Almond Jam Cake

I’ve been looking for new, regular things to review for the site, similarly to the Magazine of the Month segment. Maybe it appeals to me because it’s lazy; instead of always having to dig around for something that looks good, there’s always a pool of recurring things to choose from. However, the hard part of committing to an ongoing project is that you don’t want to commit to something that has the tendency to suck later. Case in point: Some of our submissions to the site Magazine of the Month haven’t always delivered, and that’s not just disappointing, it’s frustrating.

I’m approaching Gourmet Magazine’s Monthly Dessert with the same trepidation, but I think I’m going to go for it and review it on an ongoing basis anyway. If it starts to suck, then I’m abandoning the project, taking off and nuking the site from orbit.

Or whatever. You get the picture. If not, at least get this picture:

Gourmet Walnut Jam Cake

This month, Gourmet is featuring Walnut Jam Cake. Their Dessert of the Month Features are all web-exclusive, and look fairly appealing. A jam cake, however, didn’t exactly excite me. It’s a personal thing. The desserts I enjoy tend to be a little more rich and decadent, and usually involve chocolate, and this one didn’t meet any of the criteria.

Temptation called early on, as it did have a couple of things going for it:

1. I finally got to use my 8-inch springform pan that barely gets any attention.
2. The cake is made almost entirely in a food processor.

So I went to work… though not too much, because, as I said, it’s all done in the food processor. Oh yeah, baby.

Alternatively, if you want to make this cake and you don’t have a processor, you just need to make sure the nuts are chopped up very finely. Either do this by chopping them with a knife (keep going until they’re all incredibly small) or use a clean coffee grinder. The rest of the batter can be made in a bowl with a regular mixer.

Right away, I had to adapt because I was out of walnuts. Instead, all I had were a couple bags of slivered almonds. Almonds are always successful when added to a confection, so I had no problems substituting.

Almond Jam Cake
Courtesy of Gourmet

1 1/4 cups almonds (4 1/2 oz), toasted and cooled
2/3 cup sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into pieces
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Butter and flour an 8-inch round cake pan.

I used a springform pan for this, which made me really excited because I’m pretty sure this is only the second time I’ve actually had a small cake recipe that called for an 8″ pan. That may sound silly, but if you paid a lot of money for a set of three springform pans and ended up only needing one of them, you’d be excited when the most obscure one finally gets called up to bat, too.

Buttered & Floured 8inch Springform

I toasted my almonds in a frying pan. If I hadn’t been working with so many, I would have used my toaster oven, but the frying pan works, too. These were left on the stovetop for a few minutes on medium-low, until they began to release a slight fragrance when I stirred them, about 6 minutes.

Toasting Almonds

Pulse walnuts and sugar in a food processor until finely chopped.

Walnuts & Sugar

Add butter and process until combined.

Adding Butter & Vanilla

Add eggs and vanilla and process until combined.

Adding Eggs

Add flour, baking powder, and salt and pulse just until incorporated. Spread batter in cake pan.

Almond Cake Batter

Bake until cake is just firm to the touch and a wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes. Cool 15 minutes in pan, then turn out onto a rack and cool completely.

Almond Cake - Baked

I apologize that I don’t have a lot of commentary on this process; it was fairly uneventful and went as expected. The only thing that was different was that I had to bake the cake a little longer that the recipe called for; my oven usually does that with everything, so I wasn’t surprised. Just test to make sure your cake is baked all the way through.

Almond Cake - Resting

Now for the topping:

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup apricot jam or preserves
2/3 cup chilled heavy cream
1/4 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Stir lemon juice (if using) into jam. Spoon jam over cake. Beat heavy cream with sour cream, sugar, and vanilla until it holds soft peaks, then spoon over jam.

