Saturday, September 13, 2008
Enter the Apple
The beginning of fall is so pleasant, when luscious berries and stone fruits give way to heartier options. Firm apples in shades of green, pink, and red, curvaceous pears with creamy flesh, and succulent, juicy figs take center stage. Apples are an American grocery store staple. Granny Smiths, Golden and Red Delicious can be found year round. In my mind, their immediate accessibility makes them the fruit equivalent to a desperate, single 33-year-old who will settle for any companion to avoid being alone with themselves. No one wants them, because they're always available.
When autumn hits, and a wide selection of varieties is available, nothing is better than a fresh apple. My favorite to eat out-of-hand is the Honeycrisp, an apple that was bred by crossing a Macoun and a Honeygold. It is refreshingly crisp to the bite, and the juicy flesh is a balance of sweetness and acidity. They're a treat on their own, but they don't hold up well to cooking.
The standbys for baking are supermarket residents; soft and sweet Golden Delicious, and crunchy, tart Granny Smith, but there are many lesser known varieties that are suitable for cooking. Jonagolds, Cameos, Empires, Cortlands, Galas, and Braeburns all hold up to heat without turning to mush. To add depth of flavor to baked goods, try using a combination of apples instead of one variety.
This cake is a variation on a German kuchen. An array of textures meet in your mouth, as crumbly struesel and crunchy hazelnuts mix with supple cake and soft, caramelized apples. It's perfect for breakfast or an afternoon snack, and would be wonderful dressed up with creme anglaise for a formal dessert.
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup (packed) brown sugar
1/2 cup chopped toasted hazelnuts, skins removed
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
4 cooking apples, peeled, halved, cored, cut into 1/8-inch-thick slices
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 3/4 cups cake flour
1/3 cup cornstarch
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup applesauce
2 cups powdered sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 large eggs plus 1 large egg yolk, room temperature
Mix first 4 ingredients in medium bowl. Add melted butter and stir with fork until moist clumps form. Chill.
Preheat oven to 325°F. Butter and flour 10-inch-diameter springform pan.
Combine apple slices, cinnamon, and cloves in a bowl. Toss to coat.
Sift flour, cornstarch, baking powder, and salt into another bowl.
Use an electric mixer to cream the butter, powdered sugar, applesauce, and vanilla extract. Mix until very smooth. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating until well blended after each addition; beat in egg yolk. Add flour mixture and beat just until incorporated. Spread batter in prepared pan.
Arrange apple slices in concentric circles on top of the batter. When the top is completely filled in, sprinkle a handful of struesel over it, and arrange a second layer of apple slices. Sprinkle the remaining struesel evenly over the apples.
Bake cake until streusel topping is crisp and tester inserted into center of cake comes out clean, about 1 hour 20 minutes. Cool cake in pan on rack 20 minutes before removing the sides. Serve warm or at room temperature.