Monthly Archives: September 2009

Basic is beautiful: Apple Crisp

“Help! I just went and picked apples with the kids and we don’t have an apple crisp recipe on our site!”

That was the gist of an email I got one recent Saturday afternoon from my colleague Halley, who leads the Web team here at King Arthur.

“That can’t be,” I thought. “Apple crisp is the absolute quintessential fall recipe. How could we NOT have it on our site?”

I searched. Halley was right. No apple crisp.

Well, I can remedy that.

We actually have lots of apple crisp recipes floating around King Arthur. There’s our Baking Education Center version, perfect for kids’ classes: a simple mixture of apples, flour, and sugar, topped with flour, brown sugar, oats, and butter. There’s Apple-Raspberry Oat Crumble, and Apple Brown Betty, both in our King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking book.

There’s Apple (or Raspberry, or Blueberry, or Peach…) Crisp in our King Arthur Flour 200th Anniversary Cookbook. Harking back to a simpler time, this version doesn’t even add sugar to the apples, relying solely on the topping for sweetening.

And then there’s Apple Crumble, from our Baker’s Companion book – my go-to source for anything I can’t find on our site.

We wrote that book 6 years ago, but I still turn to it constantly, even with so many recipes here at kingarthurflour.com. I figure, I tested them then; I know they work; why go “outside” when the Mother Lode is right here on my bookshelf?

Admittedly, I can’t resist tinkering. That’s what creativity is all about, right? So I upped the cinnamon (for added flavor) and the amount of flour (for a more crumbly texture) in the topping. But other than that – it was good to go.

So – let’s go!

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Here’s a handy spice blend to have around, come apple-picking time. If your recipe calls for, say, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon ginger, and 1/4 teaspoon allspice (or cloves), simply substitute 1 3/4 teaspoons Apple Pie Spice.

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WHY am I using good ol’ Granny Smiths for this crisp, with all the wonderful pick-your-own Macs, Cortlands, Ginger Golds, Paulareds, et. al. out there at this time of year? Because we photograph these blogs often months in advance; and when I did this one, Grannies were the best choice.

Let’s start with 3 pounds of apples.

Lightly grease a 9″ x 9″ square pan, and preheat the oven to 350°F.

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We’re going to peel, core, and slice the apples to make about 2 pounds, about 9 cups prepared apples. An apple peeler/corer/slicer makes short work of this. I can peel, core, and slice an apple in just about 10 seconds – no joke! Truly, if you’re an apple dessert fan, you should treat yourself to one of these babies.

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Here are the apples just as they come out of the peeler. One quick vertical swipe of the knife…

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…ahh, beautifully even slices! About 1/4” thick is right. For more “toothsome” crisp (or if you’re using Macs, which become quite soft in cooking), cut the slices thicker.

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Next, we’ll mix the apples with the following:

1/4 cup rum, apple cider or juice, or the liquor/juice of your choice; or water
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons melted butter
2 tablespoons boiled cider, optional but good
1 1/2 teaspoons Apple Pie Spice; or 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon + 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg + 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
3 tablespoons King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour or tapioca flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
Stir till everything is thoroughly combined.

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Spoon the mixture into the prepared pan.

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Next, the streusel topping. This puts the “crisp” in apple crisp.

Combine the following:

3/4 cup King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1/2 cup quick oats
heaping 1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup brown sugar, light or dark
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon baking powder

Add 8 tablespoons cold butter, cut into pats.

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Work it in till the mixture is crumbly. Add 1/2 cup diced pecans or walnuts, if you like.

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Sprinkle the streusel over the apples.

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Set the crisp on a parchment-lined baking sheet (to catch any potential drips), and bake the crisp in a preheated 350°F oven for about 60 minutes.

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The cinnamon-y apples will become bubbly, and the streusel will brown.

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Remove the crisp from the oven, and allow it to cool for at least 20 minutes before serving. If you serve it right away, it’ll be watery. Ice cream, of course, is always welcome.

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Yes, crisp is a wonderful thing – a lovely autumn dessert. And the perfect solution to all those apples you picked!

Read, rate, and review (please!) our recipe for Classic Apple Crisp.

Print just the recipe.

Slab o’ bliss: Choco-Buzz

Alas, Hostess Choco-Bliss… I knew ye well.

Your rich, moist chocolate cake… your creamy lighter-chocolate filling… your fudge-like topping, with its signature striations…

Sigh… Gone the way of wax lips and bubblegum cigars. Snack cake ancient history. A minor blip in Hostess’ corporate memory.

But still longingly remembered by those of us who loved you.

Continue reading

Funny, I didn’t know you could make those at home…

Ahhh, college, and for the days when one’s diet could consist of large quantities of beer and Cheez Doodles. While writing my thesis at Bates, I lived on three foods: Diet Dr. Pepper, Cracker Jack, and Pillsbury slice and bake chocolate chip cookie dough, straight from the tube, unbaked. Even now, opening those packages is akin to the cannon under a potential avalanche. Once they’re open, it’s all going down, baby. No wonder Weight Watchers calls them “trigger foods.”

During my years in Lewiston, I worked at a local ski area in their restaurant’s kitchen. The food there was better than I knew—we even made our onion rings from scratch. I remember peeling and slicing 150 pounds of onions at a time, then breading them all and placing them in enormous plastic bins. But the thing I remember most was the policy they had for the cooks: we were given free reign to eat whatever we wanted. My Achilles’ heel was the Drake’s display, sporting its rows of FunnyBones. While working there over break one year, I ate almost nothing but, since Commons was closed.

I originally started the quest to recreate snack cakes at PJ’s suggestion way back in 2003, when the Autumn edition of The Baking Sheet

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contained reproductions such as ”Bring Dings”, “Swoon Pies” and “Blinkies”. That was before the advent of the Twinkie-shaped pan, and I was demented enough to reproduce the shape by molding foil around cardboard paper towel tubes. Continue reading

In the Twink of an eye

When we started planning our Snack Cake Smackdown (more word on that Friday), my first thought was “Woo-hoo!” quickly followed by “I wanna do Twinkies!” Growing up in Massachusetts, we lived in the same town as a Hostess Thrift shop, and boxes of Twinkies were a favorite treat for lunchboxes and after school. With three kids and a tight budget my mom rationed them out so that we didn’t eat the whole box in one sitting, but I think we could have without too much effort. The cake was soft and fine, but ooooh, the filling!

