Pie Crumb Frosting
makes about 220 g (3/4 cup), or enough for 2 Apple Pie Layer Cakes

1/2 recipe Pie Crumb
110 g Milk (1/2 cup)
2 g Kosher Salt (1/2 teaspoon)
40 g Butter, at room temperature (3 tablespoons)
40 g Confectioners’ Sugar (1/4 cup)

Combine the pie crumbs, milk, and salt in a blender, turn the speed to medium-high, and puree until smooth and homogenous. It will take 1 to 3 minutes (depending on the awesomeness of your blender). If the mixture does not catch on your blender blade, turn off the blender, take a small teaspoon, and scrape down the sides of the canister, remembering to scraped under the blade, then try again.

Combine the butter and confectioners’ sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and cream together on medium-high for 2 to 3 minutes, until fluffy and pale yellow. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula.

On low speed, paddle in the contents of the blender. After 1 minute, crank the speed up to medium-high and let her rip for another 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. If the mixture is not a uniform, very pale, barely tan color, give the bowl another scrape and mix for one more minute.

Use the frosting immediately, or store it in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 week. Use any extra frosting as a dip for apple slices.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Caramel Apple Pie

Longtime readers of this blog will recall how last year the whole family worked together to perfect an apple pie recipe to enter into the biggest apple pie contest in the state. We braved the wind, rain, and freezing cold temperatures to be awarded 3rd place. After enduring the awful weather (it was really quite the ordeal), I was just happy we won anything at all! After tasting the pie (we had made two) back at home afterwards, Paul and I were very, very displeased with the flavor of the cinnamon we used. It tasted very strange...almost dusty. I had ran out of my good cinnamon during our baking experimentation and just used the cheap 99 cent bottle I had in the back of my cupboard. Big, big mistake. It really kind of ruined the pie for me. Paul was convinced that if we had used a decent cinnamon, we would have won the pie contest. Maybe we're just cinnamon snobs, but I don't think so because that cheap, stale cinnamon really was incredibly nasty. So, this year we were determined to tweak the recipe some more, use a decent batch of fresh cinnamon, and enter it again.

Well, things got busy and hectic and the skies were looking dark and stormy on the day of the festival so we decided against going. I had already made my pie dough and had it chilling in the fridge but agreed with Paul that I did not want to get all wet and muddy like we did the previous year. So, I let the dough continue chilling and we just did some chores around the house.

By the early afternoon, the skies cleared and the temperatures began to rise. Of course. The kids were very antsy, so we decided to pack everyone up and head down to the festival anyway. Without our pie.

Who can turn down free face painting? Matthew got a ninja turtle...

...and Emma got her favorite Paw Patrol character Skye!

We were all disappointed about not entering the pie contest this year, but we did have fun enjoying the beautiful fall weather and all the wonderful sights, sounds, and entertainment the festival had to offer. The highlight for the kids was stumbling upon a vendor that made cute old-fashioned wooden toys for the kids. For only a couple dollars, we purchased these wooden push toys that featured a hand-painted animal of choice mounted on rolling wheels with rubber feet that flap against the ground as it is propelled forward. At first, Paul was all prepared to purchase just one of these toys for Emma and Matthew to share but I intervened and reminded him about how well their sharing works out on a daily basis. So, Matthew chose an alligator and Emma chose a frog and the two of them pushed their toys all over the streets of the cute little Victorian town while we enjoyed the rest of the festival.

Poor Lucy wanted one of those toys too!

