Wednesday, November 16, 2011

"I Do" Love Chocolate Apple Cake!

Holidays often revolve around traditions and traditions often revolve around food.  We always went to Aunt Chrissy's house for Christmas while I was growing up.  Lots of family and lots of food.  That's all the tradition I really need.  (Although I do really like family traditions.)

Phone calls ahead of time assured that Dottie's applesauce meatballs and Chrissy's chocolate apple cake would be waiting for me.  So when I got engaged and we set our wedding date for December 27, and when it came time to pick out our wedding cake, I knew exactly what I wanted - chocolate apple cake!

Since this was a bundt cake recipe, and since I wanted a tiered wedding cake, I was a little nervous about how this would be accomplished.  Armed with my recipe, I visited my wedding cake vendor of choice and was delighted to discover she would be happy to adapt the recipe to a tiered wedding cake.  I was even happier to discover that the cost would be less than one of her own cakes because this recipe uses oil rather than butter and she felt that was a cost savings she wanted to pass on.  Oh happy day - how often does something like that happen?!

My sister gave me the little kissing angels on top of the cake.
I still have them and put them out every Christmas.

Without further ado, cuz I know all you want are the photos and the recipe, here you go.

Chocolate Apple Cake...suitable for Christmas, weddings, or just anytime you need a really yummy cake!

Cream together:
3 eggs
2 cups sugar
1 cup oil
1/2 cup water
1 Tablespoon vanilla or 1/2 teaspoon orange extract + 1/2 teaspoon vanilla

In a separate bowl, sift:
1/2 teaspoon salt
2-1/2 cups flour
2 Tablespoons cocoa (unsweetened, powdered)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon allspice

(I'm lazy.  I don't always sift when I should.  I often do not sift this when I make it.  Although I did sift it this time.)

Mix the sifted (or not) ingredients into the creamed mixture.  Then stir in:

1 cup copped English walnuts
1/2 cup chocolate chips (sometimes I use a little more!)
2 medium size cored Pippin apples (with peels on), diced

(I leave the nuts out because we don't like nuts in cake here at our house.  And if you can't find Pippins, just use any cooking type of apple.  I used Braeburns this time.  I dice them small, but not too tiny.  But I honestly don't think it matters.  It just depends on if you like big chunks of apple in your cake or teeny ones.)

Mix thoroughly.  Pour into a greased tube pan (springform pan with a hole in the middle).  Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or 1 hour or until done.  Sometimes this takes a really long time to bake.  Maybe it depends on the moisture content of the apples.  But I've noticed over the years that the cooking time really varies.  Also, you can make it in any type of pan.  I usually make it in a regular cake pan.  You'll just need to adjust the baking time.

Frost with your favorite cream cheese frosting.

My Favorite Cream Cheese Frosting

Cream together:
4 oz  cream cheese
3 Tablespoons softened butter

1-1/2 cups powdered sugar (maybe a little more or a little less, in order to get the consistency you like)

Beat until creamy.  Then stir in 1 teaspoon of orange extract and some grated orange rind.  Or, if you're using a fresh orange, you can just add in fresh squeezed orange juice.

What, you were expecting an actual cake?  Well, I was planning on an actual cake.  But when I went to get the bundt pan out of the baking cupboard, I saw the cupcake tins.  It was easier to get to them!

And I've never made these as cupcakes before, so I wanted to give it a try.

And it also occurred to me I could eat one, have a few to share with my Tuesday-night-at-The-Clyde co-workers, and freeze the rest for a holiday meal, thereby having a holiday dessert already done and the added bonus of removing all temptation for me to eat an entire chocolate apple cake for breakfast some morning this week.

I baked the cupcakes for about 40 minutes, which I think was about 10 minutes too long.  The Aga is very forgiving.  But these were just a tad dry and I would bake them less next time.  Also, they didn't come out of the tins very neatly, as you can see, so I would try cupcake liners next time.

Come join the fun at the My Baking Addiction and GoodLife Eats Holiday Recipe Swap sponsored by Chicago Metallic.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Nancy Pearl and The Book List

Another entertaining afternoon listening to the always delightful Nancy Pearl review some of her favorite books of the past year.  As always, I race home to be the first to put some of them on hold at the library.  I put 6 on hold, bringing my total holds up to 19.  Fingers crossed they don't all come in at the same time.

And great news - one of Nancy's recommended books I've already checked out.  Never mind that it's overdue.  Our fabulous library system never charges a fine and they don't even put a block on my account until it's more than one week past due.  By my calculations, I'll have 8 more days to read The Tragedy of Arthur before I'm forced to return it and other overdue books. Yay!

If you missed today's event, here's Nancy's list for 2011.