Then, I heard through the grapevine that PJ had laid claim to Twinkies. Stomp feet, grumble under breath, sigh. I suppose I have to make something else. Isn’t that just awful? Here I am with one of the best jobs out there, baking wonderful treats and sharing them with others, and I’m fussing about it?! “Really, Mary,” as my mother would say.

So, I fiddled with a few different possibilities like re-creating the Hostess Fruit Pie. I loved the blueberry ones as a kid, and never could figure out what the square pieces of fruit were in the filling (they were pear). It sounded like a great project, but then I decided I wanted to skip frying. My husband David kept pushing for Ho-Hos, and my 14-year-old daughter Shannon was no help at all; she doesn’t eat any of the above.

Nothing sounded just right, and I just kept thinking about Twinkies…

I had finally settled on some version of Ho-ho’s when PJ sent around a reminder about the blog and said she was doing Choco-Bliss, not Twinkies. The grapevine had a kink in it this time, and Twinkies were really up for grabs – so grab them I did! I was ecstatic, and couldn’t wait to get testing.

In just about every Twinkies ad I’ve seen there’s been a reference to the sponge factor of the cake itself, so of course my first thoughts for the cake were sponge cake. But somehow I didn’t want sponge cake, I wanted chiffon cake. What’s the big difference, you ask? Let’s take a look.

Sponge cakes and chiffon cakes both rely  on the incorporation of air into eggs to lift the flour and sugar into a light and tender cake. Sponge cakes don’t contain additional fats, while chiffon cakes have oil incorporated into the batter. Sponge cakes may be made without separating the yolk and white of the egg, but chiffon cakes have the yolks in the batter, and the stiffly beaten whites are folded in later. Sponge cakes are most often associated with jelly rolls and jam filling. Chiffon cakes had their heyday in the ’50s and ’60s as light, fruity cakes with a delicate glaze for topping.

So, again, why choose a chiffon cake over a sponge cake for these Twinkie wannabes? One vivid memory I have of Twinkies is the way the cake looked inside the package. There would be a thin film coating the inside of the plastic sleeve, and small, moist pieces of cake and filling would be stuck in the creases. Those would be swiped up first on the tip of a finger to give a tiny taste of the treat to come. That moistness was what motivated me to think that chiffon cake, with its added richness from the oil, would be perfect for these cakes. Boy howdy, was THAT ever the right move!

As fellow Twinkie fans know, the filling is very hard to duplicate. It isn’t the same filling that Suzy Q’s and Hostess Cupcakes have. That filling is a bit coarse and grainy (in a good way), where Twinkie filling is smooth, oh so smooth, and more luscious than those other fillings. My first try for filling was the classic Marshmallow Fluff filling, and while it was good, it wasn’t quite right. In doing some research into creamy vanilla fillings, I came across a reference to a cooked flour filling. Now, I admit I couldn’t wrap my head around a cooked flour filling at first, but once I made a batch, it was love at first bite. Sure, I’ve tweaked it a bit since then, but take it from me: this is THE filling to use.

For those of you who read PJ’s earlier note about Banana Split Twinkies, don’t worry. I’ve included that version in the tips section of the recipe. One banana, two banana, three banana, four… Let’s make  Twinkling Good Vanilla Snack Cakes.

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Begin by separating 7 eggs. Set aside the yolks for the cake batter, and in your mixer bowl, whip the whites until very stiff. I do this in my mixer bowl first, when it’s cleanest. Any dirt or traces of fat will keep the whites from whipping properly.

Preheat the oven to 350°F and coat your filled cake pan or cupcake tins with a light layer of cooking spray.

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You’ll know the whites are stiff enough if you can pick up a piece with your finger, and it holds its shape perfectly, no sagging or drooping. Honestly, I just scooped up this piece and didn’t notice until I was editing the photo how much it looks like a tiny little bird perched on my fingertip.

Transfer the whites to another bowl while you prepare the rest of the batter.

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Place all of the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl and whisk for 1 minute on low speed to aerate and incorporate the ingredients.

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Add the yolks, oil, and water, plus the flavoring. Beat on medium speed until smooth. A quick word about the flavoring. While vanilla is just fine as a flavor, the Princess Cake and Cookie flavoring makes these cakes taste like real Twinkies. It’s one of those big-time bakery secrets that you can have in your kitchen, too.

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Take about 1/3 of the whipped whites and add to the batter. Don’t worry about folding gently at this point. This first addition of whites is just mixed in to lighten the batter so it accepts the folded whites more easily.

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See? Not fancy, just blended in until there are only small lumps of white remaining.

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Add another 1/3 of the whites and fold them into the batter gently. A wide spatula is your best tool here. To fold, cut down through the center of the whites to the bottom of the bowl and lift, turning the spatula over as you come back to the surface of the batter. Give the bowl a quarter turn, and repeat until only the barest traces of whites show in the batter.

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Add the last of the whites and fold in again.

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When you’re finished folding, the batter will have increased in volume significantly and look light, airy, and full of bubbles.

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A muffin scoop is a huge help here as you fill your pans 2/3 full. These cakes have a lot of spring, but you definitely want to fill more than half way. You’ll see the comparison in a later photo. Bake the cakes for 10 to 12 minutes, slightly longer for cupcakes.

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The cakes are done when they’re golden brown at the edges, puffy in the centers, and have begun to pull away from the edge of the pan. Use a soft, flexible tool to gently coax the cakes from the pan. These mini silicone tools are perfect for the job. Cool completely on a rack while you prepare the filling.

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Remember filling the pans 2/3 full? The cake on the right was only filled 1/2 full, and you can see a definite difference. In my mind more cake is better. After all, more cake can hold more filling. Speaking of filling, let’s take the plunge into this unique cooked filling.

