Sunday, January 6, 2013

The old made new

When a new year arrives, I find myself looking forward, wondering what the coming months will bring, thinking about what changes I might like to make in my life. What changes will come simply because the days pass? Son #2 will graduate high school; daughter will turn 16, with sweetness level yet to be determined.

But I also look back--reviewing the past year's events and reliving the delights, including the birth of my nephew, my son's 10 years of cancer survivorship, an amazing trip to the wonders of the ancient world.

As I prepare to bake the first Sunday breakfast of 2013, I am compelled to look back and forward as well; I'm planning to make a recipe that has been in my family for my entire lifetime. But those of you who know me well know I can't let a recipe be; tweaks are part of the fun!

I never knew Mrs. Schunke, but I understand she employed my mother to clean her house when my family first came to the United States, years before I was born. The only relic I have of her role in my family's life was a stained 3x5 card with a typed recipe for apple kuchen. It was one of those 1,1,1,1 recipes so popular in the 1950's--simple ingredients and a formula that was impossible to forget. Eggs, flour, sugar, butter: make it once and the recipe would be forever imbedded in your mind.

Of course, it was also one of those recipes that favored adjectives: "scant cup of sugar," for example. How much is a "scant?" And the thought of an entire stick of butter, melted and cooled; who wants to play with that mess, not to mention the resulting dirty dishes piling up in the sink?

What makes this recipe work is not the specific ingredients; it's the technique. Mrs. Schunke was probably unaware that her creation was a chiffon-style cake, capitalizing on the magic of eggs for its texture. I enjoy making this cake because it's also healthy: the eggs offer a good dose of protein, key for my vegetarian daughter and the son who's selective about his breakfast proteins. It has fruit for natural sweetness, and is a good way to use apples (peaches and plums also work well) that have lost their crispness. Nagymama would be pleased.

[FYI, an apple that has lost its crunch or seems bland is often a variety intended for cooking. Cut it into chunks and microwave until tender; you'll be amazed at the flavors).

Mrs. Schunke's Apple Kuchen Redux

Have all ingredients at room temperature

4 large eggs
2/3 c. white sugar or turbinado (raw) sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 c. all-purpose flour
1/4 c. whole wheat flour
1/2 c. extra-virgin olive oil, the best you can find
2-4 apples, cored and cut into 1/8-inch wedges (peaches and plums work too)

1) Preheat oven to 350F. Butter and flour a rimmed baking pan--I usually use a 1/4-sheet pan (12x18) but you can use a 9x13 baking pan for a greater cake-to-fruit ratio.

2) Make sure your ingredients are at room temperature for best results. If the eggs are right out of the fridge, warm them in a bowl of hot water for 5 minutes before breaking.

3) In the bowl of a stand mixer and using the whisk attachment, beat the 4 eggs, sugar, and vanilla. Start at low speed and gradually increase the speed to 8. Beat for 6 minutes (really! Trust me on this). The eggs will become creamy, fluffy, and opaque, and double to triple in volume. This is crucial for the light texture of the finished cake.

4). Turn off the mixer and switch to the flat beater attachment. With the mixer on lowest speed, add in the flour gradually, a few tablespoonfuls at a time, until just combined. Turn off the mixer, scrape the sides, and mix for another 30 seconds.

5) With the mixer on lowest speed, add the oil in a stream until just combined. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, gently easing the batter into the corners of the pan. The batter will be bubbly--that's the secret to a light texture.

6) Arrange the apples decoratively on the surface of the cake, covering as much of the batter as possible. Dust with cinnamon and bake for 20-25 minutes, until set and lightly browned. Let the cake cool slightly before serving.

This cake is best eaten the day it's made. Some might think that a disadvantage; I think it's a reminder that sometimes, we don't need to look forward or back; we need to cherish today. Yum.

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