Apple Dumplings

It's apple picking season! However, it seems we here in California may not have as many apples this year as we're used to (can you say drought???). Of course, we Californians aren't used to suffering, so we just truck them in from Washington state, which, really, is the best place to get them from anyway.

On Monday I started a juice cleanse as all this baking has made me less than svelte plus my skin has been looking a wee bit un-pretty. Besides, a good internal cleaning can't be bad, right?

Knowing I'd be consuming only fresh vegetable juices for an eternity 3 days, it seemed fitting to bake something wonderful this past Sunday night. What could I make out of ingredients we had on hand that wouldn't incur any leftovers that I may not be able to resist during aforementioned juice fast?

It just so happened we had some of those gorgeous Washington apples I mentioned and you know I always have butter, flour, sugar and cinnamon. After whipping up some pie crust dough (there's extra in the freezer for when you visit, Dad), I rolled it out, cut the apples in half, dusted them with a tablespoon of brown sugar, a sprinkling of cinnamon and a pat of butter and wrapped it all in these fabulous oversized ramekins I recently bought with my friend Barb at a neighborhood shop. Topped with vanilla ice cream, these were the easiest, homiest, most lovely desserts I've made in a while. Perhaps it was the fall equinox, or that autumn is my favorite season, but it felt like my little family was kicking this season off with a BANG! I mean, the house smelled of cinnamon. The brown sugar and melted butter pooled into a gorgeous caramel sauce. The homemade buttery pie crust was divine. It really doesn't get any better. This is why I bake. The scents, the feeling, the satisfaction, the smiles on my husband and daughter's faces. That's IT. My love story in a nutshell.

Now, if you were feeling less euphoric about fall, or simply didn't want to make the effort, buy yourself some pie crust dough (I like the Pillsbury sheets you find in the cold section near the cookie dough - or sometimes it's in the deli aisle) and wrap apples (or pears, peaches, any of the more solid fruits will work) and be done with it. Either way, I'll bet you experience the same joy we did with spoonful after spoonful of this very homemade-tasting dessert.

Let me know!

xox,

A.

P.S Pillsbury is just my preference in a pinch. This post was not sponsored in any way and please do NOT tell my mom that, on occasion, I use store-bought pie crust dough.


Apple Dumplings
Serves 4
2 Fuji, Honeycrisp or Granny Smith apples, peeled, halved and cored
4 T brown sugar, plus more for dusting
1 T butter, cut into four cubes plus more for dolloping (you'll see)
1 t cinnamon, divided into quarters
Pie crust for one double pie (recipe follows)

Simple All-Butter Pie Crust
Makes 2, 9" pie crusts or one double pie crust
1-1/4 C Flour
1 C whole wheat pastry flour (or use regular if you don't have it)
14 T cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
7 T ice water
1T apple cider or white vinegar
1T sugar
1/4 t salt
1/4 t baking powder

Process* the flour, sugar, salt and baking powder in 3-5 pulses, until thoroughly mixed. Add in the butter and pulse another 3-5 times. With your food processor running, quickly add in 5T water and the vinegar and stop the machine. If it looks dry, add in the rest of the water. If not, pull it out, divide it and freeze for 30 minutes.

*Note: you can do all of this by hand. Take your rings off and get dirty using the same steps above. Enjoy.
 
To make the dumplings: Preheat the oven to 375.

Cut your pie crust dough into quarters and roll it into 4 circles. They do not have to be perfect and they'll look more homemade if they're not. Set an apple half face up on each circle and drop 1T brown sugar, 1/4 T butter and 1/4 t cinnamon onto each. Wrap them up and place onto a baking sheet (or in a ramekin or other baking dish if you have the right size) and dust with a little more brown sugar and one more dollop of butter. You'll be glad you did. (See? This is why I need a juice cleanse.)
I crimped the edges here a wee bit. You can just spread the dough over top, too!
Bake at 375 for 40 minutes. Let cool about 15-20 minutes and add a big scoop of vanilla ice cream. Dig in!

Buttermilk Cake with Raspberry Buttercream

A month or so ago I noticed a very interesting trend in blogging: the buttermilk cake. What is buttermilk cake, I had to ask? If The Vanilla Bean Blog and Nothing But Delicious were creating these gorgeous white cakes with original frostings, surely I must join in on the fun!

The perfect opportunity came last week when my friends Tracey and Tracy, who are married to each other (they kept their last names to avoid confusion) and having a baby girl in November, came for an overnight visit. Perhaps it's that I love them so. Perhaps it's that they're having a girl. Perhaps it's that I'm just tickled pink that Tracy and I have been friends for 40 years (holy shit cow!), but I just had to make a pink cake. And because we don't do artificial coloring in our house, I had to make it pink naturally. So...butter, sugar and raspberries!