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In a small saucepan, combine the flour and milk and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly.

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As the filling begins to thicken, reduce the heat and continue whisking.

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When the mixture has thickened to the consistency of pudding, remove from the heat and continue to stir for 1 minute.

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Add the vanilla (and a dash of salt, if desired), and stir until well combined.

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Cover the mixture with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap down well to avoid a skin forming, and set aside to cool completely.

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In your mixer bowl cream the butter, shortening, and sugar until lightened and fluffy.

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Add the cooled flour mixture and beat on high speed for 3 to 5 minutes, until light and creamy.

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Mmmm, creamy and delicious. Let’s get filling!

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Using a pastry bag with a wide round tip, or the plunger tool from the filled cake set, pipe the filling into the cooled cakes. Press the tip into the cake about halfway and gently squeeze in the filling. Holding the cake in one hand can be very helpful as you’ll feel the cake expand and can judge when to stop so that the filling doesn’t burst through the side of the cake.

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Ah, just right. Each bite will have soft, springy cake and creamy filling.

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To fill cupcakes you can fill from the bottom or the top; it’s baker’s choice here. For the vanilla snack cakes I filled from the bottom. Slightly rotating the tip in the cake as you fill will help distribute the filling to the sides instead of just the center of the cake.

Drum roll, please! Introducing the Banana Split Snack Cake! Few people know that the original flavor for Twinkies was a banana cake with vanilla filling. While the cakes were very popular, rationing of fruit led to today’s vanilla version.

While I was getting ready to test these cakes, I was chatting with fellow bloggers Susan and PJ and hit upon the idea of a banana cake version, but decided to take it to the next level with a trio of fillings to invoke that oh-so-delightful summer treat, the banana split sundae.

Begin by substituting 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon of banana flavor for the Princess Cake flavoring in the cake. How much flavor you use depends on how much you like banana. Mix and bake as usual. For fillings I chose the creamy vanilla shown above; strawberry jam, and chocolate icing.

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Fill each of the classic three holes with a different filling. The jam is a bit trickier to pipe if it has bits of fruit in it, but makes for a more authentic sundae experience.

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Yummy, banana split cupcakes. How’s that for a bake sale special or lunchbox treat?

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Come taste-testing time, you can see that these Vanilla Snack Cakes were a big hit with our crew.

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Now it’s your turn. Please bake, rate, and review these Twinkling Good Vanilla Snack Cakes and let us know what you think! Happy baking!

This cake is the berries!

I recently visited my cousin Kris at her mountaintop home in southern New Hampshire. We sat out on her deck, acorns dropping like mini-bombs around us, and talked about family, movies (she and her husband are film producers), and food.

After a bit Kris went inside, and emerged moments later with cups of coffee and a cake. Always on the alert for promising new recipes, I started to pry. “What’s that? Looks good. What’s in it?” I said. Continue reading

Butter’s best friend: crumpets

Crumpet.

Just the word sounds like Merrie Olde England, doesn’t it? So… jolly, with a splash of class. And a soupçon of serious respect, as is only proper for this classic grilled bread: the first crumpet recipe appeared 240 years ago, in 1769.

So, what’s the difference between an English muffin and a crumpet?

Continue reading

WOW! You cleaned us out…

Guess that apple cake recipe sounded pretty irresistible to a lot of you bakers out there – we sold 749 bottles of boiled cider this past week, which cleaned out both our stock, and that of Willis and Tina Wood, who press the apples and boil the cider at their orchard in Springfield, Vermont.

But never fear – help is on the way. Another crop of apples is being harvested now, and more boiled cider should be ready the first week of October.

Thanks for your enthusiasm! And, if you got a back-order message – we appreciate your patience.

 

Whole Grain Brownies

Think about it. They both fit any occasion, from day into evening. They both dress up or down with equal aplomb. And they’re both appropriate, no matter the circumstance.

But whole grain? Isn’t that like wearing a burlap sack to the prom?

Au contraire. Not when you have the right recipe.

In the test kitchen, we’re sometimes so involved in our “mad scientist” mode, thinking up new combinations of flavors, or the next new thing as far as technique, that we forget that other people may still be looking at whole grains as punishment food. And that the wonder of white whole wheat flour may yet be undiscovered by many bakers out there.

The collective food memory of the 60s and 70s’ boat anchor bread loaves dies hard.

When PJ, Susan Miller (the head of our Baking Education Center) and I marched into the test kitchen to work on our cookbook, King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking, we had a singular mission in mind. Of course, it was serious business and nothing but every day.

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No recipe was good enough until it tasted great. Period. Not “great, for something made with whole grains.” No qualifiers were allowed. Along the way, we cranked out a pile of leaden loaves, rocklike crackers and sunken cakes, so you wouldn’t have to.

Every once in a while, we’d get a break during the testing process. We gradually learned how whole grains behave, and two of the guiding principles we came to trust were these: Whole grains need more moisture, and they need more time. PJ had the cookies and brownies chapter, and in the process created this classic. Like a little black dress, it’s easy to reach for. Let’s put some Whole Grain Brownies together now. You can also see a video of me making these very brownies at how2heroes.com.

Preheat your oven (350°F), and grease a 9″ x 13” pan. If you’re planning to take these brownies out on the town, I suggest you accessorize with a piece of parchment paper underneath; more about that later (and on the video).

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Place the butter and brown sugar in a large, microwaveable bowl, or in a medium saucepan. PJ decided the more assertive flavor of whole wheat was better matched with brown sugar than white. Smart lady. Melt the butter.

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Stir the mixture, then heat just until it’s hot (110°F to 120°F). This little extra bit of heat helps the sugar to dissolve, which is where the shiny crust comes from on top of your brownies. This is how the mixture looks after another 40 seconds at low power in the ‘wave.

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Off the heat, stir in the cocoa, salt, baking powder, espresso powder, and vanilla.

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Here is my artsy, mirror-image photo of vanilla being added. This vanilla was from the very bottom of the bottle where the solids were, so it looks a tad cloudy in the measuring spoon.

