America’s Apple Cake

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!

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Apple Cake
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.

Apple Oatmeal Muffins

It’s fall, the weather is cooling (somewhere) and we’re diving into the season’s familiar flavors. Lucky for us, that includes crisp, sweet tart apples. In a world where most produce is available year round, there’s still something about tasting something in season that is particularly satisfying. Apples, particularly ubiquitous and endlessly available, are best when freshly picked and right out of the orchard.

Our weekly produce deliveries now include an assortment of apples and we couldn’t be happier to include them in our rotation. They typically show up on our brunch plates, sautéed in butter and sweetened with maple before joining Jason’s crazy delicious multigrain pancakes. A recent batch of Granny Smith apples ended up in these tasty muffins where they add both sweetness and moisture. The addition of leftover cooked steel cut oats further helps keep the muffins from drying out. Both apple and cooked oats reduce the need for moisturizing fats. For those of us who pay attention to such things, the reduced fat and added fiber mean these become everyday muffins, perfect for breakfast with a little yogurt or as a snack whenever our hunger begs for a quick fix.

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Apple Oatmeal Muffins

1 large granny smith apple, grated
2 cups leftover oatmeal (preferably cooked with diced apple)
2 eggs
½ cup melted butter (minus one tablespoon for topping)
½ cup kefir
⅔ cup plus brown sugar
½ tsp salt
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1½ tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda

Topping
6 tbsp oats
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp melted butter

Preheat oven to 350F.

Spray muffin tins with non-stick cooking spray or line with muffin papers.

In a large bowl, whisk together the grated apple, leftover oatmeal, eggs, melted butter, kefir and brown sugar until smooth and there are no clumps of oatmeal. Add the salt and whisk a few more times.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, baking soda and cinnamon. Fold the flour mixture into the wet mixture until combined. Be careful not to over mix.

In a small bowl, mix together the rolled oats, brown sugar, and melted butter for the topping, set aside.

Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups. These will be big muffins so don’t worry if the muffin tins seem to be over filled. Sprinkle the muffins with rolled oat topping and place on the middle rack of the oven, bake for 22-26 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. If you’re worried about the muffin batter overflowing, place a sheet pan under the muffin tin.

Cool the muffins in the pan on a rack for a few minutes then remove from pan.