And here it is…

Almond Jam Cake

I liked this. It was nice and light, and the perfect finish to a light meal on a spring evening. The cake itself was only mildly sweet, so the jam on top was a nice compliment. Raspberry was the jam I used, and I think it was a little overpowering — my suggestion would be to spread a very thin layer of jam, then top with the whipped cream. The topping is what really brings it home. If you’ve got a little sweet tooth but don’t want anything heavy, this is the perfect finishing bite.

Grandma’s Jewish Apple Cake

Now that October is upon us, it’s time to start breaking out the fall flavors. We’re going to start with some apple loving… which is weird, since I generally don’t like apples. It all has to do with when I was a kid. I got really sick one year and the doctor prescribed this medication that tasted horrible. My parents used to put it in apple juice or mix it up in apple sauce to make me eat it. I have loathed most forms of apple ever since. The only two forms that I do love (no, I’m afraid I don’t like caramel apples as they get stuck in my teeth) are apple pies and my grandmother’s Jewish Apple Cake.

There’s no finesse to this one. It’s a Bundt cake (link goes to wikipedia for nerdy factual fun about the Bundt pan and its origins) and extremely simple. Fresh apples that have marinated in cinnamon and sugar are interspersed throughout. A little bit of orange juice gives it great flavor. Jewish Apple Cake is awesome for potlucks and best served warm with a side of vanilla ice cream. When the ice cream melts a little and the cake soaks it up, there’s nothing quite like it.

And before you ask, here’s the answer to the question I always get about this recipe: I have no idea what makes it Jewish. Grandma passed down the recipe to us, and that was the name. If anyone can figure out why it’s labeled as Jewish, post below!

Jewish Apple Cake Apples
5 – 6 tart, firm apples, peeled and sliced
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Fill a medium mixer bowl with peeled and sliced apples, sugar and cinnamon. Cover and let sit while working on the rest of the cake. Stir periodically.

Jewish Apple Cake Batter:
4 1/2 cups flour
3 cups sugar
4 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup oil
4 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 cup orange juice
6 eggs

Mix all batter ingredients together, using a rubber scraper to make sure all of the dry ingredients are included. Grease and flour tube (Bundt) pan. Pour 2 inches of batter in. Cover with approximately 1/2 of the apples. Pour remaining batter into the tube pan, then top with the rest of the apples.

That’s it. Here’s the pictorial version:

Step 1. Apples!

Step 2. Pour mixed ingredients in!

Step 3. More apples!

Step 4. More batter!

Step 5. Even more apples!

After you’ve topped this with the remaining apples, there’s also a lot of sugar and cinnamon mixture that gets poured on top. My Bundt pan is a little small, so I put a foil-lined tray on the bottom rack, centered beneath the cake. The tray captures any drippings that may come out while the cake is rising – something to be wary of, since cooked sugar is a pain to scrub off of a surface.

Bake on 350-degrees F for 2 hours. Let sit for 10 – 15 minutes. Remove from pan. Caution: If you let it sit any longer than 10 – 15 minutes, the cake will stick. Top with powdered sugar. Serve with vanilla ice cream! Jeni Briton’s Vanilla Bean Ice Cream would be a great choice.

Here’s the finished product. The nice thing about topping it with powdered sugar is that if some of your cake does happen to stick and you need to sort of put a chunk back on top, the sugar can sort of hide it. Not that any of us would ever do that, especially me, an experienced Jewish Apple Cake Baker.

Bon appetit!

Strawberry Granita

No BBQ is complete without a really great dessert. Search your feelings, Luke. You know it to be true.

The problem with producing the perfect BBQ dessert is that, 9 times out of 10, preparing the rest of the BBQ takes so long that the dessert ends up being an afterthought: store bought ice cream, store bought popcicles tasting faintly of sugar water and, the worst offender of them all, brownies made from a box. Why do that to yourself? After going the extra mile for some amazing grilling and accompaniments, the lasting impression of your BBQ shouldn’t be store bought anything.

