Saturday, October 30, 2010

Apple Caramel Cake! Guest Blog!

Hello my fellow Honest Chef followers! Our candid culinary genius has asked me, her "Honest Eater" to take a turn at the keypad and tell you all about a new, delicious Autumn treat which we discovered this year, and which looked so good, I had to strap on the apron and take the lead. The scrumptious invention I wish to share with you today, is the Caramel Apple Cake as presented in the Food Network Magazine last month. It's a bit complicated, and it has a few different things that need to be happening simultaneously, so recruit some friends to be your sous chefs; they'll thank you later ;) Also, make sure you're not trying to cook anything else for the couple of hours you're working on this. As an experienced eater, I can say that most kitchen mistakes I see come from the chef, honest or otherwise, overextending themselves in the kitchen and letting something slip through the cracks. Just a quick note: you will notice in the pictures that we used a tube pan, with a hole in the middle, but that caused us some problems with leaking caramel, so I recommend sticking with a standard cake pan for this recipe.

For the Caramel and Apples:

* 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for the pan
* 3 cups sugar
* 5 tablespoons light corn syrup
* 1 cup heavy cream
* 4 large Golden Delicious apples (1 3/4 to 2 pounds)

For the Batter:

* 3 cups all-purpose flour
* 2 teaspoons baking powder
* 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
* 1 teaspoon salt
* 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
* 1/2 cup sour cream
* 1/3 cup fresh orange juice
* 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
* 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
* 1 1/2 cups sugar
* 3 large eggs


Now here are some general caramel rules (from me) before the official directions:
-Trust the ingredients and the recipe. If it says medium-high heat, use medium-high heat, not high, not medium, right in the middle of those two.
-Dark Amber is the color of a thick, syrup. Don't be afraid to let it get there.
-That being said, caramel needs attention. It should be mixed regularly and checked on almost continuously. It doesn't take long to make, but it is easy to overcook it.
-When it's time to work with it (pour it, spread it, etc.) work quickly, because it hardens as it cools and will be impossible to work with if you let it sit too long.

Butter a 9-by-3-inch round cake pan.

Make the caramel: Cook the sugar and corn syrup in a large skillet over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is dark amber, 7 to 10 minutes.

Reduce the heat to medium. Carefully add the cream and 4 tablespoons butter (it will splatter) and cook, stirring, until combined, about 3 minutes.

Remove the skillet from the heat and let sit 1 minute. Pour 1 1/2 cups caramel into a glass measuring cup and set aside. Pour the remaining caramel into the prepared pan and set aside until set, about 30 minutes.

Some notes about the Apples:
-The recipe calls for Golden Delicious Apples which is what we used but which are not the most common. I believe that any excellent cooking apple will hold up in this recipe and taste just as good.
-If you're following along at home, you see the Caramel needs to sit for 30min. As you know, many apples brown if you leave them sitting out. Therefore, wait to cut the apples until the caramel only has about 10 more min to ensure their freshness.
-Do NOT peel the apples for this recipe.

Cut 3 apples into quarters and cut out the cores with a paring knife. Arrange the pieces skin-side down in the pan (overlapping them slightly) to form a ring about 1/2 inch from the edge. Save any pieces that do not fit for later.

Halve the remaining whole apple crosswise. Scoop out the seeds with a melon baller or measuring spoon, leaving the stem on the top half. Chop the bottom and any of the leftover quartered apples into pieces; set aside.

Arrange the apple top, stem-side down, in the center of the pan. If the quartered apples shift, just push them back into place.

Cake Batter
Notes about the Batter:
-Always remember that in baking, measurement is of the utmost importance. Please double check your teaspoons vs. tablespoons, etc. and don't get cute and do something silly like adding extra vanilla because "everyone loves Vanilla." It doesn't work like that.
-Trust the Butter and Sugar to fluff up. It took ours maybe a little longer than 5 min, but it got there eventually. It should look like a cloud.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Make the batter: Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon in a medium bowl.

