immersive apple experience: apple-turducken...

[full disclosure: i wrote this roughly two three weeks ago... then we had a week-long plumbing emergency that left me swallowing painkillers in rapid succession to keep my head from exploding. trust me when i say that there are few things in life as joyous as a migraine that lasts multiple days. good times. said crisis was eventually rectified, and i have (almost) finished recovering from the stress of the thing, so this seems like the perfect time to wrap up my talk about our seasonal obsession with apples. oh, and further full disclosure: the lighting in my kitchen is extra-sucky once we run out of daylight, which happens shortly after four in the afternoon at this time of year. if anyone ever suggests that you move to Canada... start running away!]

in our last episode, i turned most of the assortment of apples into a tasty crumble, but the best bit was still to come. what could possibly be tastier than a toasty apple crumble, you ask? apple crumble cake, i respond.

everything is better with cake.

this dessert is the best of both worlds, and it offers a fantastic voyage of appley (appleish?) goodness for all. as the name implies, it is the fusion of a cake (which everybody loves) and a crumble (which is basically a crustless pie... which everybody also loves). basically, this is the apple-turducken the world has been waiting for.

as the name also implies, the setup for this one involved a few more steps than when i made the crumble (see previous post). i reserved half an apple from each variety (plus half a pear) for this one...

and i am using this recipe (with a few tweaks, see below) as my starting point.

the fruit was cut into slightly-smaller pieces this time around, and the remaining ingredients were assembled. [random aside: this is—just possibly—the part of cooking/baking i like best. it is meditative to chop, measure, and arrange all of the necessary bits in preparation for making something wonderful. my brand of OCD delights in this part of things.]

there are multiple parts to this recipe, so i sorted the ingredients accordingly.

  1. yogurt (because i had no sour cream on hand)
  2. dry ingredients for cake base 
  3. fruit with sugar, ginger, lemon juice, and cornstarch
  4. butter, sugar, and ginger for cake base
  5. dry ingredients for crumble topping

i made the following tweaks:
  • added salt to #2 & #5, and a pinch to the fruit in #3
  • added a bit of cornstarch to fruit in #3
  • added grated fresh ginger and lemon zest to #3 & #4
  • added (dry) ground ginger & freshly-grated nutmeg to #2 &#5
  • added chopped walnuts to #2 & #5
  • sprinkled a handful of dried cranberries over the fruit topping during cake assembly
  • used less sugar in each component, because we prefer desserty things slightly-less sweet
  • skipped the caramel and icing sugar at the end, for the same reason

each component of this cake needs to be prepped separately before being layered in the baking pan. i first combined the contents of the fruit bowl, then i did the same for the crumble topping.

next, the contents of the butter bowl got creamed together to start the cake batter.

this is when i remembered the eggs which had been left sitting elsewhere on the counter to come to room temperature.

they went into the butter mixture.

this is very simple cake mixture, so fancy mixing equipment is not necessary. a rubber spatula was
my only tool.

the recipe specifies to add the dry cake ingredients in thirds, alternated with the sour cream (yogurt), mixing after each addition. so, first came some flour mixture...

then half the yogurt...

and i continued on in that fashion, ending with the last third of the flour mixture. the batter should be a relatively thick one, as it has to be able to support the fruit and the crumble topping.

with the fruit, batter, and topping mixtures ready to go, finally, i began to assemble the cake.

into a greased springform pan...

went the cake batter, spreading to distribute evenly...

and it was topped with the fruit mixture.

i sprinkled over a handful of cranberries, because i can.

and the whole thing was covered with the crumble mixture.

just in time too, as the crumble from the previous post was ready to come out of the oven at this point.

after a short stay in the oven, the cake was ready to go. imagine my dismay as i stood there in the kitchen trying to decide which appley treat we should try first.

i love a good crumble, but cake always wins!!!

the best bits were along the outer edges where the fruit caramelized a bit. it was a thing of pure joy.

the whole cake disappeared in two days. luckily, it was covered in fruit, so it was practically a health food. makes perfect sense, no?

the end.


immersive apple experience: almost-naked pie...

the apple-tasting adventure left me with a bunch of fruit rolling around the countertop, half of them missing a chunk, so it made sense to do a bit of baking. my go-to apple dish of late is the humble crumble, however, there are only two of us, and making enough crumble to use up all that fruit would leave me hating apples by the end of the week. so i split the difference and made apple crumble... two ways! i made a regular apple crumble, and an apple crumble cake... because everything is better with cake.

crumble is one of the easiest desserts to bake. in short, you fill a baking dish with almost any kind of fruit and a bit of sugar and maybe some spices (if you want to get "fancy"), then you sprinkle over some sort of crumbly topping, and you shove the whole thing in the oven for a bit. a crumble is basically an almost-naked pie, and that is what we are talking about today.

