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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.

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S’mores Cake & Cupcakes

This has been our summer of s’mores. It began in early June with a campfire and a family week in the mountains. On that trip, we even found ourselves manning a s’mores table at a race expo in West Yellowstone. We were up to our elbows in sticky melted marshmallows, Hershey’s chocolate and graham cracker crumbs. Still, we could have eaten more of them.

Before summer gets away from us, we’re spending some weekend time baking up this s’mores-inspired cake. The result is a tender graham cracker cake, a thick layer of rich chocolate ganache, and toasty “marshmallow fluff” frosting. Summer on a cake stand.

We’ve taken some liberties with this one. The chocolate is dark and the fluffy white frosting isn’t what it looks like. Instead of whipping up a traditional marshmallow cream, we’ve whipped up a bit of aquafaba (seriously cool stuff), sweetened it with sugar and lathered it on the cake. A kitchen blowtorch makes toasting a snap.

If you’re not familiar with aquafaba, welcome to one of 2016’s biggest food trends. Aquafaba is essentially the brainchild of some very clever French and American food geeks who figured out that the liquid in a can of garbanzo beans contained enough of certain bean proteins that it could be whipped like egg whites to create foam. As it turns out, aquafaba is more than just a passable substitute for egg whites. Aquafaba foam is more stable for longer periods of time and at a wider range of temperatures. It’s also much harder to over whip and break because it doesn’t dry out quickly. It can be flavored and colored to suit the use (think meringue, French macaroons), pavlovas, etc.). And, it’s also vegan. Although, that doesn’t seem to matter to us too much since we’re using butter, eggs, and cream in the cake and ganache recipes. However, we’re always game to try the latest food trends and incorporate them into our recipe repertoire.

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S’mores Cake
one 6-inch cake with a 6-pack of cupcakes

Graham Cracker Cake

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup graham cracker crumbs, finely ground
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
2/3 cup butter, room temperature
2/3 cup light brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
2/3 cup kefir
2 tsp vanilla

Dark Chocolate Ganache

Aquafaba Marshmallow Fluff

Preheat oven to 350F and grease and flour a 6″ cake round and line with parchment. Grease and flour, or use cupcake papers, for 6-7 muffin spaces. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk flour, graham cracker crumbs, baking powder, baking soda, and salt until well combined. Sift through a fine sieve and slowly push through most of the graham and flour until only small graham cracker crumbs are left. Add the crumbs to the flour mixture and set aside.

Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter until smooth.
Add sugars and beat on med-high until pale and fluffy (2-3mins).
Reduce speed and add eggs one at a time, fully incorporating after each addition. Add vanilla.

Alternate adding flour mixture and kefir, beginning and ending with flour (3 additions of flour and 2 of kefir). Fully incorporating after each addition. Do not over-mix.

Spread batter evenly into prepared pans. Smooth the top with a spatula and gently whack the pans against the counter to evenly distribute and release any air bubbles.
Bake the cupcakes for 12 minutes then rotate the pan and bake another 12 minutes or until the cupcakes bounce back from a light touch. For the 6-inch cake. Bake for approx. 40 mins or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out mostly clean.

Place cakes on wire rack to cool for 10 mins. Run a knife around the edge of the pan and cake to loosen. Gently remove the cakes from the pans, set on racks and allow to fully cool before continuing.

 

Dark Chocolate Ganache

5.25 ounces dark chocolate (1 1/2 bars TJ’s 3.5 ounce dark chocolate bars)
4 ounces heavy cream
2 tablespoon soften butter
pinch of salt

Chop the dark chocolate and place it in a heat proof bowl. In a small sauce pan over medium-low heat bring the heavy cream to just about a boil. Remove from heat and pour over the chocolate, add a pinch of salt, and let sit for a minute or two, then whisk the chocolate and cream together. Once all the chocolate is incorporated, add the butter.

Allow the ganache to cool at room temperature for a couple of hours or in the fridge for about 30 minutes before continuing.

Aquafaba Marshmallow Fluff
(adapted from Chocolate Covered Katie)

1 15-ounce can garbanzo beans
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 cup ultra fine (baker’s) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Drain the garbanzo beans into a bowl with a lid. Use the garbanzo beans for another use. Refrigerate the bean water over night. We think chilling it makes for a shorter whipping time.

In a stand mixer with the whisk attachment or using a handheld mixer, add the refrigerated bean water and cream of tartar to the mixing bowl and mix on medium-high speed. Once double in volume, add the ultra fine sugar and vanilla. Whisk until peaks reach desired stiffness. The bean water seems to hold up well to over-mixing.

Assembling the cakes:

Split the 6 inch layer cake in half and add 2/3 of the chocolate ganache to the split layer. Spread until to the border of the cake and top with the other split layered cake. Spread a thin crumb coat over the sides of the cake. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least 30 minutes, or up to a day or two. Freeze the cake at that point for up to a month before frosting.

Top the cake with a very big dollop of the fluff. Using an off set spatula, smooth over the top and sides using swishing with flourishes to the cake. This is an excellent beginner decorator frosting.

Cupcakes:

With the rest of the ganache, divide between 6 or 7 balls (depending on how many cupcakes are left). Gently and quickly roll the balls between hands. Freeze until ready to use.

With a melon baller, scope a small amount of cake out of the top center of the cupcake. Place the frozen ganache in the hole. Frost the cupcake in a variety of ways, with a pastry bag, using a big ice cream scoop, or just a spooned dollop on top. Toast the marshmallow using a home creme brûlée kit or a more toolbox-type blowtorch. A quick sit under the broiler may work also to get some color on the fluff, but it could also melt the chocolate. Who knows?