How Do You Like Them Apples?

Few fruits are more loaded with symbolism than the common, everyday apple. Johnny Appleseed planted the trees straight into early American culture, likely with little more than basic sustenance in mind, but their importance goes far deeper than those shallow roots. Well before that, the Greeks associated the apple with Aphrodite,
the goddess of Love. The Christian mythology of Adam and Eve is well known, ascribing both great and terrible wisdom to the humble apple, the catalyst for the creation of civilization as we know it.

Those are some pretty weighty claims for such a simple, sweet little morsel. While a bite of one perfectly crisp, tart Fuji can feel like a moment of temporary enlightenment, sweetness, and all the comforting, optimistic, uplifting sentiments that go with it, are my ultimate takeaway. Enjoying apples on Rosh Hashanah in hopes of assuring a sweet New Year ahead feels almost redundant, almost too obvious, but still too good to question.

Thick slices of freshly harvested apples, lavished with an golden drizzle of thick honey, always stood at attention on the festive dinner table, waiting for takers. Even when darker, more robust maple syrup was offered alongside, those pale slivers sat as little more than those iconic symbols. A nice thought, a hospitable offering of well wishes, but not an actual appetizer, or palate cleanser- And certainly not dessert.

Given the abundance of apples all across the globe and their rich tradition in almost all cultures, it’s hard to come up with a truly original treat for Rosh Hashanah. I still can’t claim to have done so, but the last thing I want to serve is another standard-issue apple pie or apple cobbler. While I wouldn’t turn up my nose at either given the chance to serve myself, there are simply more decadent things I crave… Like apple fritters.

Doughnuts are hit-and-miss affairs, only good for the first hour or so out of the vat of hot oil. Their texture declines exponentially with every passing minute after that, and don’t get me started about the logistics of making enough for a crowd. To satisfying this particular, powerful longing, it was straight to the oven for me.

Sweet yeasted dough, rich enough to pass for challah, swaddles tender chunks of lightly simmered and spiced apples, prepared just as it might be for your typical deep fried function. After the usual chopping and division, however, these pieces are reunited in one large cake pan and baked together, emerging from the oven as one grand, show-stopping dessert fit for a crowd.

To keep more closely with tradition, the torte could be just as easily finished with a drizzle of vegan honey, agave, or maple syrup, but a simple vanilla bean glaze takes it over the top for me, more closely echoing its original doughnut inspiration.

Read whatever deeper meaning that you may, but there’s no questioning one thing about this latest twist in the apple saga: These are symbols that are meant to be eaten. Prepare to go home with an empty pan after this particularly sweet holiday.

Apple Fritter Torte

Torte Dough:

2 1/2 – 3 Cups All-Purpose Flour
3 Tablespoons Granulated Sugar
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1 Teaspoon Active Dry yeast
1/2 Cup Aquafaba
1/2 Teaspoon Lemon Zest
6 Tablespoons Warm Water
6 Tablespoons Vegan Butter, Melted and Divided

Cinnamon-Apple Filling:

2 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/4 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
2 Large Fuji Apples, Peeled, Cored, and Diced
1 Teaspoon Tapioca Starch

Vanilla Bean Glaze:

1 Cup Confectioner’s Sugar
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Bean Paste or Extract
1 – 2 Tablespoons Water

In the bowl of your stand mixer, combine the 2 1/2 cups of the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, yeast, aquafaba, lemon zest, and water. Beat on a medium speed for 5 – 8 minutes, until the dough begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl and forms a soft, slightly sticky ball. Slowly add more flour, just a tablespoon at a time, to get it to a workable consistency. It should still be very tacky, and not as firm as bread dough. Allow the dough to rest for a minute.

Start the mixer again on low speed and slowly drizzle in 4 tablespoons of the melted butter, about a teaspoon at a time. Once fully incorporated incorporated, continue to knead with the hook attachment for about 5 minutes, until glossy, smooth, and elastic. Transfer the dough to a lightly greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and chill in the fridge overnight, or for at least 8 hours.

Meanwhile, prepare the apple filling by heating the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter in a medium skillet over moderate heat. Add the cinnamon and sugar, cooking until dissolved. Introduce the apples, reduce the heat to medium low, and gently simmer for about 10 – 15 minutes, stirring periodically, until fork-tender. Sprinkle the starch evenly over the mixture and quickly incorporate, whisking out any lumps. Cook just until slightly thickened and turn off the heat. Cool completely before using.

