apples

How ya like them apples?

Valentine’s Day. It’s a thing. If you’re not part of a couple, you can either choose to ignore it, wallow in your singlehood, or celebrate not having to feel any obligation to do anything at all about it. If you’re part of a couple, there’s generally a range from, “Oh geez. This again?” to, “Gimme all the romance! All of it! Now!”

The boyfriend and I are somewhere more towards the low energy end of the spectrum, but we usually end up caving and at least getting cards or something. If you’re like us, and you want to acknowledge the day, but would like to keep the Fuss Factor to a minimum, you might enjoy this little treat.

This is what would happen if your typical Rice Crispy treat was us, and decided to celebrate Valentine’s Day. It takes a little extra effort to dress up, but doesn’t go too far out of its way to make it a whole production. For this version of what is an infamously low maintenance dessert, we’re going to do two things to make it just a little more special– we’re going to brown the butter, and we’re going to make a topping. The brown butter gives it a nutty flavor, and makes it a little crispier. As the boyfriend describes it, “More like a baked good.” The topping, a very simple apple pie type concoction, spices things up just a little, and gives the whole she-bang another layer of flavor.

Equipment
Large sauce pan
Measuring cups and spoons
Mixing spoon
9″ x 11″  baking pan
Fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth
Small bowl
Knife
Cutting board
Saute pan

Ingredients
For the treats:
4 tablespoons butter
10 oz (one package of the large ones) marshmallows
6 cups puffed rice cereal
Pan spray to coat the baking pan

Melt the butter over medium heat in the large sauce pan, swirling occasionally, until the butter becomes a golden brown color. The solids in the butter will brown and sink to the bottom. Strain the butter through the strainer or cheesecloth into the small bowl to remove the solids, then add the butter back to the pan along with the marshmallows. Stir until the marshmallows have melted completely into the butter.

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Then, add the rice cereal and stir to coat. Pour into the baking pan and press to make sure it’s evenly distributed. Set aside.

For the topping:
4-5 small apples (enough to make one cup), peeled and diced
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon

Melt the butter and the brown sugar together over medium heat until the sugar is melted, stirring constantly. Add the cinnamon and continue to stir until the mixture becomes a loose caramel. It might look a little dry, but don’t worry, once you add the apples it’ll loosen up a little. Add diced apples and stir until the apples are well coated and cooked through.

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Spread the apple topping over the treats and cut into whatever shape you want.

Alternatively, you could spoon the apple topping over each treat individually when you serve them, if you want to be a little more fancy pants about it all.

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From start to finish, this shouldn’t take you more than half an hour to put together. I recommend ordering pizza or Chinese food, opening a bottle of wine, and making these while you wait for the food to arrive, but if you just don’t give a crap, grab a pile of napkins and a fork and go to town. I’m not judging!

A pound you won’t mind gaining…

When I create a recipe, or use someone else’s recipe, I try to think about making that recipe as the least experienced cook who reads my blog. I don’t have any idea which of you that is, but you’re who I write to. So, when I got the big idea that I’d be doing this whole project of paring down my cookbook collection and sharing part of it with you all, one of the concerns I had was that some of the recipes would be… a little advanced. Or they would seem a little advanced because the instructions were a little unclear, or convoluted, or simply had too many steps for a novice home cook.

Turns out, that concern was well founded. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to starting handing out cookbooks to all of you that I haven’t used or that I think suck. I love the recipes in the books I’ll be giving away, but after cooking a couple of them, one thought kept popping into my head.

aint-nobody-got-time-for-that

 

In that spirit, before I share a recipe from any of these cookbooks, I’m going to make sure I’m giving you a version that is actually workable for someone new to cooking. I don’t think the more experienced cooks among you will mind too much, either. If you’ve ever looked over a recipe and thought, “This is a lot more work than I thought it was going to be,” maybe this little exercise will help demonstrate that just because it’s written in a cookbook doesn’t make it gospel. If it seems like too many steps, or too many specialty ingredients, don’t just give up. You can absolutely re-work the recipe.

This recipe for “Papa’s Apple Pound Cake” comes from Payard Patisserie and Bistro in New York, via The New York Times Dessert Cookbook.

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This cookbook is a pretty hefty set of cake, tart, ice cream, dessert soup, and custard recipes collected from chefs from around the country, and edited by Florence Fabricant, a food critic for the NYT. One of the things I like most about it is the “Basics” chapter which gives you pretty simple recipes for things like pie crust and pastry cream. I don’t love that it’s the last chapter in the book, but, if you just bookmark page 519 it’s a great quick reference for those “blank canvas” types of recipes that you can use to build into your own creation.

Think of this as a “jazzed up” pound cake. It’s got a little more flavor and texture than a plain pound cake, and has the potential to be an inspirational jumping off point for those of you who like to play around with add ins.