While we were all worried about Matthew and Emma not being able to share, we had completely forgotten about poor baby Lucy. I should probably preface this by saying that Lucy has been in full-blown "brat mode" for a month or so where everything in sight automatically and unabashedly hers. As soon as she saw those toys, her eyes lit up and she immediately wanted to be let down so she could have a turn. We let her down and she immediately ran over to Emma, who was happily walking along with her little frog, and grabbed the stick from her while barking: "MINE!" Lucy then took off with Emma's frog, running as she propelled the amphibian and its wildly flapping feet forward, with Emma running after her sobbing. When Emma caught up to her, Lucy promptly dropped Emma's toy and went after Matthew's alligator instead and another fight ensued. Lucy has been fighting with her two older siblings over these toys ever since. Maybe we should have purchased three of them. They really are the cutest little things. The kids have been walking with them everywhere. I think Emma is convinced that her wooden frog is an actual pet that she is in charge of "walking" on a daily basis. She likes to talk to it as she walks around the neighborhood and has named it "Eleeyah." She comes up with some weird names for her toys.

Even though we didn't enter the contest, I still made apple pie and changed a few things up to make what I think is one incredibly awesome pie. This is the recipe I would have entered this year and I'm pretty sure it would have won a blue ribbon. We'll see what happens next year. In the meantime, I couldn't wait an entire year to share it with y'all! It's amazing what a little caramel and a streusel topping can do to put a little "wow" factor in the already much-beloved classic apple pie.

Caramel Apple Pie

For the pie dough:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour or pastry flour (I prefer pastry flour for pie dough)
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup vegetable shortening
10 tablespoons very cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2" pieces
6-10 tablespoons ice water

For the Filling:
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
6 cups of peeled, cored, and sliced apples - A good, tart apple that won't break down completely
2 tablespoons caramel apple dip/sauce or homemade caramel sauce (I've used both with excellent results)

2 tablespoons cream

For the Topping:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup cold unsalted butter
A couple generous pinches of salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

To make the pie dough, whisk together the flour and salt in a large bowl. Add the shortening, working it in until the mixture is evenly crumbly. Be sure to work the shortening in really well. You don't want large clumps of it in your dough. Add the butter to the flour mixture, and work it in roughly with your fingers, a pastry cutter, or a mixer. Don't be too thorough! The mixture should be very uneven, with big chunks of butter in among the smaller ones.

Add 4 tablespoons of water, and toss to combine.Toss with enough additional water to make a chunky, fairly cohesive mixture. It should hold together when you gather it up and squeeze it in your hand. Divide the dough in half, and gather each half into a rough disk. Smooth the disks but don't be alarmed if you have a few cracks on the surface. Smooth the disks' edges by running them along a floured surface like a wheel then wrap in plastic and chill for at least 30 minutes, or up to overnight.

To make the filling, combine the sugar, flour, and cinnamon. Stir in the apples. Combine the caramel with the milk or cream and whisk well to combine. Toss with the apples.

To make the struesel topping, whisk together the flour, sugar, salt, and cinnamon. Using your fingers, rub in the butter until perfectly combined. The mixture should be crumbly. Put into the fridge until ready to bake.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Roll our one portion of dough into a 12-inch circle (save the second piece of dough for another pie!). Gently fit into a pie pan and trim/flute the edges. I like to stick my pie crust into the freezer for a couple minutes before baking to chill, but that's really completely optional.

Brush a little bit of melted butter on the bottom of the crust in the dough pan. This helps create a barrier between the filling and the dough so that you don't end up with a soggy crust after baking. Mound the apple filling into the pie crust. Be sure to use a spatula to ensure every juicy bits makes it in there! Then, carefully top with the crumb mixture. Press firmly a bit with your hands to ensure that it adheres well to the apple filling. Place on a baking sheet and slide into the oven.

Bake for 45-55 minutes or until the top is browned and the pie juices are bubbling.