After the dough has properly rested, turn it out onto a floured surface and roll it into a large rectangle. Don’t sweat the actual size; just aim for about 1/4-inch thickness. Spoon the apple filling down half, lengthwise, and fold over the dough, pinching the edges together to seal. Use a very sharp knife to cut the skinny rectangle into 1-inch strips, and then cut those strips diagonally. If that sounds confusing, don’t worry! I made a fancy diagram in Paint to help you out:

And yes, it will be an absolutely terrific mess.

Fear not! Gather up all the pieces and press them into a lightly-greased 9-inch round springform pan. Let rest and rise for 1 hour, and in the meantime, begin preheating your oven to 350 degrees.

Bake for 1 hour – 1 hour 15 minutes, until amber brown all over; just a shade darker than simply “golden.”

Prepare the glaze by whisking together all the ingredients, adding just enough water to reach your desired consistency.

Cool the torte for at least 25 minutes before serving, but don’t let it sit too long! It’s best served warm, with the vanilla bean glaze lavished on top just prior to slicing.

Makes 14 – 16 Servings

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A Cheesecake for the Ages

Cheesecake as we know it, dense and indulgent, each velvety forkful a marvel of modern baking, has only been around for about a century. That might sound impressive, but when you consider studies finding the concept has been around since at least 2,000 BCE, it’s not even a flash in the pan. Many food historians date the earliest appearance of the treat back to ancient Roman times, with both a sweet and savory version served at the first Olympic games, but the Greeks may in fact take the gold on this one. Molds have been unearthed by anthropologists on the island of Samos dating well in advance of this event, although no one has the recipes or selfies to prove it. Regardless, it wasn’t until the late 1800’s when cream cheese was invented in America that we came to know theĀ  classic dessert as a smooth, sweet, decadent custard gently set atop a cookie crust. What makes for the best cheesecake, however, is still up for debate.

I have no illusions of being able to settle this score once and for all, much like brokering world peace in a day, but I can extend this olive branch that might appeal to the masses: Chocolate and vanilla, harmoniously swirled together yet distinctive and essential as individuals. Thick and properly decadent, but not cloying or heavy. Gently sweetened, satisfying as a single slice with no further accompaniment, and wholly appropriate for any sort of occasion. Not to read too much into this latest evolution of the edible art form, but this may just be history in the making here.

Marbled Chocolate Chip Cheesecake

Chocolate Cookie Crust:

1 3/4 Cups Finely Ground Chocolate Wafer Cookie Crumbs
7 Tablespoons Vegan Butter or Coconut Oil, Melted

Cheesecake Filling:

1 12-Ounce Package Extra-Firm Silken Tofu
3 8-Ounce Packages Vegan Cream Cheese
2/3 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Tablespoon Arrowroot Powder
2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract
1 Teaspoon Rice Vinegar
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
2/3 Cup Bitter-Sweet Chocolate Chips
3 – 4 Tablespoons Chocolate Syrup

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a 9-inch round springform pan.

Place the cookie crumbs into a medium bowl and pour the melted butter or coconut oil on top, stirring to combine. Using your hands, press the mixture firmly into the bottom of your prepared pan. Set aside.

For the filling, drain the tofu of any excess water and blend it in your food processor or blender until smooth. Add in the cream cheese and blend thoroughly. Scrape down the sides and blend again, ensuring that no lumps remain. Incorporate the sugar, vanilla, vinegar, and salt. Scrape down the sides once more, checking for any concentrated pockets of spice. Blend until the mixture is homogeneous.

Fold in the chocolate chips and pour the whole mixture over your graham cracker crust. Drizzle the chocolate syrup on top and use a thin spatula or knife to swirl it artistically. Tap the whole pan on the counter lightly, to level off the filling and eliminate any air bubbles.

Bake for approximately 80 – 90 minutes, until the sides begin to pull away from the pan and the center still appears to be rather wobbly when tapped. Trust me; it will become firmer in time!

Let cool completely before moving it into the refrigerator, where I suggest you let it chill for at least 12 to 24 hours before serving. This will allow the flavors to fully develop and intensify.

Makes 12 to 14 Servings

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Crumby, Not Crummy

I love coffee cake, but I take issue with the false promises it makes right from the start. It strikes me as disingenuous to lure in the under-caffeinated with such a title, only to deliver a cinnamon-infused experience. I’ve heard the old argument that it’s simply suggesting how well it pairs with a cup of Joe, but that sounds like a poor excuse for deceptive branding, like “juice” that’s never seen a fruit in its short squeezed life. Coffee cake was an evolution, not an invention, derived from many other styles of baked confections in the early days of sugar cravings all across Europe, which can partially explain the indistinct, ambiguous definition of the form.