On Canaan's Side by Sebastian Barry

In Zanesville by Jo Ann Beard

The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal

Erasure by Percival Everett

Next to Love by Elen Feldman

A World on Fire by Amanda Foreman

The Memory of Love by Amanita Forna

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

Blind Sight by Med Howrey

The Arrogant Years: One Girl's Search for Her Lost Youth, from Cairo to Brooklyn by Lucette Lagnado

The Apothecary by Maile Meloy (young adult novel)

The Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard

To Be Sung Underwater by Tom McNeal

The Tragedy of Arthur by Arthur Phillips

Summer of the Bear by Bella Pollen

A Pet for Petunia by Paul Schmid (children's picture book)

There But For The by Ali Smith

By George by Wesley Stace

Vaclav & Lena by Haley Tanner

In the course of her talk, and during the question-and-answer period afterwards, the following were also suggested as being worthy.

The Brothers K by David James Duncan

Must You Go by Antonia Fraser

As Always, Julia: The Letters of Julia Child and Avis DeVoto by Joan Reardon

Tempest Tost by Robertson Davies

Stone Arabia by Dana Spiotta

Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend by Susan Orlean

The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean

The True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey

Cloudstreet by Tim Winton

Dirt Music by Tim Winton

Divergent by Veronica Roth (young adult novel)

Legend by Marie Lu (young adult novel)

And a personal recommendation Nancy gave me in the lady's room...

Witches on the Road Tonight by Sheri Holman

It always pays to go to the bathroom.

Off to read I go.  Maybe I'll have pizza for dinner and read my book at the table.

So glad I had parents who let me read at the dinner table.  Fond memories...

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A Near Kitchen Disaster = Pumpkin Bars with Orange Glaze

It all started when I read a post on the BGE forum about roasting pumpkins.  Then I read about Pumpkin Bars with Orange Glaze over on the Boulder Locavore site and decided I needed to make them.  So I got a couple pie pumpkins, cut them in half, sprinkled cinnamon on the cut sides, put them cut side down in a roasting pan, and slid them into a 450 degree oven.  And promptly forgot all about them.  Some two and a half hours later, I remembered and found this waiting for me:

Aaaack!  What a mess.  Don't cha just hate it when that happens?  I couldn't even get a spatula under it to scrape it into the garbage.  So I sat the pan on the counter to cool off and went on my merry way.

Some time later, passing through the  kitchen, I decided to just take a taste of the insides to see what they tasted like.  Lo and behold, I had some seriously sweet pumpkin goop going on!  This wasn't going in the garbage can after all!  Don't cha just love it when that happens? 

So I proceeded to take the skin off--it just lifts right up--fun!--and scraped whatever wasn't completely charred into the Cuisinart to puree it into creamy pumpkiny goodness.
Into the fridge it went until it was time to make my pumpkin bars.  

In the meantime, I had found the same recipe on several other sites.  They all appeared to be pretty much the same and all had one serious flaw:  The recipe didn't make nearly enough!  One small 9x9 pan of pumpkin bars with orange glaze just wasn't going to cut it.  So I doubled the recipe.  I also added salt.  My mom always says that if you don't put in salt, your cookies, cakes, or pumpkin bars will taste 'flat.'  I don't know what the heck that means, but I sure wasn't about to have my pumpkin bars taste 'flat,' so I added salt.  Cautiously. A very small amount.  I also doubled the amount of pumpkin.  I'd like to say I did this because I'm a culinary genius and I knew that adding extra pumpkin would make my recipe superior.  But I cannot tell a lie.  The truth is that I made a mistake.  Aaaack!   Dont cha just hate it when that happens?  But you know what?!  The pumpkin bars turned out great.  And, in fact, I didn't even realize I had doubled the pumpkin until I was typing this up.  And did I mention the pumpkin bars turned out great?  Serendipitily great.  Dont cha just love it when that happens?

Pumpkin Bars with Orange Glaze

1 cup butter, softened
2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
2 eggs
2 cups (or less) roasted-just-right pumpkin puree
3 cups flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon mace
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup raisins
1 cup pecans

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Cream the butter; then add in the brown sugar and beat well.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each.  Add in the pumpkin, mixing well.

Measure out your flour, spices, baking soda, and salt and stir together.  Slowly add the dry stuff into the pumpkin mixture, beating until well combined.  Stir in the raisins and pecans.

Grease a very large Pyrex type casserole dish.  Mine is about 16 x 9 or 10 I think.  It's really big.  It's the biggest I've seen.  Scoop the batter into the pan and smooth it out to get it as even as possible.  

Bake for 45 minutes or until lightly browned and a toothpick comes out clean.

Just before the bars are due to come out of the oven, prepare the Orange Glaze by whisking together:

2 cups powdered sugar
5 tablespoons orange juice

When the bars are done, drizzle the glaze over them immediately while they're still warm.  It helps to use a silicon pastry brush to distribute the glaze evenly.  A lot of it runs to the edges of the pan, but I just swept it back toward the center until it all looked even.

Allow the bars to cool.  Very important to let them cool completely because like brownies, they're hard to cut if you decide you can't wait.  Using the edge of a spatula gets a cleaner cut than using a knife.  This is especially true if you can't wait til they're cooled off.  (This trick works with brownies too.)  This recipe made 36 very decent-sized bars.  If  you cut them smaller, you'll get quite a few more.

These are super yummy and are perfect for fall and holiday baking.  Everyone I shared these with loved them.  They stayed moist for several days, even when cut.