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Simple Boozy Apple Cake

It’s fall!  The leaves are turning and that means it is also apple season.  Little did we know when we moved here last year that we would be in the middle of apple country.  There are many apple orchards within a 15 minute drive of our house and if you expand that radius, the number of orchards just keeps multiplying.  We are not strangers to pick your own apples, having gone every year for almost 20 years now.  However, we’ve never been this spoilt for choice for apple orchards.  As a result, the boys and I are on an unofficial mission to visit as many apple farms as we can so we can better assess our favorite.

So far, we’ve gone to two.

Ok, that’s not exactly fulfilling the mission, but, unfortunately, we also have to get some work done around here sometimes.  Sigh.

Anyway, the benefit to going more frequently is that we do not feel the need to pick a whole season’s apples all in one go.  So, we have been picking one basket at a time.  This means that our apples are always fresh!  What a bonus!

There is nothing like eating a fresh picked apple.  They are crisp and juicy and scrumptious.  We easily ate through over half of our first basket before I even started thinking about baking anything.

And when I started baking, I naturally turned to cake first.

Now, apple cake and I have a rocky relationship.  I love the idea of apple cake, but often do not like the reality of apple cake.  It can often be very moist, almost soggy, and they have notoriously long bake times, which can make them hard to judge doneness.  They are also often really yummy warm and eaten the day they are baked, but as the days go by, they get soggier and wetter.

That soggy cake texture has never been appealing to me.  I wanted a cake that was moist, but able to hold up for a few days without becoming pasty.  And I also wanted a cake that would take a fair amount of apples.  After all, at this time of year, I am usually trying to use up as many apples as possible before they go bad on the counter.  I didn’t want to make a cake that would just use one apple.

After several tries, I think I finally have a cake recipe that accomplishes all those things.  And it has booze in it as well.

Plus, the recipe is pretty easy; no mixer necessary.  The hardest part is chopping up the apples.  And, I have included a little bit of whole wheat, so it’s also good for you!

It is especially good with salted caramel slathered on top of it.

What’s not to like?

Simple Boozy Apple Cake

makes one 9 inch square cake

You can use any kind of booze in this cake.  I tried both Smoked Maple Bourbon and a lighter apple Liquor that I had.  Both were good, though the apple Liquor one was a much lower proof, which made it almost imperceptible in the finished cake.  If you don’t want to use booze, you can also use the same amount of orange juice or apple juice/cider.  I also topped my cakes with a glaze of Smoked Maple Bourbon Caramel sauce.  Very yummy and I highly recommend this addition.  You can find the recipe here.  The caramel sauce can be made up to a week in advance and kept in the fridge.

4 medium sized apples, peeled, cored and diced, about 16-18 ounces after dicing

1/4 cup (2 ounces) bourbon, rum, hard cider, or apple liquor

1 Tablespoon (1/2 ounce) lemon juice

1 and 1/2 cups (7 1/2 ounces) all purpose flour

1/2 cup (2 1/2 ounces) whole wheat flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

a pinch of ground cloves

2 large eggs

1 cup (7 ounces) light brown sugar

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest (option, but very good)

1/2 cup (4 ounces) butter, melted and cooled

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Butter and flour a nine inch square cake pan or spray with a nonstick spray with flour added.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Combine the apples, booze, and lemon juice in a medium bowl.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices, and salt in a small bowl.

In a large bowl, whisk together the brown sugar, lemon zest, and butter until slightly lighter in color.  Whisk in the eggs until well combined and light.  This will take about a minute.

Switch to a rubber spatula and stir in the dry ingredients to the egg mixture.  It will be very dry. Do not try to get all the flour mixed in.  There should still be a few spots of flour when you stop (see photos above).

Add the apples and all the liquid in the bowl to the batter.  Stir with the spatula until the batter smoothes out.  Scrape into your prepared pan and level it with your spatula.

Transfer to the oven and bake for 35-40 minutes.  The cake will be golden brown and a toothpick or tester should come out clean.

Let cool in the pan for at least 20 minutes before glazing with caramel sauce and eating.  The cake will keep for up to three days at room temperature, covered.  It will get moister as the days pass, but should not get soggy.  Enjoy!