Some coffee cakes had fruits, others nuts, some were fashioned as loaves while others rose into towering rings and bundts; the one common factor that united them was the uncanny ability to eat them during a coffee break. Bearing out that logic, there would be some fresh hell to pay if we started calling all types of cookies “snack biscuits.” Can you imagine the anger and confusion that would result from the hangry sweet-toothed eaters receiving dry wafers when they were expecting rich, decadent brownies? That’s not a world I want to live in, quite frankly.

Steering clear of the controversy all together, I much prefer a more accurate headline. for my coffee complement: Crumb cake or struesel cake are equally appropriate. No one can deny that coarse, buttery topping, no matter the flavor nor format, for lack or abundance of additional mix-ins. The issue is far from black and white, contrary to this unconventional expression of the concept.

Inspired by the jar of black tahini remaining in my fridge after a fortuitous visit to the Living Tree Community Foods offices, this particular coffee-free spin on the classic fully embraces and celebrates the very best part of its namesake. Living up to its moniker, unlike so many cakes of yore, the struesel topping is thick, bold and unmistakable.

While we’re disrupting the usual routine anyway, why should cinnamon have all the crumb fun? A touch of cardamom and a hint of lemon complement the nutty notes of sesame throughout, subtle yet unmistakable nuances against the tender crumb.

A strong cup of spiced Turkish coffee would certainly be a welcome accompaniment, but as we’ve established, far from mandatory for maximum enjoyment. Whether you serve your slices with tea, lemonade, or nothing else at all, they will always make good on the promise of a delicious sweet treat.

Black and White Sesame Streusel Cake

Black Sesame Streusel:

1/2 Cup Black Sesame Tahini
2 Tablespoons Vegan Butter, Melted
1/2 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1/2 Cup All-Purpose Flour
1/4 Cup Black Sesame Seeds
1/4 Teaspoon Salt

White Sesame Cake:

1/2 Cup Raw Sesame Tahini
1/4 Cup Vegan Butter, at Room Temperature
3/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/4 Cup Plain Vegan Yogurt
2 Cups All Purpose Flour
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cardamom
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a square 8 x 8-inch baking pan; set aside.

Begin by preparing the streusel topping. In a large bowl, stir together the black tahini, melted vegan butter, and brown sugar until smooth. Add in the flour, sesame seeds, and salt, mixing with a fork to create coarse, chunky crumbs. Set in the refrigerator to chill while focusing on the cake batter next.

Place the raw tahini, vegan butter, sugar, and yogurt into the bowl of your stand mixer and thoroughly cream everything together using the paddle attachment. Pause to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed, making sure that all the ingredients are incorporated into a homogeneous blend before proceeding.

Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cardamom, and cinnamon together into a separate bowl, whisking to combine. In a small pitcher, stir the non-dairy milk, lemon juice, and vanilla together as well. Add about half of the dry goods into the stand mixer, blending until mostly incorporated. Introduce half of the liquids, continuing to mix at a low speed. Repeat the procedure until both are smoothly blended in. Be careful not to over-beat the batter though; a few errant lumps are perfectly fine.

Smooth the batter into your prepared baking dish. Break up the crumbs with a fork and sprinkle them evenly all over. It may seem like a lot, but you want full coverage here, so don’t hold back.

Bake for 55 to 60 minutes, until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool completely in pan before slicing and serving.

Makes 9 – 12 Servings

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Golden State of Mind

Without cake, does it really even count as a birthday? Sure, it’s inevitable that the celebrant will still wake up another day older regardless of the day’s festivities or lack thereof, but don’t we all? Just like a cupcake without frosting is really just a muffin, a birthday bereft of cake is not only a sad situation to imagine, but one that truly misses the point. How often do we have a legitimate excuse to eat ungodly amounts of sweets as if there was no tomorrow, despite our best efforts at self-preservation to survive up until this milestone?

With that in mind, my own sweet birthday reward is a bit more minimal than in years past, but necessary for a proper observation of the day. Shaking off the January chill, each glorious, golden bite of these turmeric cupcakes is a warming embrace from within. Originally inspired by the luminous golden lattes served at Nourish Cafe, these sweet treats are suitably more nourishing than your average dessert. Boasting only natural sweeteners and gluten-free flours, even I would be skeptical of this formula if it hadn’t been my own creation.

Most importantly, these treats pack a bold punch of spicy flavor into a small package, turning any day into an occasion worth celebrating.