Let cool completely - and I mean COMPLETELY - on a wire rack before serving. Drizzle individual pieces with leftover, warmed caramel sauce, if desired.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Old-Fashioned Apple Cake with Brown Sugar Frosting

Over the summer, the kids and I were privileged to attend two magic shows sponsored by our local library. The magicians were both really engaging with the children and featured a reading theme throughout their show. The tricks were simple but there were a few that I have no idea how they pulled off. The kids were enthralled for both shows. Even Lucy was enchanted by all the legerdemain she witnessed! For both shows, Matthew and Emma raised their hands enthusiastically when the magicians asked for volunteers and Matthew was called up for both shows. Emma was a little upset that she got ignored, but I have a feeling that at the tender age of three, she might just be a bit too young and behaviorally unpredictable to make a good magician's assistant. So, Matthew was the privileged chosen one and I have to say that he made an excellent asset to the show because nobody laughed more heartily at their corny jokes and was more amazed by their tricks than he.

The first time Matthew was called up to the stage, he jogged right up there and listened carefully as the magician began to explain the trick. Suddenly, I noticed that he began to look a bit uncomfortable as he began to stand with his knees slightly bent and his toes just beginning to turn inwards. "Uh oh," I thought. My sister Amy was sitting next to me at the time and we both exchanged a look of terrified concern. Matthew had to go to the bathroom.

The magician continued to delay the actual execution of his trick by making some jokes and teasing Matthew. He did a couple "trial runs" of the trick where the end result was not the expected one and then he would begin to blame the error in the trick on Matthew. Of course this was quite funny and Matthew was laughing so hard that he began to start clutching at the top of his pants and doubling over in a mixture of pain and hysterics. Amy and I were both on the verge of a panic attack. I began praying to ever saint in my arsenal: "Please please, oh please, do not let my kid pee his pants onstage!"

From behind me, I heard a guy whisper to his wife, "Oh man! That poor kid has to go!"

The jokes continued and the magician seemed completely unaware that his assistant was struggling to keep the dam from exploding. Matthew was dancing about, knocking his knees together, and looked to be in complete agony. I was so on edge that I debated going onstage and pulling Matthew off. But, soon enough, the magician finally got to the trick - basically, Matthew was holding a plastic ball and he had to cover it with both of his hands and when the magician said the magic words and Matthew opened his hands no less than 10 balls suddenly came cascading out of his hands and onto the floor.  It was actually pretty cool. The magician thanked a very pained and hobbling Matthew for his help, handed him a prize, and then shooed him off the stage. Matthew bolted from the stage and ran and ran and ran until he reached the restrooms in the back. It was close, but he made it. Probably the most tense ten minutes of my life so far. Amy actually ended up filming the entire thing on my cell phone so Paul got to watch it later and cringe along with us. It provided a great laugh for all of us.

Before the second magic show, I made sure that both kids used the bathroom. Matthew's second round as the magician's assistant was far less eventful. The magician put a blue-colored scarf into his magic hat and handed Matthew a magic wand, instructing him to wave it over the hat while saying the magic words: "Abracadabra! Turn this blue scarf into red!" However, instead of a blue scarf, the magician kept pulling slices of toast out of the hat. "Matthew! I told you to turn the blue scarf into red, not bread!" This repeated over and the scarf multiplied into an entire loaf of sandwich bread before finally turning the red shade as promised. Matthew laughed so hard, I was so afraid that we would have another incident but he pulled through just fine.

Matthew's greatest magic trick around the house lately has been helping me peel apples. Peeling anything is one of those kitchen tasks I loathe the most. And if you are going to be baking anything with a bunch of apples, there is a lot of coring, peeling, and slicing to be done. Lucky for me, Matthew actually enjoys peeling and enthusiastically volunteered for the job. However, after he badly peeled his forefinger instead of the apple he was holding, Paul ordered a fancy little tool to help Matthew chug out peel, cored, and sliced apples in a matter of seconds. Matthew was especially excited about the long, snake-like peel the machine left behind once finished with an apple and took it upon himself to eat it. A little extra fiber never hurt anyone!