Buttermilk cake, it turns out, is a delicious vanilla cake that is the most versatile cake I've ever made. Using buttermilk gives the body a nice, silky crumb and the flavor a tiny, almost imperceptible kick. (Not dissimilar to a lighter pound cake.) It would go perfectly well with caramel frosting, All-American Chocolate, or strawberries and cream. As I've mentioned, in this case we went pink with raspberries and it was divine. Adding a thin layer of lemon curd and another thin layer of seedless raspberry jam to the filling and we had the perfect, very sweet, feminine cake. While this one is perfect for a tea party or afternoon celebration, it's really great anytime and so, so pretty. Try it!

xox,

A.



Buttermilk Cake
Adapted from Nothing But Delicious 
1 C butter, at room temp
1-3/4 C sugar
3 C cake flour
3 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
4 large eggs, at room temp
2 t vanilla (or vanilla bean paste or the seeds from one vanilla bean)
1 C buttermilk (I used lowfat with great results)

Oven to 350. Butter and flour 3 9" cake pans and set them aside. 

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt and then lightly whisk them together to blend. 

In your stand mixer (or a separate bowl), cream the butter on its own first until it's fluffy and lighter in color than when you started. Then, with the mixer running, slowly pour in the sugar and beat 3-5 minutes more, until the mixture is almost white and very pillowy.Add the eggs, one at a time, incorporating them fully and scraping the sides of your bowl after each addition. Add the vanilla and beat quickly. 

Alternating in 3 separate turns, add the flour and mix fully, then buttermilk and mix fully and so on.

Pour the batter into your pans, evenly distributing (as best you can) and bake for 18-25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let the cakes cool fully before frosting. 

Raspberry Buttercream Frosting
1 C frozen raspberries, thawed
1 C unsalted butter, at room temp
5 C powdered sugar
1/2 t sea or kosher salt

Strain the raspberries so that no pulp nor seeds remain. 

Beat the butter on medium high until it's light and pillowy. Add the sugar in 2 batches, mixing thoroughly. Add the salt and mix quickly. With the mixer on, slowly drizzle the raspberry juice/seedless pulp and mix thoroughly. The coloration will vary depending upon how much raspberry you use and how deep the flavor of the berries.

To finish: using about 3T store bought or homemade lemon curd and 3T seedless raspberry jam, spread very thin layers of each onto the bottom layer of your cake and cover with buttercream. The fillings will blend a bit unless you freeze the cake between layers of filling, but I think a little blending never hurt anyone. Repeat this process on your second layer and then top with the third layer of cake. Frost fully and serve.
If your guests were anything like mine, this is what plates will look like within about 5 minutes. Hehe. 

Apricot Almond Granola Bars

Now that we're all back to school, it seems like a good time to admit that my family doesn't so much eat as snack. Breakfast may consist of a little yogurt followed an hour later by some fruit. Mid-morning, there may be some crackers and cheese or half an apple slathered with a tablespoon of almond butter. The rest of the day is much the same until dinner, when we actually eat a meal. Perhaps we sit to eat dinner because that lovely meal (last night was hot dogs and baked beans. Oh, the glamour!) is followed by my favorite meal of the day: dessert! Yes, I consider dessert a meal. It's my hard-earned right after a day slaving away for these people and dog! Not that I'm justifying...

Okay, back to breakfast. My favorite morning snack is a cup of steaming hot English Breakfast tea with a bit of vanilla soymilk and a granola bar. I find that Lulu and Jeremy will pretty much eat what I'm eating (thank goodness!!!), so, I've been searching out the best granola bar recipes. Most of them are predictably sugary or fatty, but leave it to Smitten Kitchen to find an alternative. Now, I know I've been referencing this blog a lot lately, so, I promise this is my last recipe from the Smitten Kitchen cook book, for now anyway! I altered it quite a bit, so if you're a purist, you may want to buy her book.

I do plan to make this one over and over, because I like it that much but also to attempt to perfect it. While the recipe is delicious, the bars crumble easily and are a bit dry, which explains why so many others use more butter! Never fear, though, these are lovely with tea or popped into a lunch box and I will find the right balance of sweet, healthy, toasty and packable. In the meantime, make these and tell me in the comments if your family loves them as much as mine did.

xox,

A.

Apricot Almond Granola Bars
Makes 10 bars

1 C dried apricots, chopped
1-1/4 C oats
3 T flax seed meal
1/3 C wheat germ
1/2 C sliced toasted almonds
1/2 t sea salt
1/4 t cinnamon
1/4 C almond or other nut butter
1/4 C olive oil
1/4 C honey
1/4 t almond extract

Preheat the oven to 350. Line an 8"x8" pan with parchment (one long piece hanging over the sides is perfect).