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Stir until smooth; check that the mixture isn’t too hot: pleasantly warm to the touch is ok, but you don’t want to cook the eggs when you add them. Now add the eggs, one at a time.

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Stir between additions, and watch the texture of the batter change and get thicker.

Add the flour

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and chocolate chips. This step is where you can add your own personal touches. Mint or white chocolate chips? Sure! Peanut butter chips? Go on, turn some heads! Toffee bits? By all means.

For you raisinet fans, try a cup of dried cranberries and a cup of bittersweet chocolate chips. And don’t forget nuts! I’m fond of macadamias in brownies, when I can afford them, but walnuts or pecans are just fine, too. Add 1 cup of whatever “accessories” you choose.

I went with some chocolate chips, white chocolate chunks, and walnuts in this batch.

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Transfer the batter to the pan,

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and bake for 28 to 30 minutes.

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Test kitchen head smack here. Parchment has this annoying habit of flopping over in the oven. I know this, yet, do you think I’d remember to take proper measures to address it? Not this time.

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I can tell you, however, that if you’re planning to go this route, it’s best to collect yourself a couple of little metal alligator clips to secure the parchment to the edge of the pan.

Back to the baking. How do you know they’re done? PJ often gives her pans of brownies a “belly button”, but poking a small hole in the center to look at the texture of the brownies there. It should show wet crumbs, but not raw batter.

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Look at the edges, as well. They should be set. With whole grain brownies, you may not see a lot of “pull” from the edge of the pan, the way you’d expect to with a white flour recipe, so don’t let that fool you into overbaking. This is how the edges look after baking.

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Take the brownies out of the oven. Now for the hard part. Keeping your hands off them.

Because the true miracle of this recipe happens overnight. After the brownies are cool, cover them and let them rest at room temperature. The bran in the flour will absorb moisture overnight, and do a graceful disappearing act. Like a lot of recipes, a little rest where all the flavors can talk to each other is a good thing.

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Now, about that parchment thing. When it’s time to serve, you can pick the whole batch of brownies straight up out of the pan, and place it on a cutting board. Now you can cut out shapes to drape in chocolate (a PJ specialty), frost, or drizzle with caramel and a sprinkling of salt. Cut into diamonds for a change of pace, or sandwich a slab of your favorite ice cream between two squares for the ultimate ice cream sandwich.

Brownies are an all-occasion kind of food, and welcome everywhere. No cooking wardrobe should be without a classic recipe like this. Just like your little black dress.

Please try, rate and review our Whole Grain Brownies.

Skillet apple cake

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Oh, boy!

I was driving by the farmstand on the way to work this morning, and what to my wondering eyes should appear but my favorite sign of autumn:

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A quick glance as I sped by showed me that yes, the buckets of just-picked corn had been rearranged to make room for wooden apple crates.

I stopped after work to see which early apples are ready.

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Early-bearing Paulared and McIntosh are the only ones out so far. But Pommes Grise, Ginger Gold, Zesta – all the heirloom varietals so different from the run-of-the-mill Granny Smiths and Red Delicious we make do with the rest of the year – are surely on their way.

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These might not be the prettiest apples. Sometimes quite small, sometimes a bit misshapen, they look like they came off someone’s backyard apple tree.

Which is the nice thing about these apples with their sweet, fleetingly short season: they really did come off a neighbor’s tree.

Our local orchards are small family businesses, one generation passing the land and trees on to the next. They serve only the surrounding communities; their apples may be shipped as far as the town grocery store, but don’t get trucked to California. They’re literally just-picked when I fill my bag at the farmstand.

If you ever thought of joining the localvore movement, there’s no better time and place to start than your favorite apple orchard in September.

And, if you haven’t eaten all the apples before you get around to baking, no better dish to start with than a simple cake, one that showcases your local apples in all their sweet simplicity.


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First it’s sweet. Then, as it sits on your tongue, it gets a definite tang, like an apple that’s mild at first taste, then finishes with some bite. Boiled cider is pure essence of apple, and enhances any apple dish you bake. A few tablespoons drizzled into pie or crisp, atop muffins or cake, mixed with confectioners’ sugar to make a tasty, golden glaze…This is one of my pantry staples.

Since it’s just cider, boiled till thick, can you make your own? You can try; it’s a bit tricky, as it tends to burn at the end, and it’s hard to figure when it’s thick enough. But if you’re adventurous, and don’t mind perhaps having a failure or two first, go for it.

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And here’s our favorite complementary spice for apples: apple pie spice, a perfectly balanced blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice. Can you make your own? Sure; common enough ingredients. I don’t know the formula, but make small batches till you hit on a mixture you like.

OK, let’s begin. First step: preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9 ½” to 10” (2” deep) cast-iron skillet; or a 9” square cake pan.

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Now let’s prepare the apples: 4 or 5 large, firm apples. I’m using Granny Smiths here, because they hold up well in baking; and when I was testing this recipe a month ago, our local apples weren’t in yet.

First, peel and core. Our apple peeler/corer/slicer makes fast work of this task – like, 10 seconds per apple, start to finish.

You can choose to peel, core, and slice apples…

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…or simply peel, as I’ve done here. Why didn’t I do all three? Because I wanted slightly thicker pieces of apple than the usual pie-style slice.

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So I grabbed a peeled apple, pressed it with my handy-dandy apple corer/slicer, and bingo!

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Perfect apple slices.

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Place the apple slices in a bowl.

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Now add the following:

1/3 cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons boiled cider
1 teaspoon Apple Pie Spice, or your favorite combination of sweet spices
¼ teaspoon salt

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Stir to coat the apples, and set aside while you make the cake batter.

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Combine the following:

1 1/3 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Set aside.

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Whisk together the following:

2/3 cup warm milk
1 large egg
6 tablespoons melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

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Add to the flour mixture.

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Stir till well combined…

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…and pour into the prepared skillet.

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Spoon the apple mixture onto the batter. For the best appearance, make sure the apples are distributed a little more heavily towards the edges of the pan.


