Apple Brown Butter Upside-Down Cake

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If you’ve followed this blog at all, you know that I have a special place in my heart reserved for America’s Test Kitchen and Cook’s Illustrated Magazine.  Last April, I was chosen as a finalist for their “Learn To Cook” series.  Alas, I did not win, but I still love them and put my full trust in their tried-and-true recipes.  What I love so much about their recipes is that they test out many different methods, using many different ingredients until they settle on the “perfect” way to do something.

This cake is no exception.  Normally, when one thinks of an upside-down cake, images of juicy rounds of pineapple studded with shiny and saccharin-sweet maraschino cherries come to mind.  But this one is different in so many wonderful ways.

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To Conquer the Cookie

Growing up, my mother always seemed to bake the most perfect chocolate chip cookies.  I used to think her success was genetic, as my grandmother’s chocolate chip cookies were nothing short of life-changing.  Oh, how wrong I was when I tried to follow in their culinary footsteps.  I absolutely could not bake a decent chocolate chip cookie.

For quite some time, I avoided said cookie at all costs.  I knew inevitably they would be terrible.  They would either spread over the entire surface of the baking sheet or they would cool on the counter into chocolate chip hockey pucks.  Neither option was desirable, to say the least.

No amount of milk could save my cookies.

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Pasta Night

So, the other day, Scott and I stood in the kitchen and discussed how many foods have a “night” of their own during the week?  Meaning, par exemple, when say, Thursday rolls around, is it Taco Night or Chicken Night or Chili Night in your house?  When I was growing up, we most definitely had “nights” devoted to certain foods or dishes.  I can recall Taco Night, for sure.  It usually consisted of ground beef with a taco seasoning packet mixed in, along with several bowls filled with various accompaniments (shredded iceberg lettuce, chopped tomatoes, pickled jalapeños, onions, shredded cheese, and of course, salsa.  I loved Taco Night.  I got to eat with my hands and customize my own dining experience!  What’s not to love?

One night that most families have (I’m sure) is some form of Pasta Night.  For my family, it was Spaghetti Night, but for others, perhaps you’re looking at Lasagna or Alfredo Night.  Who knows?  The point is, from time to time it’s good to have nights devoted to certain dishes.  Not only does it make menu planning a breeze, it also drastically simplifies grocery shopping.  Besides, it’s fun to look forward to your favorite “night,” isn’t it?

As you may or may not know, for my birthday Scott gifted me a pasta-making attachment for my KitchenAid Stand Mixer.  It is divine.  I adore it, and it is why I look forward to Pasta Night at our house.  More specifically, Ravioli Night.  Oh yes, and I think I have found the most perfect pasta dough recipe!  It is made with a mixture of both all-purpose flour AND cake flour.  That’s right, cake flour!  I was skeptical as well, but you know me, I’m always willing to try something new in the kitchen!  The cake flour supplied the lightness pasta needs and contributed to its delicate mouthfeel.  This is definitely my go-to dough recipe from now on!

Don’t get me wrong, nothing beats homemade ravioli, but getting there is labor-intensive.  You have to want it.  You will not be sorry, though.  Just start early, and allow yourself some time to make the mistakes you will inevitably make.  Take deep breaths and I promise you, all will work out.  Add this recipe to your weekly dinner rotation.  Give it its own night.  You won’t regret it.

Arugula and Goat Cheese Ravioli
adapted from Gourmet, 2007

For Pasta:

2 cups cake flour (not self-rising)
1/2 cups all-purpose flour plus additional for kneading
4 large egg yolks
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup water

For Filling:

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
1 pound baby arugula, chopped
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1/2 cup (4.5-5oz) soft goat cheese
1/2 cup ricotta cheese

For Sauce:

1/2 stick (1/4 cup or 4 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1/3 cup pine nuts (1.5 oz)
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup chopped arugula

To make pasta:

***Note:  I use a food processor to make my pasta dough.  I know, I know, I should probably be making it by hand on my marble board.  But you know what?  This is simpler, cleaner, and the dough turns out just as lovely.

Blend together all the dough ingredients in the food processor just until it starts to form a ball.  Turn out onto a lightly-floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 6-8 minutes.  You can add just enough flour to keep it from sticking.  Wrap the dough in cling film and let sit at room temperature for at least an hour. 

***Note:  If, for any reason, you’re going to be leaving the house, or you’re starting this dough early in the day, place it in the fridge to chill, but make sure to let it come to room temp before you start working with it.  It’ll make rolling easier.

Make filling while dough stands:

Heat butter in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat until foam subsides, then add garlic, salt, and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until garlic begins to turn golden, about 1-2 minutes.  Don’t let the garlic burn!  Add the arugula and zest and cook, turning with tongs, until arugula is wilted, about 2-4 minutes.  Transfer arugula mixture to a colander or fine-mesh strainer and press with the back of a wooden spoon to squeeze out any extra liquid.

Make ravioli:

***Note:  Yes, you can do this with a rolling pin, it’ll just take a lot longer.  But, if you have a pasta maker or a tabletop pasta roller, use it. 

Cut dough into 8 equal pieces.  Cover 7 pieces with cling film and gently pat out remaining piece into a flat rectangle.  Dust generously with flour.

Set rollers of pasta maker on widest setting.  Feed rectangle, short side first, through rollers.  Fold rectangle in thirds, like a letter, and feed it, a short side first, through rollers.  Repeat 6 or 7 more times, folding dough in thirds and feeding it through rollers, a short side first each time, dusting with flour to prevent sticking.  Turn dial to next (narrower) setting and feed dough through rollers without folding, a short side first.  Continue to feed dough through without folding, making space between rollers narrower each time, until the second to narrowest setting is used.  When we made this, we stopped on number 5 – we found this was just thin enough not to tear when filled.