Golden Latte Cake

2 Cups Almond Flour
1 Cup Oat Flour
1/3 Cup Arrowroot
1/2 Cup Golden Latte Mix, Store-Bought or Homemade
2 Teaspoons Baking Powder
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cardamom
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
3/4 Teaspoon Salt
1 1/2 Cups White Grape Juice Concentrate
1/2 Cup Applesauce
2/3 Cup Melted Coconut Oil
2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract
2 Teaspoons Apple Cider Vinegar

Maple Frosting:

1 Cup Vegan Butter
1 Cup Arrowroot
1/2 Cup 100% Grade B Maple Syrup
2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract

Garnish (Optional):

Pinch Ground Turmeric or Yellow Sprinkles

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line 28 – 30 standard cupcake tins with papers. Alternatively, if you’d like to make a layer cake, lightly grease 2 9-inch round cake pans.

In a large bowl, whisk together the almond flour, oat flour, arrowroot, latte mix, baking powder, baking soda, spices, and salt. Separately, mix together the grape juice concentrate, applesauce, coconut oil, vanilla, and vinegar. Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry, folding the mixture together just until smooth. A few errant lumps are perfectly fine; don’t drive yourself crazy trying to beat them all out.

Fill the cupcake papers about 2/3rds of the way full, or divide the batter equally between the two cake rounds, and ease the pans into the center of your preheated oven. Bake for 15 – 18 minutes if making cupcakes. If preparing cake layers, bake for 25 – 30 minutes. Bake until lightly golden on top, and a toothpick inserted into the centers pulls out cleanly. Let cool completely before frosting.

Meanwhile, prepare the frosting. Toss the butter and arrowroot into your stand mixer, beating on low speed to cream the two together. Once completely smooth and homogeneous, slowly pour in the maple syrup, followed by the vanilla. Whip on high speed for 2 – 3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed, until light and fluffy. Be careful not to overheat the frosting, though, as it will soften and break down if it gets too warm. Pop the whole bowl into the fridge for a few minutes if it’s giving you trouble.

Spread the frosting on your cakes as desired. Keep cool until ready to serve.

Makes 28 – 30 Cupcakes or 2 9-inch Round Cake Layers

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Let Them Eat Cornbread

Unwittingly, shamefully, it seems I’ve committed yet another culinary corruption. It was a crime of passion, as most are, born of unrequited cravings stemming from a deep, indecipherable source, compelling yet not entirely comprehensible. True love could hardly be described as rational, illuminating a clear path towards happiness, which is how this particular journey somehow got derailed into delinquency.

Cornbread, soft and sweet, haunted my dreams. Containing an impossibly dense yet fluffy crumb, melting away to a light, satisfying coarse grit on the tongue, this was the stuff of legend, a memory logged long ago during those early formative years that lack clear timestamps. It wasn’t any old Jiffy mix calling to me from beyond the periphery of cognition. It was cornbread you eat as an event by itself, not a mere side dish to a grander spread; cornbread that stole the show.

Without a second thought or further consultation, propelled by sheer passion and blissful ignorance, I tore into the cabinets to assemble my team. Cornmeal, coconut milk, olive oil, and sugar; all guilty by association. Any born and bred southerner could see in an instant where this is going by now, but in the heat of the moment, this uninformed Yankee hadn’t a care in the world.

Encrusted with a crunchy crumb topping and pock-marked with juicy red berries, still hot from the kiss of the oven, it was a sight to behold. Exactly what I had always wanted out of a cornbread without being able to fully verbalize the details, it exceeded expectations in a single bite. Though considerably more decadent than perhaps originally intended, one could hardly hold such delicious extravagance against it.

Hardly an hour passed before I settled in with a glossy food magazine that by some ironic twist of fate focused in on cornbread. Unscrupulously, the author decried the sugared excesses of modern cornbread recipes, claiming that true cornbread should remain entirely austere; unsweetened, unembellished, little more than baked corn puree. Strongly worded with equal parts revulsion and horror, I immediately understood the error of my ways.

Cake. This is corn cake. Are we clear? A mighty fine corn cake at that, but under no circumstances should it be categorized as cornbread. Can I plead innocence if we reconsider the end goal? Don’t call it a side dish and don’t invite it to dinner. Honestly, it won’t be offended! Rather, save it for a midday snack with a glass of iced tea, after the main meal with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, or heck, save yourself a wedge for a rich breakfast treat in the morning.

Truth be told, this crime occurred so long ago that my original corn cake was prepared with red currants, found during a very brief seasonal window, and I was too ashamed to admit my wrongdoing at the time. Thankfully, I can attest that this treat won’t suffer the least bit if you swap them for ripe raspberries, or omit the fruit addition entirely. It’s highly flexible and fairly infallible, even if you prepared it as individual cupcakes. Just remember that this is a cake, through and through, and you’ll be golden.