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Next, get out your coarse sparkling sugar, if you have some. Above you see sparkling sugar on the left, granulated on the right – can you see the difference in crystal size?

I’ll tell you, this is one pantry item I wouldn’t be without. It’s the BEST appearance enhancer out there. A sprinkle atop muffins, scones, cookies, pie crust… or a cake like this, really makes everything sparkle and shine.

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Sprinkle on the sugar. Be generous.

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The sugar won’t melt as the cake bakes. Really, you’ll see.

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Bake the cake for about 50 to 60 minutes, till it’s light brown and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean.

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The apples will be nicely browned.

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And see that sugar?

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Serve right from the pan.

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Ice cream is always welcome – I just didn’t have any on hand!

Read, rate, and review (please!) our recipe for Easy Fresh Apple Cake.

Buy vs. Bake

Buy: Dante’s Restaurants, Inc., State College, PA: 10″ Apple Cake with Caramel Sauce, $17.00

Bake at home: Easy Fresh Apple Cake, 9 1/2″, $4.90

Baked latkes redux

So OK.  I’ve already covered latkes in this blog. And it wasn’t even that long ago: Dec. 18, 2008, to be precise. Just in time for Chanukah.

But latkes – potato pancakes – are a subject worth bringing up again. Because frankly, they’re NOT just for Chanukah. You don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy them; all you have to be is a lover of salty crunchy fried stuff, which covers probably 90% of us.

And I’ve found yet another, even easier way to make them.

No frying pan; no grease-spattered clothes. And now, no grating potatoes, and no wringing out the liquid in a dish towel.

And, since they’re oven-baked and ready all at once, no standing at the stove flipping latke after latke while the rest of the family eats.

Impossible, you say? “You can’t make REAL latkes without grating raw potatoes.”

Oh yeah? Just watch me…

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Not only can you make good latkes without grating raw potatoes – you also don’t have to start with russets, as most traditional recipes do. How about yellow potatoes, or Yukon Golds? Start with 3 medium potatoes, about 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 pounds. Peel them.

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Here’s method #1: Boiling the potatoes. Cut each potato into about 6 chunks, then cut each chunk in half again. Place the potatoes in a medium saucepan. Cover with about 4 cups of water; the water should cover the potatoes by about 1/2”. Add 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons salt to the water (yes, tablespoons; use the greater amount if you like saltier latkes).

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Boil the potatoes for about 8 minutes, or until they’re fork tender.

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Drain them in a colander.

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Want to use russets (e.g., Burbank) or another baking potato instead? We can do that. Method #2: microwaving. Start with 3 medium potatoes, 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 pounds. Peel them.

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Cut each potato into about 6 chunks. Place them on a microwave-safe plate, and sprinkle with 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, to taste (more if you like a saltier latke).

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Cover the plate with plastic wrap, and microwave for about 10 minutes, till the potatoes are soft.

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See how easily they break apart? They shouldn’t offer your fork any resistance.

Allow the potatoes to cool a bit while you shred or finely dice 1 medium onion, whisk 1 large egg, and preheat the oven to 400°F to 425°F (425°F if you feel your oven runs a bit cool). The oil has to be hot enough to sizzle the latkes as they cook. If you put them into the oven and after several minutes they’re just sitting there, and not sizzling, increase the oven temperature.

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Whichever type of potato you’ve used, the next step is to put them through a potato ricer. You can use your grandma’s old metal version, or one of the sleek new acrylic ricers. Whichever you choose, if it has removable plates, use the coarsest one.

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Rice about 1/3 of the cooked potatoes into a bowl.

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Sprinkle with half the onions and 1 tablespoon of King Arthur Unbleached all-Purpose Flour, and drizzle with about half the beaten egg. Rice another third of the potatoes into the bowl, and sprinkle with the remaining onions and 1 tablespoon flour; drizzle with the remaining egg. Rice the remaining potatoes into the bowl.

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Gently combine all of the ingredients. Don’t stir too much; you don’t want potato purée.

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Line two rimmed baking sheets with easy-release aluminum foil (see below). Or simply get out two rimmed baking sheets.

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I’ve seen the light. For no-mess, no-stick oven-baked latkes, grab yourself a roll of this non-stick aluminum foil. Works like a charm.

Pour 1/4 cup oil into each pan, tilting the pans to spread it around. Place one of the pans into the oven, and allow the oil to heat for 2 minutes. This step isn’t necessary if you use easy-release aluminum foil, but helps avoid sticking if you’re using plain aluminum foil.

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If you’ve heated the pan, remove it from the oven. Scoop a heaping 1/4 cup of potatoes onto the pan; a muffin scoop works well here.

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See? Potatoes slide right out of the scoop in a nice, even ball.

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Repeat till you’ve scooped 6 or 7 latkes onto the pan. Using the back of a spoon (or your fingers – be careful!), gently flatten the latkes to about 3/8” thick.

Repeat with the second pan and the remaining potatoes.

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Bake the latkes for 10 minutes, till they’re deep brown on the bottom. Flip them over. If they seem to be sticking to the pan, let them bake awhile longer; this often helps. Make sure their bottoms are a very deep brown before you flip them.

Reverse the pans as you return them to the oven — upper pan to the lower rack, lower pan to the upper rack.

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Bake for an additional 15 minutes, till the bottoms of the latkes are golden brown.

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Remove from the oven. Now isn’t THAT a sight! Are you drooling yet?

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Here’s what the same process looks like without foil. It works – you’ll just have more cleanup.

Also, let me reiterate here – use the full 1/4 cup of oil called for in each pan. If you try to skimp and cut calories, not only do you not get the full latke effect; you end up scraping stuck latkes off the pan.

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Drain on paper towels just prior to serving.

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In fact, I just serve the latkes right on paper towels. Since we have three veteran Jewish cooks/latke aficionados on our Web team, any latkes I make go right onto the table in our office. From which they quickly disappear.

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Jim approves. Not sure they’re as good as his wife Joanna’s, but he surely enjoyed them.

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Now, since you can’t serve latkes without applesauce, let’s make applesauce – the easy way.

