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Irish Apple Cake with Salted Caramel Glaze

  I have a history with apple orchards, they started out as an annual trip for my family.  Heading over to western Wisconsin to visit my grandparents we'd snag some honeycrisps, drink cider samples from little paper cones, indulge in honey mustard and pretzels, pick our own caramel apple, and stop at a particular vantage point from which you could overlook an entire town nestled into a valley.  These trips were always beautiful, but after a certain age they begin to be milestones for me.  Events revolved around these trips, but even while they happened it was like being stuck in some kind of time capsule.  Despite the past and foreboding future, you didn't believe any of it really mattered, not as long as you had rocks to climb, apples to eat, and scenery to daydream with.

PC: Nellie Holmes

  As each of us sisters grew and one by one dwindled away to places and things outside of our little farmhouse dwelling, we introduced the orchard day to new faces.  We shared the beauty of zero phone service, hidden playgrounds, and honey sticks with people we considered to play a special part in our lives.  And as each year passed, faces coming and going, I found myself looking back on the years before and remarking on how much I had changed.

PC: Carol Brandt

  I grew from holding onto my grandma's hand to a young lady removing duplicate items from a forgetful old woman's cart.  In a matter of months I learned to cope with grief as the same sweet woman passed from this earth, leaving my poor gramps behind for us to half-heartedly share doughnuts and scattered conversation with.  I became closer with my oldest sister once she moved four hours away for college and we had an extra seat in our van on orchard trips.  I spent a day in relative melancholy when I made a rather poor decision to bring a boy with whom there was many mixed up feelings.  I had a sorry couple of years in which my apples had to be cut to accommodate my brace-face.  I shared laughter and dreams with my sisters that were left in the crevices of rocks and the cracks of playground wood. 

PC: Nellie Holmes

  I grew much when I graduated from high school, and came back for a weekend during my first year of college to share the special day with my first official something.  I didn't realize that this would be one of our last excuses to make the trip.  As I smiled at the fellow behind the camera, our caramel apples raised triumphantly in the air, I didn't know I was leaving an innocent family venture tarnished with bittersweet memories.  I didn't know I'd be losing my childhood home, beginning of a college education, relationship, and a set of grandparents all in one fell swoop.  When you're stuck in the time capsule of a beautiful September apple orchard day, you consider little else, and that's just how it should be.  You can't control your future, but you can enjoy your present.  Perhaps that's what makes photographs so very eery, you know exactly what you were thinking and the events surrounding them, and it's unsettling to think how everything has changed.

PC: Carol Brandt
PC: Carol Brandt

  So this year we didn't see the valley colored with spectacular leaves.  I didn't hold anybody's hand or visit eccentric petting farms.  This year I considered a lot of things, and worked every weekend of memories away.  With each caramel apple I've dipped and every pan of fudge swirled, I am accepting the end of an era and holding out hope that someday I'll return to that orchard with wiser eyes and a steadier heart.

  In the meantime, I decided to grab my sister Carol on a rare day off and do something new, something with a tiny orchard of our own discovery.

  And that's exactly what I did.  I took in the cloudy skies of Milwaukee, fawned over the lighting of my sister's sweet little dwelling, and left with a bushel or two of Pippins waiting to be made into something sweet.  A new apple, a new recipe, a new orchard, and everything inbetween.  After years of being the subject of the picture, I took a moment to appreciate the freedom that came from capturing moments with the press of a button on an independently purchased camera.

  As I packed up my things for another week of work, I stole a few slices of cake to share with my new pseudo family.  It was mightily appreciated by all taste-testers, myself included.  This is a cake that's so dense and lovely it's almost on the verge of bread-y, but there's just enough tenderness to its crumb and chunks of spiced apples that it stays and rallies within the cake category.

  It is with sore apple-spinning fingers and a stiff back that I bid farewell to these final days of October, and ready myself for a lingering November and what is sure to be a hardy winter.  In the meantime, expect more recipes, I have a few apples yet calling my name.

Irish Apple Cake with Salted Caramel Glaze
Yield: one 8- to 9-inch cake

Ingredients for the cake:
  • 3 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly-ground nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons, 6 oz.) unsalted butter, cold and cut into pieces
  • 3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar, divided
  • 4 large baking apples (I used Pippins)
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup milk (I used buttermilk)

Ingredients for the glaze:
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon milk or half-and-half
  • pinch of sea salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup powdered sugar 

To make the cake, grease and flour an 8 or 9-inch springform pan, the 8-inch will give you a taller cake.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Peel and core the apples.  Cut apples into 1/4-inch slices and then cut slices into 3 pieces for some goodly-sized chunks.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, cloves, and nutmeg.  Add the butter and with quick fingers or a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles fine crumbs.  Whisk in the 3/4 cup of sugar.  Toss the apples into the mixture.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs and milk.  Add to the flour mixture and stir until just combined, batter will be thick and dough-y.

