European Apple Cake

I found this in the Boston Globe many years ago. In a twist of fate, Margie Huggard of Osterville's Margo’s, introduced me to her friend Julie Riven during an event at her store. I’ve been making this cake for years, and as it turned out, it was one of Julie’s mother’s recipes that she published in the Globe. I thought it was such a great small-world story.

Like all amazing cake recipes, this cake comprises simple ingredients and yields impressive results. It’s old-world, it’s classic, and it’s cakey and appley in every bite.

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4 cups thinly sliced Cortland or McIntosh apples (or any other cooking apples)
2 tablespoons cinnamon
3 tablespoons sugar
3 cups flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs
1/4 cup orange juice
1 tablespoon vanilla

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Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease a 10-inch bundt pan.

Add the apples to a bowl. Combine the cinnamon and the 3 tablespoons sugar. Sprinkle the mixture on the apples and gently stir to coat.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, mix the flour, 1 1/2 cups sugar, baking powder and salt. Make a well in the center and add the oil, eggs, orange juice and vanilla. Beat until smooth and shiny, about 1 minute.

Spoon one-third of the batter in the bottom of the prepared pan. Using a rubber spatula, smooth the batter down. Add half the apples, drained of excess moisture, making sure that the apples are pressed gently into the batter and not touching the walls of the pan (this will make it easier to remove the cakefrom the pan after baking). Add another one-third of the batter, then the remainder of the apples and the last third of the batter.

Bake in the preheated oven for 55 to 70 minutes or until the cake pulls away from the sides of the pan and a tester comes out clean (there may be a little moisture from the cooked apples on the tester, but there should not be any loose batter on it). If at any point the cake gets too brown on top but is not yet cooked, cover it lightly with foil, shiny side down, and continue to bake it.

Remove the cake from the oven and let it rest on a metal cooling rack for 15 to 20 minutes. Invert the cake onto the rack, lift off the pan and allow to rest until cool. If you are not planning to serve the cake within 4 hours, cover with foil to store. If stored properly, this cake tastes great for a few days afterward.

Serves 10

The Incredible, Edible Gateaux Pithivier

Whenever I think of pastry being miraculous, the one dessert that always comes to mind is Gateaux Pithivier (pronounced pee-tee-vee-ay). While I was attending classes at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City, this special pastry was part of the curriculum.

I had never heard of it and I didn’t even understand the profound impact it would have on deepening my love of making pastries. That might sound like I’m going a bit overboard, but during the process of preparing it I was simply going through the motions of rolling the puff pastry, cutting my circles of dough for the top and bottom, putting the dollop of frangipane in the center, creating some leaves out of the dough, and marking it with the traditional scored lines. I had no idea how impressive this simple-yet-complicated-looking pastry would turn out.

I put it in the oven and thought it was going to make such a cute looking hat because that’s what the precooked pastry looked like to me. Boy was I wrong. I was off to tackle my next task when I had passed the oven and I stopped dead in my tracks—the magic of puff pastry had revealed a beautifully browned and evened circled and there was a stunning Gateaux Pithivier. Call me weird but I had goosebumps—the transformation of the pastry before all that buttery goodness steamed up and puffed this beautiful disc of flaky dough was just incredible. Science, I mean baking, had never been so fun and delicious.

My Gateaux Pithivier made the cover of my school portfolio. To me, it embodies every belief I had about how crazy I think it is that baking has a reputation for being so complicated when in reality it was so simple to create this masterpiece. It’s the first dessert that I think of when I want to prove how anyone can bake.

Originating in Pithiviers, France this treat takes center stage on January 6 and called "galette du roi" or Kings' Cake to celebrate when the three kings finally got to visit Jesus in his manger. As the centerpiece of a special celebration, a small china figurine (be sure to forewarn your guests) is hidden in the cake and whoever finds it is declared King for the day and wears a paper crown. While I love tradition, Gateaux Pithivier is such a showstopper that it should be served year round. It’s the perfect vessel for sweet or savory fillings and sure to impress anyone.

From Beginners to Bakers

It all began with endless hours of watching Julia Child on PBS. No matter how much my mother tried, it was impossible to pull me away from our television. I was mesmerized. Everything looked delicious, and the fact is, we had unsophisticated palates so I didn’t even know of the food she prepared let alone tasted it. What resonated most was her ability to make cooking accessible to everyone — and I feel the same way about baking. Part of my mission is to unravel the “mysteries” of baking so you can see that it is not complicated.
 

It wasn’t until I taught my first writing class at Northeastern University that I realized teaching made me feel invigorated. There’s nothing more gratifying than when students get that ‘Aha!’ moment — or knowing I may have helped shape their careers.

Teaching is wildly infectious—as students catch on to whatever topic you’re teaching, you start to understand that you never know how long and far the knowledge you’ve passed along will go—and that is exciting.

Although I’ve transitioned from teaching college academics to scratch baking, one thing remains the same: once you apply the given techniques, you’ll be able to execute beautiful desserts or decorations that you probably thought were complicated. Case in point: one of my summer employees, Emma.

Like me, Emma loved to bake—and she often peeked behind the counter to watch our pastry chefs working so she could learn more about what they were doing. One thing that always looks complicated is buttercream roses. But the secret to successfully piping buttercream simply lies in two things: angle and pressure. How you angle the petal tip and the pressure you apply to the pastry bag is going to determine the shape, thickness, and design of your rose.

Once I showed Emma how to position the piping bag, angle the tip, and the apply pressure she was off and running. She made stunning buttercream roses that we featured in our cases throughout the summer.

Whether you’ve been baking for decades or a novice like Emma, there’s always something new to learn at our Academie. If you’d like go from beginner to baker, register for classes at our Academie today! We offer classes for all levels that range from special techniques to tricks of the trade. Class size is limited. Check out our Fall 2015 class schedule here!

As my lifelong mentor, Julia Child, said: “No one is born a great cook. One learns by doing.”