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First, pick your apples. Literally, and figuratively. Here are my favorite standby, available throughout the year: Granny Smiths.

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And here’s another year-round apple: Braeburn. Or maybe it was Fuji, Or Gala. All three are similar, and equally good. Notice you don’t need perfect apples for applesauce. In fact, sauce is a great way to use up your bumped-and-bruised, getting-old apples.

Start with 1 3/4 to 2 pounds apples. It’s a workable amount, and the recipe scales up easily, for when you have more apples.

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Here’s a key to great applesauce: boiled cider. Thick and tangy-sweet, it enhances the flavor of anything apple.

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There’s no need to peel the apples. Just core, and slice into chunks. An apple corer/slicer works very well here.

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Just push down, and remove the core.

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Put the apples in a microwave-safe bowl.

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Cover with plastic wrap, and microwave for about 10 minutes, till the apples are soft.

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Remove from the microwave, and place on the counter to cool for 15 minutes or so; the plastic wrap will shrink down onto the apples.

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Carefully remove the plastic wrap (the apples will still be warm).

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Mash the apples using a pastry blender or potato masher.

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If you’ve left the peels on the apples, use a hand (stick) blender to coarsely chop skins/sauce. Blend as smooth as you like; I like my applesauce fairly chunky.

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Add sugar to taste, and boiled cider, if desired, for enhanced flavor. For 2 pounds of mildly tart apples, I like about 2 to 4 tablespoons of sugar, and 2 tablespoons boiled cider. On the left is the sauce from the red apples; on the right, the Granny Smith sauce.

Feel free to use your own favorite varieties. I usually use windfall apples from a friend’s tree; I don’t even know what kind they are. Be advised that some apples cook up softer than others. Macs, for instance, cook quickly, and will need less time in the microwave.

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At last! We’ve reached the finish line. Homemade latkes, homemade applesauce. Where’s the homemade sour cream?

Read, rate, and review (please!) our recipe for Oven Latkes with Homemade Applesauce.

P.S. So I was making these at home tonight, and could I find my grandmother’s potato ricer? NO, I could not. Hot boiled potatoes, ready to make latkes for supper… light dawns on Marblehead! I used my food processor with the coarse shredding disk. Worked like an absolute charm. So if you have a food processor/shredding disk, go for it.

Buy vs. Bake

Buy: Stage Deli, New York City: Three latkes with applesauce and sour cream, $16.95

Blake & Todd, New York City: Side order of one potato pancake (latke), $2.65

Make at home: Three latkes with applesauce and sour cream, $1.24

One potato pancake (latke), 18¢

Caramel apples

As fall approaches, the local county fair circuit gears up. While some are excited to make the rounds for the tractor pulls, oxen pulls, quilt displays and hair-raising (or stomach churning if you’re in your 40s)  thrill rides, to me fair season means fried dough, french fries served in that cardboard dog bowl, cotton candy and, of course, caramel apples.

As kids, we only went to one fair. The Eastern States Exposition, better known as “The Big E.” The Big E is an annual  event in the fall in New England, with displays, entertainment, livestock and horse shows, and a building dedicated to each New England state’s best of the best. In my family we were allowed to miss school for one day when the whole family would pile into the station wagon and drive down to Springfield. MA. We always took a cooler with drinks and sandwiches for our main meal, but we kids were most excited about the treats we could get in the afternoon, after lunch.

I can’t describe for you the taste of the caramel apples at the fair, though. That’s right, I never got a caramel apple at that fair. Too messy, too sticky for a hot, crowded day. My friend Elaine was visiting the other day, and we lamented our lost caramel apple youth. Her father was a dentist and caramel was a definite no-no in her house, too. Now that we’re mothers in charge of our own kitchens (and fillings), let the chewy, sticky goodness reign.

While I didn’t get to taste a caramel apple then, I can tell you how I feel about them now. How I love the tug of the caramel as you struggle to open the plastic prison the vendors sell the apples in.  How you open your mouth as wide as it will go in an effort to secure the first gooey, juicy bite. How all the napkins you stuffed in your pocket just aren’t enough, and you end up wiping some caramel on the inside of your sleeve, not caring, just loving every buttery, sweet bite.

Our merchandising folks must feel the same way about caramel apples. The past few years we’ve featured the fixin’s for caramel apples in our catalogue, and this year our fall cover features the MOST mouthwatering photo of caramel apples EVER! We baker’s hotline bakers knew from that picture that customers would definitely be wanting to make the apples, so we requested a demonstration of the techniques and products used so that we’ll be ready to help out when those phone calls come in.

Isn’t that terrific? I bet you didn’t know that we King Arthur Flour hotline bakers and customer service representatives take quizzes, watch demonstrations, have articles to read, and hold discussions on our recipes, products, and catalogues, as part of our ongoing education plan – now, did ya? This demonstration in particular was fun and entertaining as well as educational, with each person making their own version of the perfect caramel apple to take and share (or not), all from the comfort of his or her own desk.

Here’s how the plan went down:

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First, the apples. I left the fork in the picture for scale. As you can see these are not the huge apples you find at the fairground, but more moderately sized. Go larger or smaller to your taste.  We like Granny Smiths, Honeycrisps, Golden Delicious and Gala, but use whichever apples you like best so long as they are firm and crisp.

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The apples need to be well washed to remove any of the food grade waxes, buildup, etc. I added 2 tablespoons of vinegar to the water to help wash away impurities. Rinse and dry, dry, dry well.

On to the caramel. Our Merckens caramel is a test kitchen and staff favorite, winning our taste tests hands down. For starters, it comes in a nice big block so there are no annoying little plastic wrappers floating about the kitchen. The block can be stored at room temperature for months and it retains it’s soft texture. You can whack off a big chunk for baking, or a small piece for nibbling whenever the mood strikes. Did I mention that it is less than $6.00 per pound? I’ll take that bargain any day.

 

To melt the caramel, you can use a double boiler, the microwave, or my personal favorite, the slow cooker. Fellow blogger Susan Reid set me on that particular path, and I haven’t looked back since. Melt on high for about 2 to 3 hours, or low for 4 to 5 hours, depending on your unit. This also keeps the caramel perfect for dipping for a long time.