Your dessert problems are solved, people: I have discovered BBQ dessert awesomeness.

strawberrygranita.JPG

A couple of weeks ago, I picked up a magazine called “Tastes of Italia”. The cover had a picture of a raspberry granita on the front. The name is something I only remembered from college and associated with a cheap alcohol drink at a bad party. (Note to college party goers: Regardless of how many ditsy drunk girls tell you it tastes good, it doesn’t.) Although the dessert does not call for alcohol, nor does it contain any of the things I remembered in the drink, I passed the recipe by.

The next time I flipped through the magazine, I stopped at the article and looked at it again, then reluctantly decided against it. I’m not sure how many times I flipped through the magazine and followed the same pattern, reluctantly looking at the recipe, but at one point I decided to just go ahead and give it a shot.

It’s easy, involves the decadence of fresh fruit, and is cold – the perfect way to wrap up a BBQ. Aside from the impressiveness of having a fresh fruit dessert at your table, it’s perfect for those who aren’t as gifted at baking. How I handled the dessert portion is that I prepared the granita right before worrying about the rest of the BBQ food, then threw it into the freezer to chill. The dessert prep takes 15 – 20 minutes total, and that includes clean up.

The recipe can be made with many different fruits – raspberries, blueberries, etc. If you use raspberries, my recommendation would be to strain out the seeds after pureeing. For watermelon, omit the lemon zest. The original recipe called for raspberries, but strawberries happen to be cheaper right now so I grabbed those instead.

Strawberry Granita
2 cups pureed strawberries
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups water
1 rounded tablespoon of lemon zest

Wash your berries, cut the tops off (for strawberries), and toss those beautiful babies into your blender.

strawberries.JPG

Put the puree in a large pot along with the water, sugar and lemon zest. Turn your burner onto medium-low and cook long enough so that the sugar crystals dissolve. Remember to use a rubber spatula to scrape the sides, so you don’t miss sugar crystals that need to be mixed in. The cooking process only took a few minutes for me – the mixture was a nice lukewarm temperature when it was ready.

Pour the mixture into a glass baking dish and set it in your freezer. Let it chill for a couple of hours. The recipe says two hours, but mine took about three.

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When it is frozen, it will be a soft-frozen, much like a sorbet. Take a fork and run it through the granita, breaking it up. It will look grainy.

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Serve cold. I thought it tasted a lot like a fresh and frozen Strawberry Julius, but the AwK admin thought it tasted like pure win.

Want to spruce it up a bit upon serving? The “glasses” you see in the photo are actually plastic. I picked them up for a couple of dollars each in my local grocery store’s picnic section: They are kid-tested, dishwasher safe, and AwK approved.

Happy BBQ’ing.

MoM June ‘08 Food & Wine: Lemon-Blueberry Frozen Yogurt

As Citizen Chef pointed out in the Magazine of the Month debut post, every month, AwK will pick out one culinary magazine to feature and show you some highlights. This month, we’ve chosen the June 2008 edition of Food and Wine.

This magazine is a new one for me. I started receiving it a few months ago as a complimentary gift for something I purchased. When I told Citizen Chef about it, he was interested to know how good the magazine was. Every month when a new publication was released, we would find ourselves discussing whether or not it was worth buying.

That’s basically how the idea for this recurring article came to be. There are plenty of websites that feature books, but that can be a very expensive venture and, if you’re anything like me, you already have two shelves’ worth of cookbooks that have barely been touched. Magazines are a much cheaper option and can contain lots of good advice.

Lemon-Blueberry Frozen Yogurt
lemon-blueberry-frozen-yogurt.jpg

Making frozen yogurt was another first for me. I would have shied away from this one as well, had not the creator, Jeni Britton, been quoted as saying, “I never make frozen yogurt as a low-fat replacement for ice cream.” I was sold. The outcome was a very rich and delicious dessert. You may feel compelled to not include the blueberry sauce but I must warn you: the blueberry sauce is what makes it amazing! If you don’t include the sauce, you’ll get this overly rich and tart frozen yogurt that is lacking a balance. The sweetness of the blueberry gives this what it needs. You’ll notice there isn’t a lot of blueberry sauce being made and that’s fine – it’s so sweet that the amount that comes out is perfect. If you double the sauce it will be way too sweet and you’ll lose the tartness of the lemon.