 

 

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Cake of the Week: Pear Almond Torte

This week’s cake came from an overabundance of pears.  It happens to us all from time to time. We go to the store.  We need some fruit, so we buy some.  Maybe more than we need because it is cheaper to buy the three pound bags of fruit than it is to pay the select your own price.  However,  life is busy and we bought other fruit at the store, too.  This  always results in a few pieces hanging around that we need to “do something with” before they go bad, but no one is willing to do the obvious and just eat them.  This must be how cobblers and crisps got their start.  Another alternative is to make this cake.

Bake of the week: Pear Almond Torte.  #beautifulfood #cakeeveryday #freshlybaked

This is a super easy cake.  If your butter is fairly soft (like mine was not because it is winter and room temperature butter is cold here), you can even mix this cake up without turning on your mixer.  I did not bother to peel the pears since I had bartletts and they are thin skinned.  If you have pears with thicker skin, I would recommend peeling.  Also, other fruits would be good here.  The original recipe called for purple prune plums, but cherries would be good as well as peaches.

Ours was gone so fast that I did not have a chance to get a photo of a single slice for you.  You’ll just have to make one for yourself to see it.

 

PEAR ALMOND TORTE

adapted from The Essential New York Times Cookbook

1 cup (5 ounces) all purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar plus 1 additional Tablespoon for topping

1 Tablespoons (4 ounces) unsalted butter, softened

2 large eggs

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

3-4 ripe pears, cored and sliced into 1/2 inch wedges

juice from 1/2 lemon

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

a handful of sliced almonds

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 inch springform pan.
  2. Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a small bowl.
  3. Cream the butter and 1 cup of sugar together in a large bowl until light and fluffy.
  4. Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and then add the eggs and almond extract.
  5. Spread the batter in the pan evenly.
  6. Arrange the pears on tope of the batter in concentric circles.  Push them into the batter a little.
  7. Sprinkle the lemon juice, cinnamon, and almonds over the top of the cake.
  8. Bake for 45-50 minutes or until golden brown and a cake tester comes out clean.
  9. Cool on a rack.  Then unmold and enjoy with tea or coffee.

 

Day 10: Easy Drawstring Bags

It hasn’t felt very much like Christmas this week with the warm weather we have been having and today is just rainy and dreary.  We have all been a little grumpy this week, despite the fact that we are in full Christmas prep mode.  Today, to help us find some Christmas spirit, we listened to the first half of Handel’s Messiah while we sewed.  That helped me along a little and I was able to get today’s quick gifty item done.

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I like bags.  I think they are useful for all kinds of things and I really feel that a person cannot have too many bags.  My favorite bags for knitting are made by my friend Michele at ThreeBagsFullStudio on etsy.  They are really well made, have a lot of great features, and are pretty as well.

In my bag collection, I also have a couple of simple drawstring bags that are especially useful for holding extra yarn for a bigger project.  They help keep the yarn from rolling around with my project pieces and getting all tangled up.  These easy drawstring bags are fun to make and very quick.  I think I was able to sew six of them up in an hour after I had the prototype made and the process ironed out.

First, cut the fabric.  I had a yard of mystery green fabric.  I thought it was quilting cotton when I bought it, but I think it really must be some kind of blend because when I tried to iron it, it wrinkled up on high, which is the temp I usually use for cotton.  Plus, it’s a little thin.  Anyway, all of that was just to say that most any type of fabric can be used here, though I would stay away from the really expensive stuff and just use plain cotton.

I cut the fabric into 11 by 21 inch pieces.  I also took a fat quarter that I had in my stash and cut it in half, so that I had two 9 inch by 21 inch pieces.  Exact size is not super important here, so I wouldn’t worry about an extra inch or two here and there.  As long as the corners are square and the sides straight, it will all work out.

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Fold the fabric in half so that it is now 11 inches by about 10.5 inches.  The fold will be the bottom of your bag and the opposite edge is the top.

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At the top, make a mark an inch down from the top edge on each side.

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Sew each side, beginning at the marked line and down to the bottom.  Repeat on the other side.

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Now, at the top opening, with the wrong sides still out, make a fold about  quarter of an inch along the edge that did not get sewn towards the wrong side of the bag. Do this on all for unsewn top edges.  If this sound a little confusing, look at the photos and all should be clear.