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the almond butter, olive oil, honey and almond extract. In a separate medium bowl, stir together the dry ingredients until thoroughly blended. Pour the wet mixture over the dry and stir until well incorporated.

Spread the batter into your pan and bake for 20 minutes or until they're nicely browned. It's kind of good to overbake these.

Let them cool and remove them from the pan in one big block. Put the block into the freezer for 15 minutes and then cut in half and then across 5 times, making 10 bars.

Enjoy!

Red Velvet Cake

Classic Red Velvet Cake
Seven years ago this month I met the sweetest little 8 year-old cheerleader you ever did see. Michaela was a darling, shy, soft-spoken child who loved to cuddle up next to me, her then-auntie-to-be. This little darling turns 15 years old today. (Sigh.) She's now a fierce competitor on the volleyball court (indoor and beach!) who, at over 5'7", towers over most of us in the family and really never asks for so much as a hug anymore now that she's practically a grown up (I say in my best Eloise voice).

No matter how tall she is, she's still our family's little darling and when we all gathered last Sunday to celebrate her, naturally I made her favorite: Red Velvet Cake. The cake recipe is from Julie Richardson's trusty and gorgeous Vintage Cakes Cookbook but the frosting is a family recipe that I've shared on the blog before. The cake was a wee bit dense, but I blame myself for that. If you actually follow the steps rather than pouring all the wet ingredients into the bowl at once as I did, you will ensure yourself a lighter crumb. Let me just say, though, that the cake was truly yummy. Normally, I don't love that coating you get on your tongue that makes a velvet cake, but this one was mild and the cocoa flavor was bolder than I'm used to. I mean, anything chocolate pleases me!

My sweet little strong and confident Michaela seemed to like the cake a lot. The girl is a teenager, so, she wasn't effusive. But, she ate it all, as did everyone else so I'll take that as a good sign. The true test, though, is whether I liked it and not only did I, but I would absolutely, hands-down make this one again - maybe even following the directions next time!

Happy Birthday, lovely Michaela. You are a light to our whole family and I love you so. 

xox,

Auntie A.

red velvet cake for Michaelas birthday

Red Velvet Cake
Serves 12

2-1/2 C sifted cake flour
1/2 C lightly packed unsweetened cocoa (Ms. Richardson would insist upon the Dutch processed variety)
2 t baking powder
1 t fine sea salt
3/4 C oil
2 t vanilla
1 T red food coloring (I used a concentrated gel for maximum color)
3/4 C unsalted butter, at room temp
1-3/4 C sugar
4 large eggs, at room temp
2 large egg yolks, at room temp
1 C buttermilk, at room temp

One and one half recipes Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Frosting
Recipe here

First, prep 3 9" cake pans by buttering and cocoa-ing them. So, spread a little butter around, getting it into the grooves of the pan and then sprinkle about 1 t cocoa and tap the pan until it's coated. And then add a parchment paper pan liner (or cut parchment into a 9" circle and drop it in).

Preheat the oven to 350.

In a small bowl, sift together:
flour
cocoa
baking powder
salt
then whisk until well mixed.

In another small bowl, combine:
oil
vanilla
food coloring

Beat the butter & sugar together until they're light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes, scraping down the sides several times to make sure it all gets incorporated well.

Slowly drizzle the oil mixture into the butter & sugar, running your mixer at low speed until blended, and then beat on medium until fluffy. Add the eggs, then the yolks, one at a time, incorporating fully after each.

turn your mixer on low and alternate adding the cocoa mixture with the buttermilk in 3 separate additions each. So, add a little cocoa and fully mix. Add a little buttermilk and mix. Repeat and repeat. Do not overmix.

Divide the batter into the prepped pans and bake in the center of your calibrated oven for 18-25 minutes. If you're using only 2 pans, it will take more like 25-30 minutes, so, keep an eye on them.

Cool these cakes at least 30 minutes before removing them from their pans. I waited 2 hours, but I had that kind of time. If you don't, put them into the freezer for 15 minutes or so and use extra care removing them from their pans.

Make your frosting. 

Place one layer onto your cake plate and spread about 1/2 C frosting. Repeat with the next layer and then add the top layer. I highly recommend frosting with a crumb layer and placing the cake into the fridge about 30 minutes to firm up before frosting with the rest of the frosting and making it pretty.
Red Velvet Cake Slice Baking a Love Story
Let it set about 30 more minutes (or while you eat dinner), place your candles, sing Happy Birthday and EAT.
Top View Red Velvet Baking a Love Story
Don't expect leftovers. ;)