We melted our caramel straight from the package. No cream or milk was added to thin it down. Just be sure to get the caramel good and hot so that it’s thin enough to dip easily.

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The best sticks I’ve come across are wooden chopsticks. You might be able to get a few pairs for free if you order out enough, but I found a huge bag at our local party store for $3.99. They’re even pretty to boot.

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If you aren’t into the floral look, the papers on these sticks do slide off. It’s baker’s choice here.

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I really like silicone tools when working with caramel and other sticky ingredients. Just let it cool a bit and …

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Peel it right off. The caramel can go straight back into the pot to melt again. No fuss, no muss, no waste. Lining your work surface with parchment is a huge help as well.

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Once the caramel was hot, all the apples, sticks, and caramel went onto a cart, and we were ready to roll. (Groan! what a pun! )

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Here’s Tara, learning to push the stick firmly into the core of the apple. She found you didn’t even need to remove the stem of the apple if it was too short. Once the stick is inserted, place the apple on a flat surface to finish pushing the stick into the center of the apple. No need to impale your hand on this one.

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When melting the caramel, you want to stir slowly and evenly. If you stir too quickly and dip your apple, you can get bubbles in the caramel like the apple on the left. You want a smooth, shiny surface like the apple on the right. Of course, once the chocolate is applied, no one will see the bubbles too much, so don’t stress too much here.

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If you’re going to skip the chocolate, have your sprinkles and toppings ready to go as soon as you dip the apples. The caramel firms up fairly quickly and you want your toppings to adhere well, like this smoked salt. Mmmmm, caramel and salt.

Once all your apples are coated in caramel, set them aside to firm up while you tidy up and get the chocolate melting.

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For these apples, our new coating chocolates are just perfect. They come in convenient wafers, melt quickly and smoothly, and taste delicious.

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To melt several different chocolates at the same time, place them in heat-safe bowls on a baking sheet and place in a 200° oven for 10 to 15 minutes. Stir until melted and lump-free.

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For toppings, it’s fun to have a variety available. Some folks prefer the simple chocolate-on-chocolate route, while others like a splash of color.

From left to right, top row: white chocolate jimmies, mini chocolate chips, smoked sea salt. Middle row: candy-coated chips, fall leaves sugar decos. Bottom row: chocolate sprinkles, autumn sprinkles, autumn leaf sprinkles.

Once again, have all your toppings ready to go when the chocolate is ready. You’ll have a little more time as the chocolate sets up more slowly.

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Here’s Mary manning the chat desk and coating her apple in chocolate. You can pour the chocolate into tall, deep containers and dunk, but we had fun using the spoons for drizzling.

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Here was one of our “teaching moments.” If you’re using two different kinds of chocolate, let the first layer set up a bit before adding the next layer. We also learned to hold the wet, drippy apple over a neutral bowl to avoid mixing our chocolates.

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Ohhh, white chocolate with milk chocolate stripes. Too bad I can’t remember who made this masterpiece!

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Be sure to sprinkle on your toppings while the chocolate is still wet. Use your fingers for a light coating, or a spoon for heavy coverage.

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How do ya like them apples?

Set the apples on parchment to finish firming up at room temperature. Aren’t these wonderful?

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Here’s a closeup of Phil’s apple, a gift for his lovely wife.

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For cleaning up the leftovers, just spoon all the leftover caramel and chocolates onto a parchment lined sheet, add any leftover sugar decos, and set the whole lovely mess to chill in the fridge for about 10 to 15 minutes. Break into pieces for a unique “bark.”
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Now, you know me. I can’t resist the fancy decorating. For this apple, dip completely in dark chocolate. Use a spoon to drizzle white chocolate stripes around the equator of the apple as you turn it slowly. Add a few more horizontal stripes. Use a toothpick or skewer to drag through the layers first up, and then down to create the pattern.

Enjoy this taste of fall and fairs. Be sure to call us if you have any questions – we’re ready to dip and dunk with the best of ’em!

Key Lime Pie

If you read this blog regularly, you’ll know that we’ve taken some flak lately about nonconformist interpretations of traditional treats. Namely, challah, bialys, and Black and White (a.k.a. Half Moon) cookies.

I’m not complaining; I love to generate friendly controversies around baking. After all, it’s more fun to disagree over the correct method for frosting Black and White cookies; or the amount of onions in the center of a bialy than, say, the merits of Congress’ latest health-care plan.

Still, it’s with trepidation that I publish this recipe for Classic Key Lime Pie. I KNOW there’ll be residents of Key West who decry my use of anything other than fresh Key limes. And there are those who insist Key lime pie should be topped with meringue, not whipped cream. And that a graham cracker crust is an invention of the devil himself.

Well, let me tell you something: I began my quest for REAL Key lime pie assuming the classic version would NOT feature a filling based on sweetened condensed milk.

I was sure that someone, somewhere – Southern Living magazine? Paula Deen? – would offer me the original Key lime pie recipe, the Mother of all succeeding generations. Surely the true version must be custard-based, or at least lemon meringue-pie like.

Well, guess what? I was wrong. REAL Key lime pie, which first appeared prior to the Civil War, was a direct result of the Borden company’s invention of sweetened condensed milk. Southern cooks, wanting to take advantage of this great new product, added lime juice, poured it into a pastry crust, and baked up what was destined to become one of America’s favorite pies.

Pecan pie, another candidate for the Southern Baking Hall of Fame, had a similar provenance. It was invented in the 1930s by the wife of a Karo sales executive, to showcase that company’s signature syrup.

So I’m throwing down the gauntlet. You can claim that your great-grandma’s recipe for Key lime pie makes the one and only original, classic, true and REAL Key lime pie. But I’ll counter with this information from one of my favorite Web sites, foodtimeline.org:

“Key lime pies were first made in the Keys in the 1850s. Jean A. Voltz, in The Flavor of the South (1977), explains that the recipe developed with the advent of sweetened condensed milk in 1856. Since there were few cows on the Keys, the new canned milk was welcomed by the residents and introduced into a pie made with lime juice. The original pies were made with a pastry crust, but a crust made from graham crackers later became popular and today is a matter of preference, as is the choice between whipped cream and meringue toppings.”

