For anyone that has a sweet tooth but is concerned with how much sugar they’re currently consuming, America’s Test Kitchen‘s new cookbook is here to solve that problem. Naturally Sweet is a collection of baked recipes that call for sweeteners that have been minimally processed. ATK includes sweeteners such as whole cane sugar (think of brands like Sucanat), coconut sugar, honey, and maple syrup. All this in response to fans of ATK who have been asking for reduced sugar recipes in an effort to gain greater control over their overall sugar consumption.
The bakers and writers of the recipes in Naturally Sweet explain in the introduction why they rely on particular natural sweeteners. And they explain why some sweeteners have been left out (industrial/artificial, inconsistent manufacturing processes, incompatible textures). The book includes an interesting diagram that explains the differences in processes that turn sugar into white sugar, cane juice into products like Sucanet, and coconut sap into coconut sugar. It takes approximately 15 steps to produce white sugar. Those steps include two separate chemical clarification and whitening processes. In comparison, coconut sugar is a four step process. Maple syrup and honey are essentially two step processes.
While these sweeteners may not be the cure-all for the diabetic looking to splurge on decadent sweets, it does give guidance to those who are trying to cut back on processed sweets while also adding nutrients (minerals) to an otherwise nutrient-light indulgence.
The apple cake recipe in the book is definitely a winner. As I was skimming through the book, the picture and recipe caught my attention. The flower-like top of the cake made with slices of apples was just too delicious looking not to attempt. The cake itself was made with dried apples that had been rehydrated with apple cider. I added candied ginger and a shot of bourbon to the dried apples which adds a little kick to the cake. I also substituted half of the all-purpose flour with wheat flour, just for some more added nutrition and texture.
When I mixed up the cake I realized that the batter was a little too thick. My first instinct was to add an extra egg, but I decided against it. I also may have baked the cake a little too long, or the dark colored cake pan that I used could have conducted too much heat. Whatever the problem, the finished cake was dry. It really needed the extra egg to give it more moisture. It also needed a little less baking time. I also added a bit more bourbon to the honey-butter mixture that gets brushed on the finished cake. There was also a problem with the salt in the original recipe. When added to the flour it just didn’t work. The salt didn’t have time to dissolve and make the cake flavorful. For that reason, I have adjusted the process of adding the salt by including it in the purée of dried apples.
While I think the ATK recipe is a great start, the few tweaks I’ve made to the recipe make it even better. I will definitely be making this cake again soon. Especially now that it’s apple season!
adapted from Naturally Sweet
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 apples (golden delicious, gala, pink lady, or baker’s choices), peeled, halved and sliced in to 1/8″ pieces
2 cups apple cider
1 cup dried apples, cut into small pieces
1/4 cup candied ginger
1 cup (5 ounces) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (2.5 ounces) whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons bourbon
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons honey
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease a 9-inch cake pan and line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper, cut to size.
Add 1 tablespoon of melted butter to a skillet over medium high heat. Add the apples and saute until translucent, about 3-5 minutes. Set the apples aside in a bowl.
Add the cider, dried apples, and candied ginger to the empty skillet and simmer over medium heat until most of the liquid becomes tacky and syrup-like, 10-15 minutes. Transfer to a food processor and allow to cool slightly.
Whisk the flours and baking soda together in a large bowl, set aside.
Add the salt, 1 tablespoon bourbon, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves to the rehydrated apples in the food processor. Process until smooth, about 30 seconds to 1 minute. Scrape down the sides and, with the processor running, add the eggs, one at a time. Continue processing and add 10 tablespoons of the melted butter. Add the processed apple mixture to the flour mixture and fold together until combined.
Add the cake batter to the prepared cake pan. Shingle the cooked apple slices around the cake in a decorative flower manner. Place the cake in the center of the oven and bake for about 30 minutes, rotating the cake half way through baking. The cake may still be a little undercooked in the center.
While the cake is baking, heat the remaining tablespoon of butter with the honey, remove from heat and add 1 tablespoon of bourbon.
Once the cake is removed from the oven. Turn up the oven temperature to broil. Brush the top of the cake with the honey-butter-bourbon concoction and place it under the broiler for 4-6 minutes until the apples start to brown and caramelize on the edges.
Let the cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the cake. Invert the cake on to a plate, then invert again onto a wire rack. Let cool for about 30 minutes before serving.
Best served warmed with ice cream, or whipped cream.