Our new apple peeler/corer/slicer has been so helpful in the making of all our apple confections. Including this Old-Fashioned Apple Cake with Brown Sugar Icing. This cake is a breeze to whip up - with or without a fancy-dancy apple peeler. Unlike most cakes that involve multiple steps or careful folding of ingredients to produce the desired texture, everything is dumped into one bowl and beat together until combined. The apples and nuts are then added and the mixture begins to loosen as the apples release some of their juices. The dough is spread in a pan and baked until it turns a deep golden brown and makes your entire house smell like fall. The cake is allowed to cool completely before the best, most gorgeous brown sugar frosting is spread over the top. Oh my word, such a perfect cake for this time of year! We snacked on it all week long. Emma and Lucy were especially fond of it. Simple enough to whip up on a whim during a busy weeknight yet enticing enough to serve to dinner guests, this cake has something for everyone. Don't let the fall pass you by without making it!

Old-Fashioned Apple Cake with Brown Sugar Frosting
from King Arthur Flour

For the Cake:
2 1/3 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour or King Arthur White Whole Wheat Flour
1 2/3 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 large eggs
1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
4 cups peeled, cored, chopped apple (about 1 1/3 pounds whole apples)
1 cup diced toasted walnuts or pecans

For the Frosting:
7 tablespoons unsalted butter
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup milk
2 1/4 cups confectioners' sugar
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Grease and flour a 9" x 13" pan.

To make the cake, mix all of the ingredients except the apples and nuts in a large bowl. Beat until well combined; the mixture will be very stiff, and may even be crumbly. Add the apples and nuts, and mix until the apples release some of their juice and the stiff mixture becomes a thick batter. Beat for about a minute.

Spread the batter in the prepared pan. Bake the cake for 45 minutes, or until a cake tester or toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, or with just a few wet crumbs clinging to it.

Remove the cake from the oven and place it on a rack to cool completely before frosting.

To make the frosting, melt the butter in a small pan over medium heat. Stir in the brown sugar and salt and cook, stirring, until the sugar melts. Add the milk, bring to a boil, and pour into a mixing bowl to cool for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, stir in the confectioners' sugar and vanilla. Beat well to create a smooth, spreadable frosting. If the mixture appears too thin, add more confectioners' sugar. Spread on the cake while frosting is still warm.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Harvest Apple Challah

There was a time in college when I ate probably 10 apples a day. I would be studying my biology and chemistry into the wee hours of the morning and I needed to be chewing something to prevent myself from collapsing in an exhausted heap on top of my textbooks. Apple slices were my snack of choice because I could easily sneak several out of the dining hall each meal thus fulfilling both my need to stay awake and my lack of a snack fund. My apple snacking made me aware of how many great varieties of apples there are, outside the ubiquitous golden delicious, red delicious (total misnomer - they are not-so-delicious), and granny smith. There are so many great-tasting apple varieties out there: Paula Red, McIntosh, Mutsu, Ginger Gold, Pink Lady, Zestar, Honeycrisp, Fuji, Gala, Empire, Cortland, Braeburn, Jonagold, SweetTango, Jazz, and so many more. Of all of these, Honeycrisp and Pink Lady hold my heart for eating out of hand, but in my pies I prefer a combination of Mutsu, Ginger Gold, and Granny Smith. 

In addition to an obsession with ketchup and pickles, my kids have inherited my love of apple because they will never turn down the opportunity to snack on one. In fact, most of the time when they are hungry, the first thing they will ask for is an apple. No need to stock up on the usual kid-friendly snacks like crackers and pretzels, my kids will gladly eat a sliced apple over those things any day! I love it. Even Lucy is making good use of her newly descended canines by hacking into as many apples as she can. It's so cute to watch her munch on an apple almost the size of her entire face.

Her shirt kept riding up, exposing that chunky little belly button (or "BB" as she calls it)

There are so many apple trees surrounding us! Emma and I usually do a bit of neighborhood foraging and pick from the apple trees planted in public spaces nearby. Sometimes the apples can be a bit wormy, but we've made some pretty tasty treats from these apples. However, if you really want to hit the apple jackpot, just drive to one of the nearby farms and they practically are giving away as many apples as you can haul away. The kids love roaming through the orchards, seeing the apple trees, and competing with one another to pick the biggest apples. It's such a fun, fall activity to do together.

