Friday, October 9, 2015

Our Favorite Apple Cake

The day started out with an entirely different plan.  We were to meet up with friends on the grounds of a lovely Baroque castle for one of our favorite fall festivals.  Beautifully carved pumpkins, amazing statues and scenes created out of stacking all sorts of gourds and squash, pumpkin-centered food and record breaking giant pumpkins all in an idyllic setting.  Sounds perfect, doesn't it?  Well it would have been if not for the German national holiday and the hordes of people trying to do the very same thing we were.  As we sat in traffic and drove in circles trying to find parking I could feel my husband's frustration level rising (and kid-friendly language beginning to fail him), so I turned to him and said, "Let's get out of here".

It was such a good call. 

We ended up doing not much of anything, really.  But had a great day doing it.  Pointing the car in a direction where no other people were going we ended up driving through (and stopping to meander in) no fewer than three towns each with its own castle or medieval wall.   And each was prettier than the previous one.  In between was some beautiful countryside with fall colors all around.  At the end, we settled on a beautiful town square to have dinner in.  The evening was warm so we ate our dinner of wild game and traditional German sides out on the square watching children play and night watchmen lead tours through town to the tune of church bells.  This is German living at its best, my friends.

But my favorite part of the day wasn't the castles or the dinner.  It was the 20 minutes that we spent stopped on the side of the road picking apples from some old, forgotten trees.  The boys and their dad having fun and daring each other to go higher and get bigger apples.  The oldest climbing up on his dad's shoulders balancing just enough to reach the really big ones.  His little brother finding apples on the ground that were still worthy of picking (and eating as many of them as he could).  Their baby sister just napped and played happily as I took it all in.  Because as the boys get older I know these simple and blissful afternoons will be fewer and farther between.  Sure, I'm thrilled to have the bowls full of apples to cook and bake with but it was the experience that was more fulfilling.  No TV or video games, no forced fun.  Just two boys and their dad, laughing, climbing and enjoying each others' company.  To me, that was the true beauty of the day.

Our Favorite Apple Cake
Makes one cake.  Adapted slightly from The Great Holiday Baking Book by Beatrice Ojakangas.
For the printable recipe, click here

I have been making this cake for years.  The original is from a book I was gifted one Christmas from a co-worker and I've made it every fall since.  It reminds my husband of a cake that his mother used to make as a child and I think it might just be his favorite cake ever.  We have always called it Jewish Apple Cake, though I really don't know why.  I suppose growing up in a very mixed religious area of South Jersey we simply always associated the cake with our Jewish friends and the fall holiday of Rosh Hashanah.  Though it needn't be limited to just one season.  This is one of those homey, year round cakes that just makes you feel good.

3 cups all purpose flour
3 tsp baking powder
1  1/2 cups granulated sugar, divided
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup neutral flavored oil
4 large eggs
3/4 cup fresh orange juice
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
6 medium apples (sweet, firm apples are best), peeled, cored and sliced thinly (about 4 cups finished)
1 tbs ground cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Butter a 9 or 10 inch tube pan (or 9x13 inch rectangular pan).

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, 1 cup of the granulated sugar and the brown sugar.  Stir to distribute the dry ingredients.  In a separate bowl mix together the oil, eggs, orange juice and vanilla.  Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl with the dry ingredients.  With an electric mixer or by hand beat the mixture until light and fluffy.

In another large bowl stir the apples together with the remaining 1/2 cup of granulated sugar and the cinnamon until the apples are well coated.  Place half of the apples at the bottom of the prepared pan.  Pour the batter over the apples and even it out with a spatula if necessary.  Arrange the rest of the apples over the top.

Bake for 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes or until a wooden skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.  The cake will be golden on top and the apples will be tender.  Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes.  Remove the cake from the pan onto a serving dish.  If using a tube pan, loosen the cake from the pan and invert it onto a plate.  The invert the cake again onto a serving platter.  Replace any apples that might have remained in the pan and let cool completely before serving.

The cake will keep for 3 days in an airtight container at room temperature.

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Only Chocolate Chip Cookie

I've been thinking about the meaning of the word "home" a lot lately.  For so many reasons, I suppose.  But there are two that really seem to standout in my mind.

A recent trip to Budapest, one of the most surprisingly beautiful cities I have visited in Europe, brought my family face to face with hundreds of refugees fleeing the war torn Middle East for a better life.  These people were walking from Budapest with the hopes of finding a safe and secure new home in Germany.  Families, young men, and small children carrying their lives on their backs and leaving they only home they have ever known.  You can watch the stories on the news and read about the crisis that is facing Europe right now, but to actually watch the people walking past you is something altogether different.  Clarifying.  And you wonder if these people will ever again feel at "home".  Surely refugee camps, abandoned warehouses and halfway houses can't be the image of the new life they are desperately trying to find.  But all of these places are light years from the hell that was their home.  So maybe, just maybe, there's a glimmer of hope there.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Italian Plum Jam

I seem to always have plums on my mind this time of year.  Last year I made a traditional German confection with them, Zwetschgenkuchen.  The year before I started off my blogging adventure in my new home with a simple jam made from the tiniest of plums, mirabelles.  It's so easy to fall into a plum state of mind with the markets literally crowded with crates of the purple, red and golden beauties.