Thursday, October 28, 2010

A cake worth cheating for...

Ahhh...I am halfway through my vegan cleanse, and feeling wonderful. I've been focusing on all of the wonderful things I can eat and not feeling at all deprived. I even survived a steakhouse dinner with coworkers without caving. All in all, things are going well.

But last weekend we had some friends in town, and I had planned on cheating a little bit. The question was, if I was going to break the momentum I had going, what was worth cheating for? The first thing that came to mind was a vague notion of a cake, something like the one on the cover of Bon Appetit in October or that appeared in Cannelle and Vanille's blog last month. I continued to ponder the many pie, apple tarte tatin, apple bread. I'm sure you see the theme: I was craving warm baked apples with a lightly sweet cake to bind it all together. It simply isn't fall until I've had some baked apples.

I spent a large chunk of time each day dreaming about what to make when I discovered that Dorie Greenspan's newest cookbook, Around My French Table, had been released. Birthday gift card in hand, I went straight to the bookstore to buy my copy. It should be said that I collect cookbooks the way some people collect dust bunnies: without really trying and they always accumulate faster than I realize. I ought to take a page from Heidi Swanson who started her blog to use recipes from cookbooks she already has.

In any case, I saw that there was a beautiful looking apple cake to be found in this cookbook. Even better, it was far more apples than cake, large chunks of fruit barely held together with a batter that enhances the flavor of the apples without overwhelming them. Being that I was cheating on a vegan diet, I reasoned that this recipe was less cheating than some other cakes might be. It was a lovely story to sell myself, and I bought it hook, line and sinker.

It was oh-so-worth it! I loved that we had friends visiting and we were all able to share it together. I probably enjoyed it the most, not having had many sweets in the past few weeks, my palette a little more revived after eating so cleanly, but also because I selfishly made exactly what I was craving. Topped with a lightly whipped cream spiked with vanilla, this was a perfect ending to a perfect meal with friends. I should confess that I cheated a few other times as well, but I limited it to once per day, so overall I think I did pretty well. And still, after all the sneaky bites, it is this cake that I enjoyed the most.

For now, I will enjoy eating a variety of fresh, crisp apples, and share a wonderful cake recipe with you. Soon, we can share it together.

Vanilla Apple Cake

Dorie calls her recipe "Marie-Helene's Apple Cake," but I made a few adjustments based on what I had on hand, so I'll share what I made with you. I encourage you to try it her way also; this is really a base that you can flavor as you like. Hers calls for dark rum, which I swore I had in the pantry but didn't, so I used Navan Vanilla Liqueur. I loved the boozy vanilla flavor, and was tempted to use some cinnamon, but kept it clean and simple. If you want to try cinnamon and nutmeg, I'm sure it would be delicious. I also used some whole wheat pastry flour, which I love for it's nuttier flavor, but you can use only all purpose if that is what you have on hand. I used 2 Granny Smith apples for their tartness, a McIntosh for its soft creaminess when cooked, and a Pink Lady for the tart-sweet balance.

1/2 cup Whole Wheat Pastry Flour
1/4 cup all purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
4 large apples, different kinds if possible
2 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
3 1/2 tablespoons Navan (or another vanilla liqueur)
1 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and position rack in center of oven.

Butter an 8 inch springform pan and place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.

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

Peel the apples, then cut in half, remove the cores, and cut into 1 to 2 inch chunks.

In a medium bowl, beat the eggs with a whisk until foamy. Add the sugar and whisk for another minute or so to blend. Whisk in the liqueur. Slowly add half of the flour mixture and whisk until it is incorporated. Add half of the butter, whisking to incorporate, then repeat with the rest of the flour and the remaining butter. The batter should be smooth and a little thick.

Using a rubber spatula, fold in the apples until they are evenly coated. Pour the batter into the pan, scraping the batter from the sides, and then even everything out in the pan.

Bake for 55-65 minutes, until the top is golden brown and toothpick in the center comes out clean. Let cool for 5 minutes on a rack, then carefully run a butter knife around the edges to loosen the cake and apples from the sides of the pan. Carefully remove the sides of the springform pan, taking care to make sure there is nothing stuck to it.

Cool the cake until it is a little warm or at room temperature.

Serve with a little lightly whipped cream with just a little powdered sugar and vanilla, or eat it all on its own. It would be delicious the next day also as breakfast or a mid-afternoon snack.

Store with parchment or wax paper on the cut edges and over the top, then cover with a tea towel. It will be okay at room temperature for two days, if it hangs around that long.

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