Thursday, September 30, 2010

Autumn is for Apples

Apple season was early this year and I wanted to make sure we picked our fill as soon as possible. As a child I had gone apple picking every year and my family tried to find as many apple recipes as humanly possible. From apple lasagna to apple salsa and apple fritters - we have tried almost everything. Although, nothing says Autumn like a warm apple dessert.

As a freshman in college I actually managed to go apple picking and then coerce the dorm RA into letting me use his kitchen to make 4 apple pies and 2 cobblers. But once the smoke detector went off, he kicked me out and of course I had to leave one of the pies with him as restitution.
When I was living in Germany, late September was just about the time when homesickness hit me hard. I needed a boost; something to give me the comforts of home. A friend’s parents were coming to visit him in Rome for Thanksgiving and had invited all of our college friends who were abroad down to a home cooked meal for Thanksgiving. Finding a turkey at local markets in Rome is no easy feat, nor is cooking a Thanksgiving meal for 8 on a European apartment stove. I tried to think of what I could bring from Germany to make that dinner happen a little more easily. It was also my friend’s mother’s birthday and that was the only excuse I needed to make an apple dessert and bring it with me.
Pie crusts are not necessarily my forte, and since I had just bought my German cookbook, I figured I could make an Apfelkuchen. Apfelkuchen is literally Apple Cake, but they tend to resemble more of a pie or crumble rather than what we think of as a cake. So I figured this would fit in nicely with our Thanksgiving abroad theme, assuming it made it down to Rome in once piece.
Just like carrying raw or unprocessed foods into America is frowned upon, apparently the same rules apply within Europe too. In the middle of the night, there was loud knocking on the sleeper car door with the police asking for me. And if any of you know me, I am (1) a very sound sleeper, and (2) terrified at being woken up in the middle of the night. So when one of my fellow travelers did wake me up, I was so shaken I could only speak to the police in German – even though they addressed me in English.
         “Are you Jamie Daggon?”
         “You are American, yes?”
         “Ja.” Well, you get the idea. When the policeman asked if I was carrying any foods or produce with me, I told him ‘nein’. In my memory this policeman was wary of my response – most likely because I refused to speak in English, but nevertheless, I got away with it.
The Thanksgiving dinner was a huge comfort and impressive by Italian and American standards. It was certainly one I will never forget, and my friend’s mom to this day still remembers me sneaking her birthday apfelkuchen over borders and through customs for her. If you need a cake that is easily snuck anywhere, I recommend this one.
As adapted from Backen by Marianne Kaltenbach and Friedrich-Wilhelm Ehlert
The crust on this is what sets it apart from other pies or American apple desserts. It has a thick, rich crust that plays well against the apples. I typically prefer a sweet, tart, firm baking apple for this – one that will hold its shape. But when I made this the other day, I used Gingergolds which melt into an applesauce type of texture. It was pleasantly smooth and against the hazelnuts and crust worked really well. So, just use your favorite apples in this and it should turn out pretty well.

The Measurements here are in grams, and I have not converted them as that never really works out well.

For the Crust
200 g flour
100 g butter, at room temperature, cut into small pieces
50 g sugar
1 pinch of salt
Zest of 1 lemon
1 small egg

For the Filling
3 Tb crushed hazelnuts
2 pounds apples, cored, peeled and sliced
Juice of 1 lemon
2 Tb raisins (optional)
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp allspice
3 Tb sugar

For the Streusel Topping
100 g butter, at room temperature
150 g sugar
½ Tb cinnamon
1 Tb Vanilla sugar (or 2 tsp sugar and 1 tsp vanilla)
150 g flour

For the crust, place the flour on a clean surface and add butter. Begin to work butter into flour, when you reach pea sized pieces, make a well in the center and add the egg, sugar, salt and lemon zest. Work the egg into the flour mixture and stop when thoroughly incorporated. The dough will still be a bit crumbly. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least an hour.

Lay a piece of parchment paper on the bottom of a 9” spring form pan. Preheat the oven to 392° (this is an exact conversion so 200°C). Once the dough has rested, roll it out on a clean surface. Place in the spring form pan, pressing the crust up the sides about ½” an inch. Sprinkle the crushed hazelnuts over the bottom of the crust. Toss the sliced apples with the lemon juice, and then layer in the pan. Pour remaining juice over apples. Sprinkle sugar, raisins (if using) and spices over the apples evenly.

For the streusel topping, combine flour, sugar, and spices together in a medium bowl. Cut in the butter until small clumps form. Sprinkle this topping over the apples. Bake the apfelkuchen for about 35 minutes, until golden brown. You may need to cover the top of the cake with a loose piece of foil to prevent the streusel from turning too brown. Allow to cool about 15 minutes and remove the sides of te spring form pan. Serve with vanilla ice cream or a dollop of whipped cream.

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