We have hit up the apple orchards three times so far this fall. Each time, the farmers have told the kids that they are free to snack on as many apples as they want while picking. I don't think they expected my kids to eat quite as many as they did. Matthew alone ate about seven apples while casually picking from the trees and filling our baskets. So far, the Ginger Golds in our area have been so incredibly crisp and juicy that I am already itching to go back for more. We had over fifty pounds of apples sitting on our counter on Friday evening and today we have less than ten pounds remaining. Where did they all go? I've got so many fun apple treats to share in the coming days starting with this Apple Challah.

Sweet egg bread with large apple chunks and hints of cinnamon swirled throughout, this bread is a great snack or breakfast treat! My kids love it but that really shouldn't be too surprising since we love our bread. While trying to snap photos of the finished product, my two little princesses would not stop eating my apple props!!

And one little tiny thief in particular had trouble keeping her tiny hands off the bread. Can you blame her though? It's gorgeous!

This recipe is another that I have pulled from the dusty archives of this blog to bring to your attention once more because it is a wonderful, unique way to use all those plump, beautiful apples available this time of year! If you're a challah snob like me, you'll enjoy this fall-themed twist. I prefer butter in my challah, a true sacrilege if there ever was one, but if you must make your challah kosher, simply substitute an equal amount of neutral-flavored oil for the melted butter called for in the recipe. A nice slice of this bread with a cup of hot cider on a cool, breezy fall afternoon is a wonderful thing to enjoy!

Harvest Apple Challah

from King Arthur Flour

For the Dough:
1/2 cup lukewarm water
6 tablespoons butter, melted
1/4 cup honey
2 large eggs
4 cups (17 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon instant yeast

For the Apple Filling:
2 medium-to-large apples, NOT peeled; cored and diced in ¾" chunks
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ cup granulated sugar

For the Egg Wash:
1 large egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water
Coarse white sugar, for sprinkling

To make the dough: Combine all of the dough ingredients and mix and knead them, by hand, mixer, or bread machine, until you have a soft, smooth dough.

Allow the dough to rise, covered, for 2 hours, or until it's puffy and nearly doubled in bulk. 

Lightly grease a 9" round cake pan that's at least 2" deep. Toss the apple chunks with the sugar and cinnamon. Gently deflate the dough, transfer it to a lightly greased work surface, and flatten it into a rough rectangle, about 8" x 10". Spread half the apple chunks in the center of the dough.

Fold a short edge of the dough over the apple to cover it, patting firmly to seal the apples and spread the dough a bit. Spread the remaining apple atop the folded-over dough. Cover the apples with the other side of the dough, again patting firmly. In other words, fold the dough like a business letter, encasing the apple chunks inside.

Take a bench knife or a knife, or even a pair of scissors, and cut the apple-filled dough into 16 pieces. Cut in half, then each half in halves, etc. Don't stress this part. It's a messy process where you'll have chunks of apples and dough falling out every which way and you'll begin to wonder what the point of all this is. I was right there with you, but persevere! 

Lay the dough chunks into the pan and do your best to get everything in a single layer. Tuck and wedge any loose apple chunks in between the dough pieces. Again, don't stress.

Cover the challah gently with lightly greased plastic wrap or a proof cover, and allow it to rise for about 1 hour, until it's a generous 2" high. It should just crest the rim of a 9" round cake pan. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 325°F.

Whisk together the egg and 1 tablespoon water. Brush the dough with the egg mixture, and sprinkle heavily with the coarse sugar, if desired.

Place the bread in the lower third of the oven. Bake it for 55 minutes, or until the top is at least light brown all over or until an instant-read thermometer registers at least 190 when stuck into the center of the bread.

