French Apple Cake

This may well become your favorite cake! It’s totally easy to put together with ingredients that are usually on hand; yet the delicious cake that results from the minimal labor belies its simple and humble origin. The secret of course, is the butter. This is a French recipe, after all.

6 – 8 T butter, plus extra for greasing pan
3/4 c all purpose flour, white or whole grain or a combination
3/4 t baking powder
1 t cinnamon; or a combination of cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg (1 t total)
pinch of salt
3 – 4 largish apples
2 large eggs
2/3 c sugar
3 T dark rum or brandy; or 3 T apple juice or cider; or 2 T molasses and 1 T water
1 t vanilla extract
extra cinnamon for serving, optional

1. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Butter an 8″ springform pan or cake pan or a 9″ pie plate. Place on a baking sheet and set aside.

2. Melt butter and allow to cool.

3. Combine flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt in a small bowl and set aside.

4. Peel apples, halve, core, and chop into 1″ to 2″ pieces. Set aside.

5. In a large bowl, whisk eggs until foamy. Add sugar and whisk until blended and mostly dissolved. Whisk in the rum and vanilla extract. Add half the flour mixture, whisking until combined. Follow this with half the melted butter, then repeat with the remaining flour and butter. The batter should be thick and smooth. Fold in the apples until the pieces are well coated with the batter. Scrape into the prepared baking vessel and smooth the top.

6. Put the pan (still on the baking sheet) in the oven and bake for 50 minutes or so, until the top of the cake is golden brown and a knife inserted into the center comes out with just a few crumbs on it. Transfer to a wire rack and cool for about 5 minutes.

7. If using a springform pan, run a knife around the edges of the cake and remove the ring. Allow to cook until just warm or room temperature. Serve, of course, with ice cream, dusted with some ground cinnamon, if you like.

Carrot Squares

Easy to make and easy to eat! Warming spices and dried fruit complement the sweetness of the carrots. While the recipe make “squares”, you can bake the recipe in different pans for different results. A smaller pan will be more cakey, a bread pan will make it more of a quick bread, while muffin tins will turn out, well, muffins. You can vary the dried fruit to what you have on hand. Also, try this with grated squash or parsnips, or even celeriac. If you use whole grain flour, you will need to use the larger amount of yogurt. Try different spices, too.

1 c all purpose flour, white, whole grain, or a combination
2/3 c sugar
1/2 t baking soda
1/4 t salt
1 t ground cinnamon
1/2 t grated nutmeg
1/2 t ground ginger
6 T melted butter or oil, or a combination
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/2 c – 3/4 c yogurt, buttermilk, milk, or alternate dairy product
1 t vanilla extract
1 c shredded carrots
1/2 c dried fruit, finely chopped if large (chop about the size of raisins)

1. Preheat oven to 375ºF. Grease a 9″ x 13″ x 2″ baking vessel.

2. In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and spices. Blend thoroughly. Add melted butter and stir to combine. Stir in beaten egg, yogurt, and vanilla extract. Add carrots and dried fruit. Stir to combine everything.

3. Transfer to prepared baking pan. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out “clean”, with just a crumb or two on it. If using different baking pans, the baking time will be different. Muffins, about 18 minutes, bread about 40 – 45 minutes, etc. Cool on a rack for about 10 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Apple Meringue Cookies

These meringue-type cookies are based on a 19th century Russian confection known as pastila. The original is quite a labor-intensive process; one recipe called for beating the mixture by hand for half an hour! These cookies bake, or rather, dry, long and slow, anywhere from 6 – 8 hours in the oven, a bit less in a dehydrator. They’re simple to make, yet still a bit tricky, or at least I found them to be so, and I’m not sure I’ve mastered them, even after making several batches. Worth the effort though, as they’re quite sweet and tasty. One is usually enough for me. If you have unsweetened applesauce on hand you can of course forgo the cooking of the apples part.

3 large apples, or 2 c applesauce
1 t lemon juice
3/4 c sugar
1/2 t almond or vanilla extract
1 t cinnamon
2 egg whites

1. Peel apples. Halve, core, and slice or chunk. Steam or bake until tender. Purée, either with a masher or in a food processor. Transfer to a large, preferably high-sided bowl (trust me on this). Stir in lemon juice, sugar, extract, and cinnamon.

2. Beat egg whites until stiff but not dry or shiny. Fold into applesauce mixture. Beat at high speed for at least 5 minutes, and up to 10 minutes.

3. Preheat oven to 150ºF or your oven’s lowest setting. (Mine is 170ºF. You can leave the oven door slightly ajar if you like, but I usually don’t.) Line a baking sheet or two with parchment paper. Lightly grease the parchment paper. Alternatively, if you are using a dehydrator, either line trays with parchment or use a fruit roll screen. Lightly grease.

4. Drop large teaspoon amounts or scant tablespoon amounts onto prepared trays. Don’t let them touch. Bake or dehydrate (at 150ºF) for 6 – 8 hours, until the cookies are dry to the touch. I found that the dehydrator cookies took 6 hours, while the oven cookies took almost 8 hours. Allow to cool on the trays for 5 – 10 minutes before removing to wire racks to dry.