i did a bit of searching to find a couple recipes that i could offer for reference, should you feel a sudden urge to start baking. problem is, i suck at following directions—shocking, i know—so i made some alterations to both recipes. i will include the link to the base recipe, but i will highlight the changes i made with each dish. i am using the Joy of Baking's cranberry, pear & apple crumble recipe as the starting point for the crumble, and i will save the crumble cake for next time.

i mapped out the changes i was going to make to each recipe in advance.

the crumble begins with fruit (apples and a couple pears in this case). i intentionally left some traces of peel on the apples, because i like the subtle bit of texture it adds to the finished dish.

cut the fruit into bite-size pieces, adding a squeeze of fresh lemon juice every now and then to keep them from turning brown.

then just repeat until you have enough for the recipe, or in this case, until the bowl is overflowing. i did not measure/weigh the fruit. i just peeled and chopped till the bowl was full... and then i added another apple or two just for good measure.

next, add a bit of light brown sugar to the fruit. i prefer my crumbles on the "barely sweet" side, so i used about the same amount of sugar as the original recipe. however, i had roughly twice as much fruit as the recipe called for, so my fruit mixture was less sweet overall. i also added a healthy dose of freshly-grated ginger at this point, and some cornstarch. the cornstarch will turn the watery juices into a rich syrup that clings to the pieces of fruit so you do not end up with a puddle of liquid in the bottom of the bowl. this is the secret to preventing the dreaded "soggy bottom" when you are dealing with a pie crust. i always include a bit of cornstarch, even with a crust-less crumble.

full disclosure: i did not peel the ginger before grating it. life is far too short to waste time worrying about a bit of ginger skin.

because i overfilled the bowl, i had to dump everything into a roasting pan to be able to give it a proper mix without making a big mess. i have exactly zero regrets about using that much fruit.

i took a look at the assembled ingredients at this point, and i realized that i had to go searching for a larger baking dish than the one i originally planned to use.

one larger pyrex dish later, and it was time to start assembling.

first add half the fruit mixture.

this is when i realized that something was missing. one quick search through a cabinet later, and i returned with the dried cranberries.

sprinkle on a handful of cranberries.

then repeat both layers.

now it is time to make the titular "crumble". this is the bit where i go nuts with the ingredients.

i will draw you a literal picture of what went into that mixture.
  1. chopped walnuts
  2. rolled oats with the zest of a lemon grated on top 
  3. oat flour (more about that later) topped with salt and a pinch of freshly-grated nutmeg
  4. ground ginger and ground cinnamon
  5. light-brown sugar

next comes the butter, right from the fridge to keep it cold until the last minute.

this recipe requires the most basic kitchen tool.

a bit of pinching is all it takes to make a crumbly topping.

this gets sprinkled over the fruit.

check out that side-view. yes, i did get a bit carried away with the amount of fruit i used. luckily, that mountain will shrink in the oven.

this gets baked until the top is brown and toasty.

i let it bake until the whole place smells delicious, then i check to make sure that it is bubbling away at the sides, which usually means that the fruit is cooked enough to suit my taste. i do not like super-mushy fruit in this kind of dish.

notice the considerable amount of shrinkage. there is a joke in there somewhere.

as i noted, i used more fruit than was called for in the original recipe. i also cut back on the sugar content in the topping mixture, using roughly two-third of what the recipe suggested. as a result, my crumble was on the less-sweet side, which is how we tend to prefer that sort of thing. it can be 'desserted up' by adding a scoop of ice cream or you can have some for a light meal. that first image was  my breakfast on Sunday morning. it has fruit and a granola-ish topping. that is practically a health food when you think about it.

one of the things i like most of all about a crumble is that i can avoid using wheat flour without tormenting myself with one of those gross gluten-free alternatives. unlike a traditional pie, which has a crust on the bottom, the starchy part of a crumble is on the top. it does not bear the weight of the fruit filling, so there is zero need to worry about replacing the gluten if you are omitting the wheat flour. i like the taste of oat flour as a baking ingredient, so it has become my go-to substitution for recipes where the flour is not responsible for holding the whole thing together. i also use it in my favorite brownie recipe, and i do not miss the "regular flour" in that one either.

i also like that a crumble holds up pretty nicely in the refrigerator for a few-several days. because the starchy part is sitting on top of the fruit, it tends to resist going soggy. this is what was left of my crumble after almost a whole week in the fridge.

the topping still looks like it just came out of the oven.

he uses the microwave to warm up a serving, but i prefer to scoop some into an oven-proof bowl, and heat it in the oven with the broiler turned to low, just long enough to reassert the crunch in the crumbly bits.  not bad for something that has been hanging around in my fridge for the better part of a week, eh?

unfortunately, i cannot same the same about the apple crumble cake, which disappeared in less than two days. but i will save that bit for the next time.