Remove the challah from the oven and let cool 5-10 minutes before removing the bread from the pan and transferring to a wire rack to cool. However, if you can't wait to dig in, this bread is fantastic served warm. Especially with a drizzle of honey.

Friday, September 30, 2016

French-Style White Bean Stew

Every night when I strap Lucy into her high chair and place her meal in front of her, I have exactly five minutes before she will pick up her plate and shove it towards me while declaring: "All done!" Naturally, the rest of us are usually not finished quite so quickly and the little lady has to wait before we release her back into the wild. She finds this very displeasing and then will spend the remainder of dinner whining and demanding her freedom. It's horribly annoying and a very unsatisfactory dining experience after all the work effort that normally goes into cooking dinner.

Because of this awful habit, Lucy rarely cleans her plate. Unless we have pizza and then she is sure to polish off at least three slices (but will pick the pepperoni off). However, the girls is not opposed to trying new things. She is always wandering around the house putting random objects in her mouth. Normally I will be fussing about vacuuming or folding laundry and Lucy will wander in with her mouth wide open and her tongue sticking out while making an "Ahhhhh" sound. This means that she put something unpleasant in her mouth and now requires my help fishing it back out. Usually it's a piece of lint, a toy (!), or a bit of paper. When outside, I have to monitor her very closely because she loves to try eating all the plants she can find. I'm constantly slapping grass, pieces of the rosebush, or the hydrangeas out of her tight little fists. She won't ever touch a bit of the salad I put in front of her for dinner, but she's all about neighborhood foraging.

Lucy's random taste testing took an all time low this week while we were at the grocery store. I had written out a list of items we needed on a small piece of notebook paper and was reading off of it as we navigated throughout the store aisles. Lucy noticed my list and swiped it out of my hands. I was so distracted by my shopping that I just let her hold it. However, when it came time for me to glance at it again to ensure that I had bought everything, the list was nowhere to be found.

"Lucy, did you drop it?" I asked her as I began to visually search the floor of the aisle we had just walked down. Unable to find it, I glanced back at Lucy and noticed her mouth was full. Full of my list! She had jammed the entire piece of paper into her cheeks. I fished it out and found it almost completely dissolved and illegible. I scolded Lucy and she grinned sheepishly. When we got home from shopping, I tried to feed her a snack of Greek yogurt but she wouldn't have any of it. I guess that piece of notebook paper filled her right up!

The recipe for today is another meal that my kids wouldn't touch. But I didn't make this with their taste buds in mind. I made it for Paul. His favorite thing about the cooler months are the warm, cozy meals that are typically made during them. He loves soups, stews, chilis, casseroles, and basically anything that should be served with a side of crusty bread. This recipe for chicken cassoulet is right up his alley and it was the perfect comforting, easy, filling dinner to serve during a very stressful work week. Like I said, the kids, with the exception of Matthew, wouldn't touch it and just ate bread for dinner but the rest of us loved it. I'm a big fan of meals that can be made in one pot and this recipe fit that bill perfectly.

French-Style White Bean Stew
adapted slightly from Cook's Country Feb/March 2016

Note: The original recipe called for the stew to be served with homemade toasted croutons scatter atop each serving, but we chose to skip that and just made some garlic bread as a side.

1 tablespoons olive oil
2 (5-7 ounce) bone-in chicken thighs, trimmed
8 ounces garlic sausage or bratwurst
1 onion, chopped fine
1/2 cup canned diced tomatoes
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
1 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 (15 ounce) can of navy beans or cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley

Pat chicken dry with paper towels and season well with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in 10-inch heavy skillet or dutch oven over medium-high heat until just smoking. Add chicken, skin side down, and sausage and cook, rotating sausage occasionally but leaving chicken undisturbed, until well browned, about 5 minutes. Transfer to plate.

Add onion, tomatoes, and 14 teaspoon salt to now-empty pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and beginning to brown, about 5-7 minutes. Stir in garlic and thyme and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in broth and wine and scrape up any browned bits. Add beans and stir to combine.