Put sheet of dough on a lightly floured kitchen towel with a long side nearest you.  Drop 3 or 4 rounded teaspoon size mounds of filling 1.5-inches apart in a row down the center of the right half of sheet, then lift left half of sheet and drape it over the mounds.  Press down firmly but gently around each mound, forcing out air.  Cut pasta between mounds with a knife (for square) or round cutter.  Line a large baking sheet with another kitchen towel, then arrange the ravioli in 1 layer.  If your round cutter doesn’t already have a crimper built in, then just run the tines of a fork around the outer edge of each ravioli.  Continue with the remaining dough and filling.

Make sauce:

Heat butter in a cleaned 12-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat until foam subsides, then cook pine nuts, stirring frequently, until pale golden, about 4 minutes.  Add garlic, salt, and pepper, and cook, stirring frequently, until garlic begins to turn golden, about 2 minutes.  Add lemon juice and oil, swirling skillet to combine, and remove from heat (leave sauce in skillet).

Cook ravioli:

Bring a 6- to 8-quart pot of generously salted water to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to a gentle boil.  While water is heating, reheat sauce over low heat if necessary.

Add half of ravioli (we only boiled half of what we originally made – we froze the rest) to gently boiling water, carefully stirring to separate, and cook, adjusting heat to keep at a gentle boil, until pasta is just tender 2-4 minutes.  Lift cooked ravioli with a slotted spoon, draining well over pot, then transfer to skillet with sauce and gently swirl skillet to coat pasta.  Transfer ravioli carefully to serving plates (or bowls).  Spoon a little sauce over the ravioli and sprinkle with chopped fresh arugula. 


Four o’clock Sugar Rush

I’ve never worked in a proper office.  I’ve never had to sit in a cubicle.  I’ve never had a conversation by a water cooler.  And in the many jobs I’ve held, only few were the kind that supported “food days.”  These are the types of days (birthdays, themed soup days, staff meeting days, etc) where the staff lounge is filled to the brim with treats and snacks – sometimes, on occasion, entire meals. 

My current job is one that asks for volunteers to bring food one day per month in celebration of staff birthdays for said month.  Ironically, I chose the month of December to bring food – this happens to be my birth month.  Essentially, I brought my own birthday cake today, and I’m fine with that.

As today drew nearer and nearer, I couldn’t help but recall the episode of Seinfeld (I know…big surprise, right?) in which Elaine’s office is inundated with cakes and treats for anything from Walter’s last day, to the other Walter’s birthday.  She even receives a “get well” cake from her fellow employees because they heard she was out sick the day before.  She eventually denounced her coworkers and subsequently suffered from sugar withdrawal right around the four o’clock hour.

ELAINE: What is this?

MALE WORKER: You were out sick yesterday, so we got you a get-well cake.

FEMALE WORKER: It’s carrot. It’s good for you.

WORKERS (singing): Get well get well soon, we wish you to get—

ELAINE: Stop it! That’s not even a song! I mean, now we’re celebrating a sick day?

MALE WORKER: I think it’s nice.

ELAINE: What? What is nice? Trying to fill the void in your life with flour and sugar and egg and vanilla? I mean, we are all unhappy. Do we have to be fat, too? Not you Becky, I know you have a slow metabolism. I don’t want one more piece of cake in my office!

In honor of that episode and of every office food day around the world, I baked a carrot cake last night. 

My coworkers seemed to like it, by the way. 

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Maple Icing

Adapted from the incomparable David Lebovitz

Yield:  One 8- or 9- inch double layer cake

For the cake:

4 large eggs, at room temperature
1/4 cup vegetable oil (I used canola because that is what I had on hand)
3/4 cup (12 tablespoons) melted brown butter *
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 tablespoon cinnamon (I like Vietnamese cinnamon)
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon salt
4 cups loosely packed grated carrots
1/2 cup toasted chopped pecans

For the icing:

2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, at room temperature
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1/4 cup pure maple syrup (use Grade B if you can)

*Brown butter:  Cut butter up into even pieces and melt in heavy-bottomed saucepan on medium.  Whisk frequently (butter might foam up, and that’s okay).   Keep an eye on it and watch for small brown flecks to appear.  Do not let it burn – it can happen quickly!  As soon as it smells nutty and has little brown flecks, take it completely off the heat to stop the cooking process.

Directions:

– Preheat oven to 350ºF.  Butter and flour (or use Pam for Baking) two 8- or 9-inch cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper rounds.

For the cake layers:  sift together the flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, cardamom, and salt.  Set aside.  In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the eggs until they are pale and frothy.  With the mixer running on medium speed, drizzle in the oil and melted brown butter, then the vanilla.

– Add the dry ingredients to the eggs and mix carefully until just combined.  Try not to overdo it at this point. 

– Fold in the carrots and pecans; the batter will be stiffer than you might be used to, but it’s supposed to be this way.  Divide the batter between the pans and bake for 30-35 minutes.  I had to bake mine for almost 40 minutes, but my oven is close to kicking the proverbial bucket.  Cool the cakes completely before icing.

To make the icing:  Beat the cream cheese and butter together until they are smooth.  Slowly add powdered sugar (on low) and mix until silky.  At this point, add the maple syrup and blend until fully combined.  You might want to chill the icing for 20 minutes or so before you decide to ice the cake. 

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