Sunday, October 4, 2009
A fennel seed-rosemary-garlic rub for last night's pork roast and the cake that is the subject of this post have confirmed for me that the return to fall cooking has officially begun. If the flavors of each weren't enough of a statement that it is so, surely the desire to roast and bake, plus make tomato chutney and jar it up for holiday gifts, all in the course of one rainy Saturday afternoon, must serve as verification. At this early stage of October, I'm even feeling as though I have a jump on holiday gift-making, which is either fabulous, or completely delusional, and if delusional, sometime around December 15, I'll begin to panic and engage in marathon baking sessions until the 24th.
A mere two weeks after the passage of summer, I am kept up at night thinking about my favorite holiday of all, Thanksgiving. I'd like to think I could get past Halloween before I start posting recipes for the big day, but I can't guarantee anything. Especially because I know that I'll be making this cake - perhaps two - to bring along to my brother-in-law's for the Turkey-in-a-Hole-in-the-Ground celebration. It serves dual purpose, breakfast and dessert, and with twenty or so people packed into his house for three days, we'll eat our fair share of both. But does it count as an official Thanksgiving recipe if I make it every weekend from now until the end of March with apples from those 6-pounds-for-$2.50 bags my neighbors sell on their front lawn (and that I'll surely be hoarding in the basement this winter)?
While cutting into the cake before it has cooled won't be a problem for me at Thanksgiving, as I am making the cake before we travel the three hours to Vermont, it is important to let it cool for at least 20 minutes before cutting into it. Particularly if a cleanly cut slice of cake is a priority, otherwise it will crumble. However, I have been known to sneak a crumbling slice of cake a mere 10 minutes into the cooling time on weak self-control days. It happens. Kind of like me posting what amounts to a Thanksgiving recipe during the first weekend in October.
3 medium apples (approximately 1 1/4 pound, I used Gala and Macoun), peeled, cored, and cut into 1/4-inch slices
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cups fresh ricotta
2 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup apple cider
1 cinnamon stick
1 tablespoon maple syrup
2/3 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
3 tablespoons maple syrup
Mix the sugar and cinnamon together to make cinnamon sugar. Place the apple slices in a large bowl, add the cinnamon sugar to the apples, and stir to evenly distribute the cinnamon sugar. Allow the apples to macerate for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Grease a 9-inch springform pan with butter (the remnants on the wrapper from the softened butter are good for this task).
In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter and sugar until it is creamed. Add the ricotta and vanilla extract and mix until well blended. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing until each is fully incorporated.
In a second bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt, stirring well. Add the flour mixture to the sugar mixture and mix until fully combined. Add the apple slices and any accumulated juices, and gently stir them (also known as "folding" them) into the batter.
Bake the cake on the middle rack until the cake is golden brown on top and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean, 55 minutes to 1 hour.
While the cake bakes, combine the apple cider, cinnamon stick, and maple syrup in a medium saucepan. Bring to a gentle simmer over medium heat, and cook until reduced by three-quarters (so that you have 1/4 cup of liquid remaining), 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool for at least 20 minutes. Once cooled, remove and discard the cinnamon stick.
Combine the apple cider reduction, 3 tablespoons of maple syrup, and sifted confectioners’ sugar in a small mixing bowl. Stir together until all of the confectioners’ sugar is absorbed into the liquid. Set aside.
Once the cake has cooled, remove the outer ring of the pan, using a knife to carefully free any cake that has adhered to the sides of the pan before pulling the outer ring away. Place the cake on a large plate or platter. Spoon the cider-maple glaze over the cake, starting in the middle and working out to the edges. Allow the glaze to seep into the cake for a minute or two, and then dig in. As the cake sits, it will continue to absorb the glaze, which, for me, makes it an ideal dessert or (somewhat decadent, but that's how we roll at Thanksgiving) breakfast option.
Now, if you prefer a topping more akin to frosting over a seeping-into-the-cake glaze, possibly because you simply cannot get enough sugar with your cake, which may sometimes happen to me, you could whip up a maple syrup glaze instead:
2/3 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
1/2 cup maple syrup (I used Grade A, though if you wanted a more intense maple flavor, you could use Grade B)
kosher salt to taste (I found that around 1/8th teaspoon worked well to balance the sweetness out)
Estimated cost for one cake, which provides you 8 to 12 slices (that's 8 hefty slices, 12 normal slices): $7.95, or 80-cents for each slice, using the slice-per-cake median of 10, and rounding up. I use my neighbors' not-so-perfect apples for this cake, and those cost around 40-cents per pound, but at the farmers market, you should be able to get yourself a pound for 99-cents. Or, if you're feeling fancy, $1.49, though 99-cents will do the trick, so we'll add $1.25 for our 3 apples here. The granulated sugar for the whole cake costs 19-cents. The cinnamon costs around 12-cents. The butter costs 70-cents, the eggs 52-cents. The ricotta will run us $2.25. The vanilla costs around 6-cents. the flour adds 36-cents to our tally, and the baking soda costs just less than 2-cents. The apple cider costs $3.99/8 cups, so the one cup costs us 50-cents. The cinnamon stick costs around 45-cents, and the total maple syrup runs us around $1.31. Lastly, the confectioners' sugar costs 23-cents. If you go the thick glaze route, the cost jumps a whopping 36-cents to $8.31.
Dinner tonight: Hey - even though I'm all gung-ho on Thanksgiving, roasting, and baking, there is still corn available at the farm stand, sirloin tips were on sale for $4.99/pound at Whole Foods, and I got me some green tomatoes leftover from yesterday's chutney-making extravaganza. Grilled Sirloin Tips, Steamed Corn, and Fried Green Tomatoes. Estimated cost for two: $9.88. Not bad for the Sunday Splurge meal. Which, of course, if you were feeding four it does cost more than $15, and that's how I define a splurge these days. But, come on - there's grilling and early fall corn and tomatoes. It's worth it. The corn costs 55-cents per ear. There is no question that JR will insist on cooking up 4 ears, and if they're as good as they were last weekend, we will eat them all. Into the tally goes $2.20 for those. We'll have butter, too - and it's hard to know exactly how much, but to be safe, we'll call it a half a stick, so that adds 35-cents (Whole Foods 365 Everyday Value store brand is what we're using). The sirloin tips cost $5.78. Green tomatoes cost $1.00 per pound at my favorite farm stand. I will only use one, and the chosen tomato weighs around 1/2 pound, so that's 50-cents. Egg, flour, and breadcrumbs for the frying cost 26-cents, 6-cents, and 25-cents each, and the oil for frying will be in the 48-cent range.