Add chicken, skin side up, sausage, and any accumulated juices to bean mixture and ring to boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until chicken registers 175 degrees, about 10-15 minutes.

Remove lid, increase heat to medium-low, and continue to simmer until sauce is slightly thickened and liquid falls just below surface of beans, about 10 minutes longer. It's really loose when you first take it off the heat (as it is in my picture above) but will thicken upon standing. Sprinkle with parsley right before serving.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Apple Pie Bars

While sorting through my photo archive, I came across some fun pictures I had forgotten about from a visit to my parents' house a couple months ago. On this particular visit, Mom and I took my kids and a couple of my younger siblings to the zoo. We had a great time except for getting absolutely drenched by a sudden cloud burst. Highlights for the kids included petting a sting ray, watching the very active sea lions swim about, and chasing the peacocks. The Fort Wayne Children's Zoo is definitely one of the nicest zoos we have ever visited. Not too big, very clean, very beautiful, and with lots of well-cared for happy animals to enjoy!

No idea what was up with the punk faces in this photo. Matthew and Bruce just think they're so cool.

The highlight for me was making friends with this very weird little monkey.

Cooler temperatures means our days to walk the zoo are numbered before we become too encumbered by snow and frigid wind. The best part about Fall is the many varieties of local apples that are finally appearing in the supermarket and the roadside farm stands. The kids and I are going to the orchards to pick some apples later this week and Matthew has a long list of apple treats he wants to help me make and apple pie is at the top of his list. He wants me to enter the Apple Pie Contest again this year. We'll see if I have time for that!

This recipe for Apple Pie Bars is not new. I have been making these bars for over eight years now and they are still a family favorite. I posted this recipe in during the very early years of this blog and it instantly became the most popular recipe and held that spot for nearly a year. It has since been forgotten, but we love it so much and think it's such an insanely easy and wonderful treat to share with friends and family that I am pulling it out of the archives, jazzing it up with some new pictures, and bringing it to your attention once again. Since I have made these a gazillion times, we tend to like them with a bit more butterscotch chips than the original recipe calls for and the addition of one cup of coarsely chopped and toasted walnuts. The bars soften even more as they sit and really take on a gooey, apple pie texture about 24 hours after baking. That is how I like them best.

Matthew, Emma, and I made this most recent batch of Apple Pie Bars together. Lucy contributed some quality control in the form of taste-testing the butterscotch chips and diced apples. She also provided some mood music by baby-babbling her way through "Angels Watching Over Me", "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" and "Let It Go" at the top of her lungs. Matthew was extremely helpful by volunteering to peel the apples for me, a task I truly abhor. Twenty minutes later, Matthew had precisely peeled exactly one apple. So I ended up having to do some peeling anyway. While I was distracted doing that, Emma started eating teaspoonfuls of baking soda and drinking the vanilla extract. I then banished her from the kitchen and finished off the baking with Matthew alone. Thus is baking with kids. Or just Emma. Most kids beg to sample the chocolate chips; Emma sneaks the baking powder and raw flour.

When fall comes around, forget pumpkin pie or apple crisp. These cookies are the first thing we pull out of our oven!

Apple Pie Bars
this recipe first appeared on the blog in 2012

1 cup vegetable oil
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
3 large Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and finely diced
1 cup butterscotch chips (we like to heap it!)
1 cup lightly toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a 13x9 baking dish.

Using a stand mixer, beat the oil, sugar, and eggs until fully combined (about 2 minutes).  The mixture should be thick and pale yellow.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda, and spices.  Add to the sugar mixture in the mixer and beat until completely combined.  Using a sturdy spoon or spatula, fold in the apples, butterscotch chips, and walnuts.  The batter should be very thick.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan.  Bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes - 1 hour, or until a toothpick comes out with only a few, moist crumbs attached.  Be careful not to over-bake.  Let cool slightly on a wire rack.  Serve the bars warm or at room temperature.