In a small bowl, whisk the sour cream, orange juice and vanilla.

Using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.

Crack the eggs into a small bowl. Slip them into the mixer bowl, one at a time, and beat until the mixture is pale and creamy, about 5 more minutes. Scrape down the bowl and beater with a rubber spatula.

With the mixer on low speed, add half of the sour cream mixture, then half of the flour mixture. Repeat. Turn off the mixer and scrape down the bowl with a rubber spatula; finish combining the batter by hand.

Spread the batter over the apples in the pan. Top with the chopped apple. Bake on the middle oven rack until the cake is brown on top and springs back when pressed, 1 hour to 1 hour 20 minutes (don't worry if the top is dark). Cool in the pan on a rack.

Bring 1 inch of water to a simmer in a skillet wide enough to hold the cake pan. Carefully run a sharp knife around the inside of the pan several times, then rest the pan in the water to soften the caramel, about 8 minutes. Remove the pan from the water and dry.

Invert a plate on top of the cake, then flip over the cake and plate. Using pot holders or a towel, wriggle the pan off (see what it should look like below).

Soften the reserved 1 1/2 cups caramel in the microwave, about 2 minutes. Drizzle the cake with some of the caramel. Slice and serve with the rest.

At a certain point it all becomes very straight forward, but good golly, it is delicious. Just look at those gooey, dripping pictures. It has all the pleasure of the great fall delicacy added to a coffee cake like base. It's fun, it's good and it will not disappoint.

p.s. for more step by step photos, you can go to the Food Network website here, and follow along.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Mom's Apple Crisp

Nothing says fall is here like apples! This is the first of the "Apple Series" here on the Honest Chef. Today we will be discussing apple crisp.

I love apple crisp because it reminds me of home. During the fall and winter, my mom always made apple crisp for dessert. She says she always makes it because it is easy. And this time, she was actually right (more often than not her "easy" recipes take me three hours during which I curse a lot). And let me tell you, her apple crisp is so delicious. I have had other "crisps" and "crumbles" but what makes my Mom's recipe awesome is not only that it is super easy, but that it is very sweet. In fact, I think that I inherited my sweet tooth from my mom. For example, this weekend when I was home, she was scooping spoonfuls of sugar onto her Life Cereal! Life Cereal is not cornflakes, I mean, you can see the sugar crystals on the pieces! But she likes her sugar. So do I.

The other thing I like about this crisp is that the apples really meld together and become nice and soft. The top gets really crispy and then the contrast is just awesome.

So here's the recipe. You will be super amazed at how easy and how awesome this is.

Mom's Apple Crisp

7 apples (a variety; and mom says don't use McIntosh)
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup flour
1 stick butter (softened JUST A LITTLE BIT, so it's easier to crumble)

Preheat your oven to 375. Your first step is to core, peel, and slice the apples. I have a handy gadget for this, but you can do this by hand. I like to slice my apples pretty thin, so that each slice is about 1/4 inch thick and 1 inch long. I think this really lends the apples to becoming uniformly soft underneath the crust.

The second step is to put all of these into a 9x13 glass baking dish. You will see that the apples fill it up. This is good. When you're done, they will be shrunken to about half that size.

The third step is to get a big bowl, add your brown sugar, flour and stick of butter, and mix it all up until the butter is incorporated throughout (there should be small chunks of butter through the whole thing).

Pile this mixture on top of the apples, and put in oven for about 45 minutes. The crisp should be uniformly brown on the top (see below). You should also notice that the thickness of the crisp has shrunk to half its previous size.

And you're done! See, wasn't that simple? Four ingredients and three steps. Mom was not joking when she said it was easy. And I am not joking when I say it is the best apple crisp ever.

The tricks to remember are to make sure the butter is incorporated throughout the sugar and flour mixture, and to cut your apples thin. That's it! Enjoy.