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To make this next step easier, you can iron that fold down, which will also force you to iron open the side seams a little.

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Now, this is the fiddliest part.  You have to sew those folded edges so that there will not be any raw edges at the drawstring openings of your bags.  I start on one side, then turn the fabric just past the one inch mark where the side seam starts, sew just a few stitches to get past the seam, turn again, and then finish sewing at the top edge.

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Here’s what it looks like when you are done.

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Now, fold down the top edge down about three quarters of an inch and sew a seam all around the top about a half inch from the fold.

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Go all the way around the top of the bag.  You will be sewing down those corner edges as well.

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When you are finished, turn the bag right side out.

To insert the drawstrings, tie one end of some cotton yarn to a safety pin.  Insert it through one side opening and move the yarn around the bag top until you come back to where you started.

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Cut the yarn about 3-4 inches long, with the bag undrawn and then tie your ends together.  Now do the same thing with another piece of yarn using the opening on the other side.  The bag should draw up at the top when you pull both pieces of string.

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For a festive look, I stenciled on some snowflake designs.

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The smaller bags from the fat quarter are just right for a skein of sock yarn.

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The larger green bags I made can fit two or maybe even three skeins of yarn.

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Of course, they can also be used for other things besides yarn.  They are a great reusable alternative to wrapping paper or could be used for packing on trips.  Basically, they have all sorts of uses!

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These can be made into all sorts of sizes if you want to customize them for certain things.  One of these will definitely make its way into the Christmas giveaway box.  Just leave a comment for a chance to win.  Tell me how you would use one of these bags and which size you would prefer!

Sugar and Spice

It’s that time of year again when I start looking through all my cookbooks and brainstorming with the boys for cookie ideas. I have been wanting to make some cookies for weeks now, but other things seemed to get in the way. You know what I am talking about. All this is to say that making cookies was not a big priority, even though I kept thinking about wanting to make them. So, when a friend contacted me looking for a cookie recipe for a baby shower, I was primed and ready to go. All I needed was a reason to get baking. In the space of two days I made three different batches of cookies.

On the third day, I had to make a trip to the store to restock the butter, sugar, and eggs. Then, I made another batch, which I suspected would be the winner, but I had to make sure.

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So, I made them again. You know, just to be sure they were just right and would work for my friend, who had some specific requests for this recipe, which are as follows:

First, they had to be a spice cookie because they are for a baby shower and the baby is a girl. She wanted to be able to write on the label something like, "Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice." Cute, right? But, she didn't want to bake the cookies serve or to give away. What she wanted was a mix that she could put into a mason jar and give out as favors. This presented some more limitations which leads to my next point.

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Second, they have to be easy to make. Not everyone likes to make cookies or has the equipment or energy to cream butter and sugar. To make a cookie mix that people will actually want to make, and not just leave sitting on a shelf until they decide to throw it away, the mix has to be basically a dump and stir recipe. This is actually not how most cookie recipes operate, so this part of the recipe took quite a bit of experimenting.

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Third, the cookie cannot require any extra ingredients that people are not going to want to buy. Most spice cookies I looked at called for molasses, which is not a pantry item for most people. Me, I try to always have at least four jars on hand at all times of the year because you never know when you will want to make a gingerbread cake. However, I recognize that not everyone is crazy like me and if I were not that way, I know that I would not want to buy a jar of molasses for a recipe that will only want two tablespoons. Then what in the world would I do with the rest of that jar? For this reason, I decided that the recipe must only call for butter and eggs to be added to the mix. Most people have butter and eggs on hand and don’t mind having leftovers of those ingredients hanging around. The secret here is the dark brown sugar, which has molasses in it. In a pinch, you can make it with the light stuff, but it won’t be as rich tasting.

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Lastly, the mix has to look good and fit in a pint sized jar. Quarts are a bit big for party favors, especially for this party, which I anticipate will be on the large size. This baby is a highly anticipated one.

