Apple kuchen

Apple kuchen

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Apple kuchen, or apple cake, is this lovely German family recipe from another blogger, That Skinny Chick Can Bake. I just love old family recipes. I love the idea of making things the same way they were made decades ago. This recipe was clearly developed before baking soda or baking powder became widespread, and so it uses yeast and rise time to make the dough fluffy. That means it takes a bit of time, but it’s well worth it. Also, there’s no kneading or rolling, so as far as yeast-dough goes, this isn’t the worst. And by isn’t the worst, I mean tastes the best.

We just a had a new neighbor move in across the hall from us, and since this recipe makes two cakes, I brought one over to him. I think he thought it was so sort of weird. If he only knew what his future holds for receiving even more unsolicited baked goods.

I started by combining some flour with yeast, melted butter, eggs, sugar, salt and heated  milk. This went into the bowl of my stand mixer. You can use any old bowl and any old mixer.

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After I had beat the first items together, I added more flour and beat again. [Read more...]

Apple strudel

Apple strudel

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When I was in seventh grade, I had this delightful science teacher: Mr. Chisholm. And Mr. Chisholm was a bit of a hard-ass, but I feel like being a hard-ass is the same as survival when  teaching middle-schoolers. Anyway he really liked science and science class was fun, but he was pretty strict. One thing I remember were quizzes at the beginning of every class with questions such as, what is a difference between an acid and a base?

Now, during my early schooling years, I was unsurprisingly a bit of a show off. I really liked pleasing my teachers. I think the technical term for this is brown-noser. So I probably would have answered that question with a long meandering paragraph that said that acids register as less than seven on the pH scale and bases register somewhere between seven and 14, and, also, acids don’t react to phenolphthalein, whereas bases turn pink when mixed with phenolphthalein.

According to Mr. Chisholm that answer would be wrong. He did not ask for the characteristics of acids and bases, and he did not ask that we contrast the two. He asked for a difference. The right answer would have been something like, pH levels. I think, for one, this made grading quizzes more straightforward, and also it forced us to read the directions carefully.

Last fall, when I picked out this recipe as one of the dishes part of the applepalooza, I was imagining a different dish. I was imaging apple streusel, which is not the same thing as strudel. What are the differences between apple strudel and apple streusel?

I don’t know how to answer this question in true Mr. Chisholm style. Um, everything, besides the apples. Their construction. Their texture. In fact, streusel, alone, isn’t even a baked good. It’s like a baked good accessory.

Strudel is a filled pastry made with layers of very thin dough. Streusel is a crumb topping that can go on backed goods — think, Starbucks blueberry muffins topping. Anyway I got all the way through making this and was very confused by the end because I was still expecting streusel. Finally, I talked to A.J.’s mom about it, and she was able to pinpoint my confusion — that I was confusing the two words. And then she told a lovely story about when she was young, and her mother would have a whole group of ladies over and they would all stand around a very large kitchen table and stretch out strudel dough into a very large (Wikipedia says 8 feet by 6 feet) sheet. Then they would brush the whole thing with butter and fold it over and over again until they got something roughly the size of a large burrito.

The earliest record of this recipe is from 1696 when it was hand written in a cookbook in the Vienna City Library. That recipe called for turnip strudel, which sounds … weird. For this apple burrito recipe, we used sheets of phyllo dough to replicate that same layering without the stretching of the dough. I’m pretty sure my kitchen is smaller than 8-by-6 anyway.

Some notes. It’s important to let your phyllo dough thaw properly — either overnight in the fridge or on the counter for one to two hours. Phyllo dough is a little difficult to work with, but not impossible. Also you’re doing so many layers that it’s OK if it tears. Once the phyllo dough packaging is open, it’s important to keep a damp towel over it, because if it dries out, it’s really going to be difficult to work with.

I started by soaking some golden raisins in bourbon. At this point, how could anything go wrong? [Read more...]

Applesauce breakfast roll

Applesauce breakfast roll

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Breakfast rolls are one of those wonderful versatile baked goods that can be made virtually any way you can think up. Want to roll up some jam? Totally cool. Want to make cinnamon buns? Yup, that’s been done. Last year, I even used mango iced tea mix, for a tropical twist.

This version is with applesauce on the inside and a sugar syrup on top. I made these one Sunday morning while the coffee was brewing. And anything that’s executed successfully before caffeine consumption is OK in my book.

I started by making the dough. I used a no-rise dough for these rolls, instead of the yeast-driven dough in the mango rolls or the chai tea rolls.

I started by mixing some flour, salt and baking powder with some shortening and milk. [Read more...]

A coffee cake for a (belated) National Coffee Cake Day

A coffee cake for a (belated) National Coffee Cake Day

Hey guys! I’m really excited to share a post written by my super creative, funny, fun cousin, Elisha. She recently celebrated National Coffee Cake Day, with none other than a coffee cake! The coffee cake is light and fluffy with delightful swirls of cinnamon-sugar and nuts!

