Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Caramelized-Apple Skillet Cake

Rachel here: John's best friend is visiting us this week, an arrival which was conveniently timed with Cake Week. To be honest, when John and I are left on our own with a cake we will eat the entire thing without any difficulty and so it's really best for us when somebody else arrives on the scene to lend a helping hand. Usually my cake repertoire fluctuates between vanilla and chocolate variations but, it being Cake Week and all, I figured I'd push myself a little bit and try a new type. What I ended up with was a cake that was not too sweet, had a little bit of yummy crunch (there's cornmeal involved), and seems like the perfect accompaniment to a cup of tea. Plus, I kind of felt like Ma Ingalls because the entire thing is baked in a cast iron skillet. I got the recipe from Karen Demasco's The Craft of Baking. I didn't follow her recipe exactly because it's a little finicky and it was late in the evening when I started, but I did followed the majority of her guidelines. What I will post below is my rendition. The three of us thoroughly enjoyed this cake. I will note, though, that it was much lighter and fluffier the first day (as opposed to the second, though it was still completely edible).

1 c. sugar
8 T. butter, unsalted and soft
1-2 tart baking apples (I ended up only using one very large Granny Smith)
3/4 tspn. vanilla extract
2 large eggs, separated
3/4 c. plus 3 T. all-purpose flour
3 T. coarse yellow cornmeal
1 1/2 tspn. baking powder
1/4 tspn. kosher salt
1/3 c. whole milk (I'm confident that you can use whatever kind of milk is convenient)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. In an 8-inch ovenproof skillet (I'd use cast iron if at all possible), combine 1/4 c. of the sugar with 2 T. of water. Stir to make sure all of the sugar is damp, adding more water if needed. Over high heat and stirring occasionally, cook the sugar and water until the sugar turns a golden brown caramel. Supposedly this takes about 2 minutes. Mine never turned a beautiful golden brown, though, and after 4 minutes I just stopped. My cake was totally fine. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in 2 T. of the butter. Do this step very quickly as the addition of butter helps stop the sugar from solidifying. If the sugar solidifies, add a T. of water and return to the heat for a few seconds to soften everything back up before adding the butter. (Can you tell I struggled with this step?) Peel and core your apple, cutting it into 1/8 inch slices. Starting at the outside of the skillet, tightly shingle the apple pieces until the entire skillet is filled. In the bowl of an electric mixer (or by hand) fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the remaining sugar, butter and the vanilla. Beat until light and fluffy before mixing in the egg yolks one at a time. Then stir in the milk. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt. Dump this into your wet ingredients in the electric mixer and mix until just combined. Turn this batter out into the bowl you whisked the dry ingredients together in. Clean and dry the electric mixing bowl. Add the eggs whites to the bowl and beat into soft peaks. Fold the whipped whites into your batter. Spread batter evenly over the apples in the skillet. Bake, rotating halfway through, for approximately 50 minutes. The top will be a dark golden brown and feel pretty firm to the touch. Cool in the skillet on a wire rack for about 30 minutes before loosening the edges and turning over onto a plate. Serve and enjoy.

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