Cornbread Crumb Cake

Crumb Topping:

1/3 Cup All-Purpose Flour
1/3 Cup Coarsely Ground Yellow Cornmeal
1/4 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1/8 Teaspoon Salt
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil

Cornbread Cake:

1 Cup All-Purpose Flour
2/3 Cup Finely Ground Yellow Cornmeal
1/3 Cup Coarsely Ground Yellow Cornmeal
2/3 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
3/4 Cup Fresh Red Currants or Raspberries (Optional)
1 Cup Light Coconut Milk
1/2 Cup Olive Oil
1/4 Cup Unsweetened Applesauce
1/3 Cup Light Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
2 Teaspoons Lemon Juice

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees lightly grease an 8-inch round baking pan; set aside.

Begin by making the crumb topping first. Combine the flour, cornmeal, brown sugar, and salt in a small bowl. Drizzle the olive oil all over and use a fork to mix, forming chunky, coarse crumbs. It may seem dry at first but don’t be tempted to add more liquid; slowly but surely, it will come together, and there’s no need to stress if it remains fairly loose. Set aside.

Moving on to the main cake, in a large bowl, mix together the flour, both types of cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and soda, and salt, stirring to thoroughly combine. Add in the currants or raspberries if using and toss to coat. This will help prevent them from simply sinking to the bottom during the baking process.

Separately, whisk together the coconut milk, olive oil, apple sauce, brown sugar, and lemon juice. Once smooth, pour the liquid mixture into the bowl of dry ingredients, and use a wide spatula to gently incorporate, being careful not to crush the berries or over-mix the batter. It’s perfectly fine to leave a few errant lumps in the matrix.

Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan and sprinkle evenly with the crumb topping.

Bake for 40 – 45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool for at least 20 – 30 minutes before slicing and serving, if you can bear the wait. It’s also fabulous at room temperature and can (theoretically) keep for 3 – 4 days if kept wrapped or sealed in an air-tight container.

Makes 8 – 12 Servings

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Neither Flowers Nor Flours

Valentine’s Day kicks into high-gear and still the debate rages on: Boxed chocolates or a bouquet? Countless delinquent romantics face this dilemma right at this very moment, weighting their options at the nearest corner store. It seems like an obvious choice to me, and the numbers agree; polls consistently rank candies and sweets as the top pick, beating out everything from cards to cologne by a landslide. They say it’s the thought that counts, but let’s be honest: For this occasion, any gift less than cacao decadence would be given in bad taste.

While I don’t have a sweetheart to spoil, there’s still plenty of love to go around because the passion for chocolate knows no bounds. Even for those procrastinating Romeos and Juliets out there, this quick-fix flourless cake is simple enough to have ready in about an hour, and is far more impressive than any handful of wilted blossoms or waxy confections. Each dense, dark, and fudgy wedge is incredibly rich so it may very well serve more than just one happy couple… but then again, for my fellow single ladies and lads out there, I certainly wouldn’t judge you for considering it as a single serving, too.

Flourless Chocolate Cake

3 Tablespoons Vegan Butter
5 Ounces Dark or Bittersweet Chocolate, Finely Chopped
1/2 Cup Aquafaba
1/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/4 Teaspoon Cream of Tartar
1 Tablespoon Finely Ground Chia Seeds
2 Teaspoons Arrowroot Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Salt

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees with a rack in very center. Lightly grease a 6-inch round mini springform pan and set aside.

Place the vegan butter and chocolate in a large, microwave-safe bowl and heat at 30-second intervals, stirring thoroughly each time, until melted and completely smooth.

Meanwhile, begin whipping the aquafaba in your stand mixer at low speed. Once you work up a stable froth, increase the speed to high. Mix together the sugar and cream of tartar in a small bowl and slowly begin adding the mixture as the machine continues to run. Allow 8 – 10 minutes of steady whipping for the meringue to reach full volume.

Stir the remaining ingredients into the bowl of melted chocolate, taking care to beat out any clumps. Whisk about 1/4 of the stiff meringue into the chocolate to help lighten the mixture, and then switch over to a wide spatula. Gently fold in the remaining meringue until, keeping as much air in the mixture as possible, until fully incorporated. A few residual pale streaks are just fine.

Transfer the batter into your prepared pan and smooth down the top with a spatula. Bake until cake pulls away from the sides of the pan and is set on top; about 40 – 45 minutes. Don’t worry if it seems to collapse in the center! It will just give you more space to fill with fresh berries or whipped coconut cream.

Serves 2 – 4

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