And that’s my last word on the subject. At least till your comments start coming in…

OK, enough with the history lesson. Let’s make Classic Key Lime Pie.

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Ah, here it is, the progenitor of I wonder how many hundreds of thousands of Key lime pies since 1856… Borden’s sweetened condensed milk. Thanks, Elsie!

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Next, lime juice. Use fresh Key lime juice, if you can find Key limes. (And no, I’m not going to get into an argument about whether all the “true” key lime trees in Florida were destroyed in the hurricane of 1927.)  Bottled Key lime juice is an option, too.

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And then there are good ol’ supermarket limes: Persian limes, of which “Susie” here is a nice, fat, juicy example.

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If you love-love-LOVE lime, lime oil should be a permanent resident of your fridge. It heightens the lime flavor of anything lime. Plus, it’s a key ingredient in the BEST lime cookies

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Now, talk about nonconformist – coconut in Key lime pie? Not exactly IN the pie, but toasted coconut added to the graham cracker crust is tasty indeed.

OK, let’s jump in. First, select a pie pan whose inside top dimension is at least 9″, and whose height is at least 1 1/4″. Preheat the oven to 325°F.

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Next, get out your graham crackers. You’ll need 9 crackers. There are usually 10 or 11 crackers in one sleeve, so have yourself a s’more with the extra(s).

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Put the crackers into your food processor with 1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar, and 1/8 teaspoon salt.

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Add 1/4 to 1/3 cup toasted coconut, if desired, for that tropical touch.

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Process until the mixture is pretty finely ground.

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Add 1/3 cup melted butter…

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…and process until the crumbs are moist and beginning to clump together.

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Pour into your pie pan. I’ve selected a stoneware pan here.

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Use your fingers or, more effectively, the flat bottom of a measuring cup to press the crumbs into the bottom of the pan.

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Use the side of the cup to press the crumbs against the side of the pan.

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Your finished crust should look fairly smooth, like this.

Bake the pie crust for 15 minutes; it’ll start to darken in color a bit. Remove it from the oven, and place it on a rack to cool while you make the filling.

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WHAT are these limes doing in the microwave? Rumor has it that heating them briefly softens their interior membranes, allowing them to release more juice.

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I did the test; didn’t seem to make much difference. But the softened lime did feel easier to squeeze.

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Before you squeeze the juice out of all the limes, shred the peel off one of them. I’m using a microplane zester here; it works very well indeed. Microplane definitely makes sharp, efficient graters.

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One lime should yield about 3 tablespoons (not packed) of zest. Don’t stress about a bit more or less.

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Put the zest and 3 large egg yolks into a mixing bowl.

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Whisk the zest and egg yolks at high speed of an electric mixer for about 4 minutes. The mixture will lighten in color and thicken somewhat, looking kind of like Hollandaise sauce.

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Stir in one 14-ounce can of sweetened condensed milk, mixing till smooth. Beat at high speed for 3 minutes; the filling will become slightly thicker, and gain a bit of volume.

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Add the 2/3 cup lime juice, stirring just to combine. The mixture will thicken. Add lime oil to taste, about 1/8 teaspoon. Keep in mind that real or bottled Key lime juice is generally more potent/sour than Persian lime juice, so you probably won’t need as much (or any) lime oil if you’re using Key lime juice.

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Pour the filling into the crust.

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Smooth it out, if necessary.

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Bake for about 25 minutes, till it appears set around the edges, though still a bit wobbly in the center. The center should read about 145°F on an instant-read thermometer. You’ll want to add strips of aluminum foil, or a pie crust shield, after about the first 15 minutes, to prevent the edges from over-browning.

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Remove the pie from the oven. It will have puffed up a bit, and it’ll gradually settle as it cools.

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Let the pie cool to room temperature. Refrigerate for several hours before serving. Slice and serve each piece with a lightly sweetened dollop of whipped cream, if desired. (I eschew whipped cream. Not because it’s untraditional; but because I take my KLP straight.)

BTW, garnishing with whipped cream is not heresy. What you do in the privacy of your kitchen is nobody’s business but your own. Cool Whip, Reddi Wip, Ben and Jerry’s Chunky Monkey – heck, it’s all good.

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P.S. No-bake Key lime pies were popular as early as the 1940s. So if you worry about egg yolks, or simply prefer an easy no-bake filling, try this cream cheese/condensed milk Key Lime Pie.

Read, rate, and review (please!) our recipe for Classic Key Lime Pie.

Buy vs. Bake
Buy: Max’s Deli Café, Boston: slice of Key Lime Pie, $2.75

From the supermarket freezer case: Edwards Pie Singles, 3 1/4-ounce slice Key Lime Pie, $1.40

Ingredients: Reduced Fat Sweetened Condensed Milk, Water, Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable Shortening (Palm Kernel Oil, coconut Oil, Soybean Oil), Enriched Flour (Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Sugar, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Egg Yolks, Contains Less than 2% of Each of the Following: Lime Juice Concentrate, Food Starch-Modified, Baking Soda, Salt, Dextrose, Artificial Flavors, Sodium Citrate, Lime Juice Concentrate, Lime Pulp, Polysorbate 60, Soy Lecithin, Sodium Caseinate (a Milk Derivative), Carbohydrate Gum, Polyglycerol Esters of Fatty Acids, Colored with Beta Carotene, Xanthan Gum, Disodium Phosphate, Lime Oil, Lemon Pulp Cells, Lemon Oil, Sorbitan Monostearate, Guar Gum.

Bake at home: 3 1/4-ounce slice Classic Key Lime Pie made with Key lime juice, 99¢; made with fresh lime juice, 66¢

Ingredients: graham crackers, confectioners’ sugar, salt, butter, lime juice & rind, egg yolks, sweetened condensed milk, lime oil.