(Also, have you filled out the readers’ survey, yet?!)

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Happy Belated National Coffee Cake Day!

Several years ago when my way cooler, younger cousin accepted my friend request on Facebook, I thought that I was cool by association.  Then recently she asked if I wanted to guest post on her blog!  Clearly, my coolness factor has gone up no matter what my teenage kids think.  However, what on earth would I blog about?  Then inspiration hit me at work on Friday.

I am the first person you see when you enter the office.  On my desk is a digital frame.  Each day I create slides to welcome clients to the office.  What started out as a joke between my CEO and I has become an office expectation:  I list the holidays that are celebrated each day.  More specifically, I focus on the lesser known holidays.  For example, April 7 was among other things: National No Housework Day (which I made a very dedicated effort to observe), National Beer Day and National Coffee Cake Day.

In addition to it being an office expectation, my family has enjoyed my observance of these lesser-known holidays, as well.  There was the night I made waffles for International Waffle Day, and the time I made a boatload of oatmeal cookies for National Oatmeal Cookie Day and forgot to take them with me to work.  (Don’t get me started on meals based on movie themes… I really hope that when my kids are old and have families of their own and get a good laugh when they remember these moments.)

Did you make Coffee Cake on Monday?  I made Coffee Cake really late Saturday night because I started my observance of National No Housework Day a day early and I knew there was no chance I was making a Coffee Cake after work on Monday.

According to Answers,  “Food historians generally agree the concept of coffee cake [eating sweet cakes with coffee] most likely originated in Northern/Central Europe sometime in the 17th century. Why this place and time? These countries were already known for their traditional for sweet yeast breads. When coffee was introduced to Europe these cakes were a natural accompaniment. German, Dutch, and Scandinavian immigrants brought their coffee cake recipes with them to America.”

For my version, I adapted Taste of Home’s recipe.

I would like to say that I followed the recipe exactly.  And if I said that, I would be lying.  For example, somewhere in my house is a 10-inch tube pan.  When we moved in (a year ago) I must have protected this pan and put in somewhere to keep it super safe during the 4.5-mile move.  So super safe, in fact, that I have no idea where it is.  I used a Bundt cake pan.  It worked.  Also there was a little issue with the sour cream.  And as much as I would like to share that I switched out the sour cream for nonfat Greek yogurt to make it healthier, I would again be lying.  I didn’t make it to Target to pick up sour cream until about 9 p.m., and they were completely out, and I didn’t want to make another stop on my way home.  (Maybe I shouldn’t grocery shop at Target…) Lastly I swapped the walnuts for pecans, for no other reason than I don’t like walnuts.

I started my creaming the butter and sugar together until the batter was light and fluffy.

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Then I added the eggs, one at a time, beating after each time and added the vanilla. [Read more...]

Apple fritters

Apple fritters

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When A.J. and I went apple picking last fall, and I revealed my plans to make 40 different apple dishes, A.J.’s single request was that I make apple fritters.

Nope, I said. I knew apple fritters required deep-frying, and I can’t express to you guys how much I hate deep-frying anything. Not particularly for health reasons. It’s just messy and hot oil is not your friend. But A.J. had a hard week last week, with his car breaking down and then having to rent a mini van for the week to get to and from work.

Perhaps it was six months worth of guilt for telling him no initially, or perhaps it was an urgent need to use up our apples, but I bit the bullet and made the fritters today. He was pleased. And to be honest, so was I. Having never had an apple fritter, they are delightful! Warm, fluffy pockets of apple goodness!

I started by mixing together some flour, sugar and baking powder in a large bowl. [Read more...]

Irish you were here: soda bread

Irish you were here: soda bread

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Soda bread is called such because it uses baking soda and buttermilk as a leavening agent instead of yeast.

So, in case you don’t know, leavening occurs (in any case) when heat heats the agent (yeast, baking soda, baking powder, eggs, beer, sourdough starter, etc.)  which causes carbon dioxide to form bubbles and then pop. That’s why you get little pockets in bread, those are all areas where a bubble popped and forced the dough/gluten to cook around the bubble.

Baking soda came into culinary fashion in the 1800s as a cheaper leavening agent, compared to, say, yeast. But, baking soda needs acid (or technically, phosphates) in order to force the chemical reaction that causes the carbon dioxide to form. So, you need something to introduce acid into the dough. This can be buttermilk, lemon juice, cocoa, cream of tartar, yogurt or vinegar. In the case of this bread, we used baking soda and buttermilk.

So in poor, rural Ireland in the 1840s, cheap bread (with just four ingredients — flour, baking soda, sour milk and salt) was welcomed, and soda bread used to be made every few days over an open fire. Now soda bread has evolved to include bits of dried fruit and nuts.

I wasn’t sure how soda bread would taste — I thought it might taste tin-y, as baking soda can sometimes be, but it’s a delicious quick bread. The crust is hard and chewy and the inside is dense and soft.