Lemon-Blueberry Frozen Yogurt
Courtesy of Jeni Briton, Food & Wine Magazine

1/2 cup fresh lemon juice, plus 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
One 1/4-ounce package unflavored powdered gelatin
2/3 cup plus 6 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
2 cups plain whole-milk yogurt
1/2 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup blueberries
2 teaspoons water

There are a couple of different steps to this dessert and, unfortunately, it’s not one that you can just toss into your ice cream maker and forget about. However, don’t let that stop you. It’s relatively quick and simple, and you can end up with a delicious and beautiful dessert.

Step 1: Fill a large bowl about half way with ice water. Pour 2 tablespoons of the lemon juice into a small bowl. (Note: I used about three lemons and, unlike Citizen Chef, I remembered that I needed zest before tossing it into my garbage bowl – ha!) Sprinkle the gelatin over the lemon juice and let stand for 5 minutes.

Step 2: Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, whisk the remaining 6 tablespoons of lemon juice with 2/3 cup of the sugar and the corn syrup. Bring to a boil and cook over moderate heat until the sugar dissolves, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon gelatin mixture you made in step 1.

Step 3: In a medium bowl, mix the yogurt with the zest. Stir in the lemon juice mixture, then whisk in the cream. Set the yogurt base in the ice water bath and let stand, stirring occasionally, until cold, 20 minutes.

Note: This is why I said in step 1 to only fill the bowl half way up with ice water – if you fill it up all the way, once you put your frozen yogurt bowl into the ice water bath, the water will overflow all over the counter and you will get it all over your cats who are sitting at your feet in the hopes of you spilling some of the sweet, dairy creation onto the floor, only you don’t and instead they get an ice water bath and are quite unhappy with you and go running across the house, splashing and spreading more water. If that ever happened, and I’m not saying it did, that would be unfortunate for both you and your cats.

Step 4: Meanwhile, in a saucepan, mix the blueberries with the remaining 6 tablespoons of sugar and the water. Simmer over moderate heat, until saucy, 4 minutes. Let cool.

Note: Remember what I said above about the blueberry sauce! It is a must have for this yogurt! I actually let this cook for a long time because I was confused about how the consistency was supposed to be. For some reason I thought the blueberries would totally break down and I would end up with a very smooth sauce. I didn’t. There was a lot of smoothness to it, but the blueberries don’t completely dissolve.

Step 5: Pour the lemon yogurt into an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Basically, I tossed this into my ice cream maker and forgot about it for a couple of hours. When the consistency looked good to me (like a soft-serve ice cream) I took it out.

Step 6: Scoop alternating spoonfuls of the yogurt and blueberry sauce into a plastic container. This is where I got a little nervous. I was looking at the photo and looking at my plastic container, and I couldn’t figure out how to layer this so that it came out looking just as beautiful as the picture. In the end, I just went for it. Using small spoonfuls, I just made little swipes and stripes over the frozen yogurt and made about three layers.

For further illustration, here is a little something I put together to show off my stunning paint skills:

lemon-blueberry-frozen-yogurt-diagram.jpg

Now that’s definitely something you won’t see on a Fark photoshop contest, lemme tell ya.

Anyway, when you’re done with the layering process, press a sheet of plastic wrap directly onto the surface and close with an airtight lid. Freeze until firm, about 4 hours.

When scooping this with a rounded ice cream scooper, I was really pleased that the little ribbons of blueberry came out looking just like the photograph. This dessert was taken to a BBQ and devoured in the first 20 minutes.

So yeah, pick up a copy of Food & Wine’s June 2008 – there are plenty of other good reasons to buy one, and we’ll be talking more about it all month.