Transfer to the prepared pan and smooth the top with a spatula.  Sprinkle the 2 tablespoons of sugar over the top.  

Bake for 45-50 minutes, or until golden brown and a small knife inserted in the middle comes out with just a few moist crumbs.  Allow to cool for about 10-15 minutes in the pan, then run a butterknife around the edge.  Release from the springform pan and allow to cool to warm.

To make the glaze, in small saucepan, melt the butter.  Stir in the brown sugar and milk. Cook over medium-low heat for 1 minute. Transfer to a mixing bowl and mix on medium speed to cool the mixture slightly. Add in the salt, vanilla, and 1/2 cup powdered sugar on low speed. Beat with an electric mixer until well blended.  If necessary, add more milk or powdered sugar to get the right consistency.  Drizzle icing over the warm cake.  Best eaten immediately to prevent sogginess from the apples, but can be wrapped up and stored for a couple of days.

Sources: adapted from The Kitchen McCabe, glaze from these scones 


Greek Yogurt Nutella Brulée

  There might be something to those Wordless Wednesday posts.  I've sat here staring with a million and one thoughts running through my head, but I can't settle on one thread.  I'm passively watching the unraveling thoughts of my brain float around the room, past present and future all in one place.  Remembering, lingering, forgetting, planning.

  Isn't that what the transitional season of fall is for?  Adjusting from summer ventures to winter duties?  I dunno.

  But I do know that this season still gets me, every time.  People give spring too much credit, I think, giving it almost ethereal qualities.  I never feel that in the spring.  For as long as I can remember, the magic has always been in the colored leaves and cloudy skies of autumn.  This is the season where things really happen, and you can't help but feel everything around you. 

  This season transports me back to homeschooled mornings.  On days when I'd finish ridiculously early, like around 9:30 or 10:00, I never gave a second thought to putting on my wellies and just roaming the fields and bike trail.  I guess I didn't realize other kids usually made plans after school, or maybe even had a job to go to.  I didn't realize that being with yourself so much wasn't really normal.  And I certainly didn't realize how much of a privilege those fall ramblings really were until now.  Especially since those fields have been sold, and I've left schoolbooks behind for quite a while now.  And that's really strange to my still very young self.  I miss oversized sweatshirts and playing with kittens, I miss my mom listening to Andrea Bocelli and peeling carrots, I miss my dad working in the wood-scented shop where we had numerous life talks, I miss only having 45 minutes of computer time, I miss the fireplace and the sound of my dad cutting wood by the barn, I miss swinging on my favorite tree, I miss stealing bits of bread dough when I caught my mom in the middle of kneading.  I really grew up in a unique environment, and I appreciate that very much now.  I really do.

  It taught me to appreciate the finer things in life, like having the time to make yourself a danged breakfast.  Two years ago, I had finished what was to be one of my last full seasons at Schuster's (little did I know), and a few friends ended up banding together to buy me a farewell/birthday present.  Knowing my culinary pursuits, probably better than anyone else actually, they got me the cutest little kitchen torch.  Two years later it finally got broken out of its drawer and was filled with butane, and I recalled a favorite blog of mine taking breakfast to the next level by bruleé-ing her greek yogurt.  In the 24 hours I get off of work and in my own home, I don't really have a whole lot of time or ambition to make much these days, so this just fit the bill.  And knowing how I do, a swirl of Nutella just had to happen.  Plus, I had hazelnuts left from this rich thang, so obviously this was meant to be.

  This decadent-but-not-too-decadent breakfast is nice to split with your mum mid-morning, it's just enough fuel to get you out and about with your camera for a few blissful hours before you head back to the daily grind that is life.

Greek Yogurt Bruleé
Yield: 1 serving

  • 1 cup Greek Yogurt
  • A few tablespoons of Nutella, warmed up slightly
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • Hazelnuts and extra Nutella, for garnishing

Place your yogurt in a heat-safe bowl and swirl in the Nutella.  Sprinkle the sugar evenly over the top, then drizzle the honey over the sugar.  Very carefully, use a bruleé torch to fire the sugar until it becomes golden brown and bubbly, about 5-10 seconds.  Garnish as desired with hazelnuts and Nutella, treat yoself.

Sources: adapted from Curvy Carrot