I made soda bread to serve with the Guinness beef stew. I thought the raisins might make it too sweet to go with stew, but the raisins really were just a nice little surprise in an otherwise hardy and savory bread.

I started by rinsing the raisins under hot water. [Read more...]

Apple pie bread

Apple pie bread

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Have I talked about brunch with my friends before? Stop me if I have. Or you know, since this is one-sided, scroll to the recipe part. But, when I was in college, my friend, Anna, made brunch for us practically every Sunday. And it was glorious. It was a cure-all for every hangover. And we were often hung over. And mostly it gave us a chance to work through the misery of waking up on Sunday and recap the weekend’s events together. Brunches and Anna’s waffles are some of my favorite memories of college.

So I’m trying to bring brunch back in snowy Natrona Heights. When we moved to Cheswick, I brought with us a bushel or peck or some odd measurement of apples that we had picked that fall. And suddenly they were taking up a lot of space in our smallish kitchen/pantry. So I used most of them up in one weekend, and then our kitchen was overflowing with baked goods. (See applepalooza, Swedish apple pie, applesauce gingerbread, healthy apple bran muffins, apple crisp, etc., etc.) So the best course of action, of course, was to host brunch and get rid of some it!

Thus, a tradition was born. We invited A.J.’s parents over for an apple-filled brunch, and then again for a slightly less apple-filled brunch. And now we try to have them over once a month or so, which is a nice way to start a week. Next time, I’m planning on making my mom’s Christmas breakfast buns. Anyway, I also made this apple pie bread as one of the brunch munchies, and I think it was A.J.’s mom’s favorite.

It has the sweet spices of apple pie in a dense loaf, with small chunks of softened apples sprinkled throughout it. The crust is sort of flakey and crumbly, not unlike a pie crust. The spice created this swirl pattern (purely by accident) throughout the inside the bread, which made the loaf look so pretty.

I started by beating cane sugar together with oil, butter and eggs. [Read more...]

Applesauce gingerbread

Applesauce gingerbread

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At what point is it no longer socially acceptable to have holiday decorations up? I have until the end of this month, right?! When we first moved into our new, closer-to-work apartment, I had a really hard time thinking of it as home. With the blank, white walls and altogether unfamiliarity that a new house brings, everything seemed so sterile and un-homey (that’s a technical term). But then we rearranged some furniture and put our holiday decorations up and for the first time I thought, “I love this house.” So I have to confess that I’m nervous about taking everything down and either feeling a)pressured to get stuff on the wall stat or b)like our house is a cluttered, large hotel room.

So the holidays remain celebrated in our home.

I have another confession as well. I’m still making holiday-esque recipes. I’m still using apple and ginger and sage and pumpkin in comfort foods (not all at the same time!). I’m still baking. With Thanksgiving occurring so late this year, I guess I just felt like we didn’t have enough time to properly celebrate. Also it’s still very much winter here so feeling warm and cozy in our home is my No. 1 priority. Sorry/Not sorry.

So if you have your life together, and all of your Christmas decorations are down and need a little feeling of cozy, I highly recommend this applesauce gingerbread. There’s a little applesauce in the gingerbread, but then the whole cake gets smothered in a delicious, tart cranberry applesauce, which seems to complement the dark, rich flavor of the gingerbread.

As far as from-scratch cakes go, this one was pretty darn easy and the texture was perfect (sometimes I think from-scratch cakes can come out kind of dry, but this one was not.) [Read more...]

Healthy apple bran muffins

Healthy apple bran muffins

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So there are two things happening in my life right now (other than the usual chaos I mean): One, I am trying to be healthier; Two, I am hosting a brunch on Sunday for A.J.’s parents.

I think those two things don’t necessarily go together, but I’m determined to make it work.

And even though I haven’t given much thought to the entire menu, I know I’m going to serve these muffins. They are made with whole-wheat flour instead of white flour, which means they are more filling, more hearty, a more healthy. They also have unsweetened applesauce, only egg whites and a mere teaspoon of white sugar.

At 93 calories and 23 carbs each, I wouldn’t say you should eat three of these muffins, but I think you could nibble on one without too much guilt.

To make these, I started by soaking some oats in skim milk for 20 minutes. Then those milk-laden oats went into a big mixing bowl along with apple sauce, egg whites, whole wheat flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and sugar. [Read more...]

Apple molasses muffins

Apple molasses muffins

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Molasses is one of those ingredients you need occasionally. Last year when I took the overly ambitious and completely insane project of making a gingerbread house by scratch to enter into a community contest in the professional division, I had to buy a ton of molasses. And after concluding that project, the unopened jars sat in the pantry. So when I came across these muffins I figured it would be a perfect reason to use up some of the molasses.

These muffins also were adapted from the Amish apple cookbook I mentioned earlier.

I started by combining some flour, sugar, baking powder, Vietnamese cinnamon and sea salt. I just used a fork to mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. I added one diced apple to the flour mixture and tossed to combine. [Read more...]