5. The cookies will be chewy at first, but will become crispy as they age. Keep in a tightly closed container.

Pears Poached in Green Tea

Green tea is quite versatile. Beyond tea, it is an ingredient in ice cream, cookies, smoothies and many other dishes. Usually these latter recipes are made with the powdered green tea called matcha. For this recipe regular green leaves are used for the poaching liquid. Serve this with ice cream (green tea ice cream is great), or sweetened Greek yogurt or whipped cream. If you have matcha on hand, whisk 2 t matcha with 1 T very hot water, cool, then fold into the yogurt or whipped cream.

4 c water
1 1/2 T green tea leaves or 4 green tea bags
3/4 c sugar
1 T fresh, chopped ginger (no need to peel)
1 t almond extract
4 firm, ripe Bosc pears, peeled, halved, and cored
2 – 3 T toasted, sliced or finely chopped almonds

1. Pour water into a pot or large skillet that will hold the pear halves in a single layer. Bring to the boil then stir in the tea leaves or bags. Turn off the heat, cover and steep for 5 minutes. Strain tea leaves or remove tea bags. Return tea to poaching vessel.

2. Add sugar, ginger, and almond extract and bring to a good simmer. Gently add pears, cut side up and poach over low heat until tender. A wooden skewer will enter the pear easily. Remove from heat and allow pears to cool in the poaching liquid.

3. Remove pears from pot or skillet, reserving some of the poaching liquid. Serve at room temperature, with a couple of tablespoons each of the poaching liquid poured over the pear halves and a dollop of ice cream, yogurt or whipped cream. Garnish with the toasted almonds.

Winter Squash Gelatin Squares

These are really good! They’re like soft pumpkin fudge. If you have winter squash purée and applesauce on hand, these come together in no time. It’s worth it to take the time to bake a squash and sauce some apples. This recipe would also make an excellent no-bake pie filling, or, for those who eschew carbs, pour the mixture into a pie plate and serve it as a crustless pie. If you were to cut back on the sweetener some, you could also serve this as a room-temperature savory side, perfect for a buffet. The spices listed in the recipe are collectively known as ‘pumpkin pie spice’; substitute or add other(s) as you like.

coconut oil or butter, for greasing pan
1 c coconut milk, regular milk or cream, or other dairy substitute
4 T gelatin powder
1 1/2 c winter squash purée
1/2 c applesauce; or pear sauce; or apple-pear sauce
1 t ground cinnamon
1/2 t ground nutmeg
1/4 t ground cloves
3/4 t ground ginger
1/8 t salt
1/2 c chopped (toasted) nuts, optional
1/2 c chocolate chips, optional

1. Grease an 11″ x 7″ or 8″ x 8″ pan, or other suitable vessel.

2. Pour coconut milk into a saucepan. Sprinkle the gelatin evenly over the surface of the milk. Allow to sit for five minutes to allow gelatin to soften.

3. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine winter squash purée, applesauce, spices, salt, nuts, if using, and/or chocolate chips, if using. Set aside.

4. Gently heat the coconut milk/gelatin mixture, stirring until the gelatin is completely dissolved. Do not bring to the boil as this will weaken the gelling. Once the gelatin is dissolved, pour the mixture into the bowl containing the purée mixture. Stir well to combine.

5. Scrape into prepared pan. Refrigerate for an hour or so until set. Cut into squares. Refrigerate any leftovers.

Chocolate Beet Brownies

I sometimes call these brownies “stealth brownies” because few people can discern the beets. Even people who dislike beets admit to liking this recipe. Beets add their natural sweetness as well as all their nutritional goodness to the brownies, which is enough to justify having a second piece. In this recipe applesauce is used. You can also add extra applesauce to replace up to half of the butter or oil called for, another reason for that extra helping. If you only have sweetened chocolate on hand, reduce the sugar some.

1/2 c butter (1 stick) or oil, or a combination; or 1/4 c butter and 1/4 c applesauce
4 oz unsweetened chocolate
1 1/2 c flour (I used half white, half whole grain)
1/2 t salt
1/2 t ground nutmeg
1 t cinnamon
1 t baking powder
4 eggs
3/4 – 1 c brown sugar
1 t vanilla extract
1 c applesauce
1 c cooked, mashed beets
1/2 c finely chopped nuts
1/2 c wheat germ or oat bran or ground flax seed or ground chia seed, optional

1. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Grease a 9″ x 13″ baking pan.

2. Melt the butter and chocolate. You can do this over low heat or you can put them in a heat-resistant bowl set over simmering water (don’t allow the bottom of the bowl to touch the water). Set aside to cool.

3. Combine the flour, salt, nutmeg, cinnamon, and baking powder in a bowl. Set aside.

4. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs until light in color and foamy. Add the sugar and vanilla and continue beating until well incorporated. Stir in the cooled chocolate mixture, followed by the applesauce and mashed beets. Fold in the flour mixture, stirring just to combine. Stir in the nuts and wheat germ.

5. Scrape into prepared baking vessel and bake for around 35 minutes. Allow to cool before cutting into squares.