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Many dozens of cookies later, I finally put together a cookie that met all these requirements and tasted good as well!  Of course, then my friend tells me that they aren't going to use the mixes anymore.  They are going to just bake a bunch and give them away in cute little bags. This is probably what I would have done as well because it turns out that these cookies are so easy, that it will not a be a chore to make a huge batch of these and give them away. Still, I am glad that I did it because it definitely got my cookie juices flowing.  It does make a good cookie mix recipe to give away for the holidays or to just keep on hand for a cookie emergency.  Plus, I get to share it with you!  Enjoy!

Sugar and Spice Cookies

To package this up in pint sized jars, cut the recipe in half and layer all the dry in gredients in a jar.  A wide mouth funnel really helps cut down on the mess if you are doing this.  The cookies are rolled in a spiced sugar mixture that I put in a little baggie at the top of the jar.  You can get these at just about any craft store.  Or, it can be omitted. Also, I cut a piece of parchment to include with the jar because, amazingly, there are still people who have not discovered the joys of parchment. Trust me, your giftee will thank you.

12 Tablespoons butter

2 eggs

1 1/2  (10 1/2 ounces) cups dark brown sugar

2 cups (10 ounces) all purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon

1 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

1 teaspoon kosher salt

For rolling:

2 Tablespoons granulated sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350.

Melt the butter in a large microwavable bowl.  Let cool until lukewarm.  Whisk the eggs into the butter.

Add all the dry ingredients to the bowl and mix with a stiff spoon or hand mixer until there are no lumps or dry spots in the dough.

Whisk the sugar rolling ingredients in a shallow bowl.

Scoop out heaping Tablespoons of dough (about walnut size or ping pong ball sized) and roll between your hands into a ball.  Then, roll the dough ball in the sugar and spice mixture until coated.

Place cookies about 2 inches apart on parchment lined baking sheets.

Bake 12-15 minutes.  The cookies should still be slightly puffy in the middle, but look mostly dry.

Cool on pans for at least five minutes and then transfer to racks to cool.

makes 22-30 cookies

Day 3: Candied Nuts

Today’s post was almost a flop and I was of two minds about sharing it with you. Part of me wanted to leave this recipe in the files under “tried it and it didn’t work,” but the other part of me had this nagging feeling that it was my fault, not the recipe’s fault and I should try again. Any other time of the year, I would totally try the recipe again immediately, but this is an extra busy time. I made the nuts the first time late Tuesday and didn’t have the heart to try to again right away. Yesterday, we were busy out of the house from mid morning until after 9pm and going into the kitchen when we got home was really the last thing I wanted to do. Fortunately, this morning had cleared up at the last minute and I decided to give this recipe another go. This time, I was successful.

Here is my first batch of Candied Peanuts.

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They don’t look too bad, right? They were are definitely edible, but so not what they were supposed to be, which is like this.

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Look familiar? Yes, there’s a candied nut booth at almost every fair I have ever been to and there are candied nut stands scattered all over most big cities in the world. The smell is intoxicating and has stopped me in my tracks sometimes while I am walking by. Now, that smell is right in my own home and it is wonderful!

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So what was the problem with the first one? I think it was my pan. I used a much smaller pan the first time, a 10 inch pan. Today, I used a 13 inch pan, which I think helped the water evaporate off much faster and did not concentrate the heat as much. I used the same level of heat and did not stir until the water started bubbling. Then, I stirred, but not too vigorously.

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Once the sugars crystallize, you are home free. Just a few minutes later, you will have a whole bunch of yummy candied, caramelized nutty goodness. I used to like those candied peanuts that have that reddish bumpy shell. These remind me of those only better and probably much better for you since it’s just sugar, nuts, and a little salt.

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They would make a great gift, but I am not sure we’ll be giving these away. I’ll let my family decide.

And what did I do with that first batch, you ask? Well, I’ll tell you. First, I ground them up.

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Now, we’re going to use it as an ice cream topping or maybe I will mix it into some chocolate bark (hint for a future post) or a topping for a cake. Even though it did not turn out the way I intended, it is still useful for something.

Don’t forget to leave a comment today for another chance to win the Christmas treats box! Every day is another opportunity.

Oh, and another thing, one of my gluten free friends reminded me yesterday that most candies are gluten free. In fact, all the things I have made so far are gf and I can definitely customize the box a bit to make it gf, so feel free to enter if that’s an issue for you and if you trust me:)