Custardy Apple Squares

I think of this as a “back-pocket recipe,” one I can pull out when I need something quick and wonderful, something I can make on the spur of the moment without trekking to the market. The cake is primarily apples (or pears or mangoes) and the batter, which resembles one you’d use for crepes, has more flavor than you’d imagine the short list of ingredients could deliver and it turns thick and custard-like in the oven. Through some magic of chemistry, the apples, which go into the pan in a mishmash, seem to line themselves up and they come out baked through but retaining just enough structure to give you something to bite into. That it can be served minutes out of the oven makes this the perfect last-minute sweet.

I’ve made this with several kinds of apples and the cake has always been good. In general, I go for juicy apples that are not too soft (Gala and Fujis work well), and if I’ve got a few different kinds on hand, I use them all. I slice the apples on a mandoline or Benriner, tools that make fast work of the job, give you thin slices and allow you to use almost all of the fruit. When you’re finished slicing an apple on one of these, all you’ve got left is a neat rectangle of core.

3 medium juicy,sweet apples, such as Gala orFuji,peeled
1⁄2 cup (68grams)all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1⁄3 cup (67grams) sugar
Pinch of fine sea salt
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
6 tablespoons whole milk at room temperature
2 tablespoons(1ounce; 28 grams) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting (optional)

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Butter an 8-inch square baking pan.

Slice the apples from top to bottom using a mandoline, Benriner or a sharp knife, turning the fruit as you reach the core. The slices should be about 1/16th inch thick—elegantly thin, but not so thin that they’re transparent and fragile. Discard the cores.

Whisk the flour and baking powder together in a small bowl.

Working in a large bowl with a whisk, beat the eggs, sugar and salt together for about 2 minutes, until the sugar just about dissolves and, more important, the eggs are pale. Whisk in the vanilla, followed by the milk and melted butter. Turn the flour into the bowl and stir with the whisk until the batter is smooth. Add the apples to the bowl, switch to a flexible spatula gently fold the apples into the batter, turning everything around until each thin slice is coated in batter. Scrape the batter into the pan and smooth the top as evenly as you can—it will be bumpy; that’s its nature.

Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until golden brown, uniformly puffed — make sure the middle of the cake has risen—and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer the cake to a rack and allow to cool for at least 15 minutes.

Using a long chefs knife, cut the cake into 8 squares in the pan (being careful not to damage the pan), or unmold the cake onto a rack, flip it onto a plate and cut into squares. Either way, give the squares a dusting of confectioners’ sugar before serving, if you’d like.

Bonne Idées

You can add a couple of tablespoons of dark rum, Calvados, applejack or Armagnac or a drop (really just a drop) of pure almond extract to the batter. If you have an orange or a lemon handy, you can grate the zest over the sugar and rub the ingredients together until they’re fragrant. You can also change the fruit. Pears are perfect and a combination of apples and pears even better. Or make the cake with 2 firm mangoes—the texture will be different, but still good—or very thinly sliced quinces. Finally, if you want to make this look  a little dressier, you can warm some apple jelly in a microwave and spread a thin layer of it over the top with a pastry brush.

Text: Excerpted from BAKING CHEZ MOI, (c) 2014 by Dorie Greenspan. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.

Photos: (c) Alan Richardson

Pumpkin Cheesecake

Pumpkin Cheesecake by Chef Elizabeth Whittby Chef Elizabeth Whitt

Makes one 9 or 10 inch cheesecake or 1  9×13 dish

For Filling:
3/4 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cups brown sugar
2 lbs cream cheese, room temperature
1 1/2 cups pureed pumpkin (canned or homemade see below)
1/4 sour cream
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp salt
5 eggs

For crust:
10 whole graham crackers, crumbled
1/4 cup pecans
2 tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp salt
6 tbsp. melted butter

For Topping:
1 1/2 cups sour cream
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup candied or regular pecans, chopped

Crust: Preheat oven to 350 F. Prepare crust in a food processor. Pulse graham crackers until crumbled evenly, then add nuts, sugar and salt and pulse a few times. Pour in melted butter slowly while pulsing. Transfer to a 9-inch spring form pan and evenly smooth crumb mixture, leaving about a one-inch space between the crumb mixture and top of pan.  Bake for 10 minutes in center of oven on a rimmed baking tray. Remove from oven.

Filling: Cream the room temperature cream cheese together with the sugar in an electric mixer using the paddle attachment on high speed for about 1-3 minutes until smooth scraping down the sides frequently. Next add pumpkin and mix until combined. Add sour cream, spices and vanilla and mix until combined. Add in eggs one at a time and do not over mix, just until combined. Pour into crust.

Bake for 10 minutes on a rimmed baking tray at 350 and then reduce oven temperature to 325 F and bake for another 1 hour. Turn off the oven and open the oven door.  At this point the center should jiggle but not be soupy. Let the cheesecake sit in the oven with the door open or ajar for 15 minutes, remove and let cool at room temperature until cool.  Refrigerate 4 hours before serving. Pour sweetened sour cream and pecans over the top just before serving.

Homemade pumpkin puree: Use a 3-4 pound sugar pie or baking pumpkin. Cut off stem and cut in half carefully using a rocking motion. Remove seeds and keep to toast or discard.  Sprinkle with some salt and place cut side down on a parchment covered baking tray. Bake in oven at 350 F for 1 hour. Turn off oven and let sit for an hour or two.  When cool, scrape flesh from the skin and mash with a fork until smooth or place in a food processor.