Equipment:

1 loaf pan (the recipe in the book calls for and 8″ x 4″ x 2 1/2″ but the one I used was bigger.)
measuring cups and spoons
1 small pot
1 large mixing bowl
1 small mixing bowl
1 mixing spoon
1 small bowl (any old bowl is fine. this is for soaking your raisins.)
stand mixer, or hand held electric mixer
vegetable/fruit peeler
apple corer, if you have one
sifter, if you want to use it

Ingredients:

1 stick (4 oz) unsalted butter, softened, plus a little extra to butter the pan
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour, plus a little more for flouring the pan
1 1/3 cup raisins
1 tablespoon plus 2 1/2 teaspoons of dark rum, or you can use rum extract (I did, because the liquor store by me didn’t open until noon and I had to get this show on the road.)
2 Fuji apples, peeled and cored then cut into thin wedges
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/3 cups confectioner’s sugar
3 large, room temperature eggs
4 tablespoons apricot preserves

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour your loaf pan. If you’ve never done this, basically just smear butter over all the inside surfaces of the pan, and then lightly sprinkle flour on top of the butter. This video from Jennifer Armentrout at Fine Cooking does a good job showing you what this looks like.

If your raisins seem really dried out and hard, soak them in really hot water while you work on the rest of the recipe. My raisins were nice and soft, so I was able to skip this step. Use your best judgement. If you aren’t sure, go ahead and soak them. It won’t hurt anything.

Peel and core both apples, and cut them into thin wedges.

In your small mixing bowl, combine the flour and the baking powder. The recipe says to sift. I didn’t, because I don’t think it’s worth the time and mess. Most modern flours don’t need the extra sifting, but if you’re concerned about making sure the baking powder is evenly distributed through or that your flour is lumpy, do it. You have to feel confident about the finished product, and if sifting gives you that, make it so.

If you’ve soaked your raisins to soften them, you can drain them now. If you’re using actual rum, put the raisins back in the small bowl with a tablespoon of rum and let them hang out there for a bit while you finish mixing the batter. If you’re using extract, hang tight.

In the large mixing bowl with your handheld mixer, or in the bowl of your stand mixer, beat the stick of butter until it’s smooth. A bit at a time, add the confectioners sugar until it’s incorporated into the butter. It should be fluffy and creamy.

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Add the eggs one at a time until everything is mixed together. This is the point where I added the rum extract straight into the batter. I just used a cap full. Extracts carry a punch, and a little goes a long way.

A bit at a time, mix the flour/baking powder mixture into the wet ingredients until it’s all incorporated, and the batter is smooth.

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If you have had your raisins soaking in the rum, go ahead and dump the whole bowl into the batter now, then fold the raisins into the batter until they’re evenly distributed.

Now, this is where I thought the recipe got just a little bit convoluted. It took a full paragraph to explain the process of getting the apples just so into and on top of the batter. I read it, then I read it to the boyfriend, and then I re-read it two more times and then I felt a tiny aneurysm start to form and I had to stop. If you want to go out and buy this book, or try to get my copy in the giveaway so you can use their instructions, I ain’t mad atcha. However, I’m going to tell you how I handled things, and I fully believe you will still be satisfied with the end result.

Pour half of the batter into the loaf pan. Push 10-12 of the little apple wedges into the batter, with the round side up. or just lay them on top and wiggle them into the batter a bit.

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Pour the rest of the batter on top of all that, and then arrange the rest of the apple slices on top in a way that pleases you. I did four rows of shingled slices. You can do whatever you think looks pretty.

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Put the pan into your preheated oven for about an hour. The book says to check it at 10 minutes in and cut a little slit down the center of the batter to help it rise evenly. I did that, but it was literally still just batter at that point and I’m pretty sure the slit just closed back up on itself, so I’m not entirely sure if it actually worked. Again, it doesn’t hurt anything if you want to do it anyway.

Check for doneness at around the 50 minute mark by inserting a wooden skewer or a butter knife into the center. If it comes out clean, it’s done. If it’s still got some goo clinging to it, let it go another 5-10 minutes.

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While the cake is on it’s last 10 minutes, melt down the apricot preserves in the small pot on medium heat until it’s pourable.

When the cake is done, brush (or pour and then spread with the back of a spoon) the apricot preserves over the top and let it hang out for awhile until it’s all pretty and glazey.

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The book calls for a second layer of stuff on top. I didn’t do that because it was already pretty sweet, but if you want to do this second topping…

Combine the remaining 2 1/2 teaspoons of rum (or about 1/4 cap full of the extract and 2 teaspoons of water) with 1/3 of a cup of confectioners sugar. Stir it well until it looks like icing. Brush (or pour and spread with the back of a spoon) over the apricot glaze, and then put the pan back into the turned-off oven until the icing is dry. Remove the pan from the oven again, and let the whole she-bang cool until it’s time to serve it. At that point you can remove it from the pan or serve it straight out of there.

I brought this to a Rose Bowl party (Go Ducks!) and it was a success. I hope you’ll give it a try.

Oh! If you’re not a big raisin fan, I think currants or dried cranberries would work, or I don’t know… go crazy and add butterscotch chips or something!

I would like for one of you, my lovely readers, to have my copy of this book. So, if you’d like to be entered into a drawing to have all 567 pages of deliciousness for your very own, you just need to do one very simple thing– Answer this question in the comments:

If you had to give up one piece of kitchen equipment for a whole year, which one would be the most difficult to let go of?

I’ll draw the winner before midnight on Wednesday, January 7th. Good Luck!

This giveaway is not sponsored by or affiliated with the New York Times or the publisher, St. Martin’s Press. Winner will be notified on the I’m Gonna Cook That Facebook page, on the I’m Gonna Cook That Twitter account, and of course, here on the blog. The winner will have 3 days to respond or the prize is forfeit. Please allow 6-8 weeks for delivery.