Baking Chez Moi – Custardy Apple Squares

Custardy Apple Squares

I always gravitated to the humanities in school – literature and writing, history and philosophy – these subjects, along with the more concrete elements of the sciences, grabbed my attention and often felt almost effortless. Math, however, was not my natural element and I remained convinced that I had no talent for it.

But, I’m kinder to myself than I once was and realize now that I had been delving into math from a very young age. I just expressed it in the form of cookies and cakes. It may not be higher math, but baking is certainly one of the more satisfying – and even elegant – ways to experience math.

So, even though I can only experience the majesty of black holes and fractals through popular science writing, I am able to witness the wonder of a few simple ingredients coming together in precise proportion to create something magically more than the sum of its parts.

Dorie’s apple squares are a lovely example of this kind of culinary marvel. A little flour, milk, butter, sugar, and eggs transform into something that isn’t quite cake and isn’t quite custard. In different proportions, the same ingredients can produce everything from a rich bread to a sturdy sponge cake.

This recipe is quite similar to one of my favourite apple desserts, Marie-Hélène’s Apple Cake, but with its own unique texture and snackable square shape. I differentiated it further from its rum-rich cousin by taking Dorie’s suggestion of using a tiny drop of almond extract in the batter, which somehow manages to enrich the apple flavour even more.

Nicola apples

I used some gorgeous Nicola apples that I found at my local food co-op today, but these would be great with any baking apples (or pears, another one of Dorie’s variation suggestions).

These won’t last long, but the good news is that they’re quick to prepare, even with the 40-minute bake factored in. Delicious dessert that requires a minimum of effort and uses pantry staples. That might be the baker’s golden ratio.

You can find the rest of the Tuesdays with Dorie crew’s entries on this recipe here or here, along with posts about this month’s other selected recipe, Pear Tart with Crunchy Almond Topping.

Baking Chez Moi – Apple Kuchen

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Working through Around My French Table and now Baking Chez Moi, I’m so often struck by the cultural heterogeneity that is France.

Just as languages bear the traces of migration, conflict, and trade, so too do our recipe boxes. In a country such as France, that’s seen millennia of shifting borders, population, and governance, it’s not surprising that French cuisine is diverse. Of course, the menus of the French restaurants of my youth didn’t reflect that at all.

It took discovering writers like Julia Child, Elizabeth David, and M.F.K. Fisher to show me the breadth of French cuisine. It took joining French Fridays with Dorie to fully explore the reaches of French cooking in my own kitchen.

This week’s Tuesdays with Dorie dish is a gift from its neighbour, Germany. Kuchen (which really just means cake) is itself a dish full of diversity – the word has travelled all around the world and depending on your destination, kuchen can be cheesecake-like, strudel-ish, reminiscent of coffee cake, or nearly pie.

It can also be this: a tender tart crust that’s also sturdy enough to hold butter-soaked cookie crumbs, topped with roasted apples and boozy dried fruit, suspended in a rum-flavoured custard. It was just as good as it sounds and don’t be fooled by the toasty bits on top – the last step is slathering the top with sugar and butter and running the cake under the broiler. I had to stop myself from nibbling at these bits of fruit and content myself with those on my own piece.

I was very content, as you might imagine.

You can find the rest of the Tuesdays with Dorie crew’s entries on this recipe here: Apple Kuchen.

FFWD – Long and Slow Apples

Apple Confit

You wouldn’t think baked apples were controversial, but this recipe caused a lot of consternation amongst the French Fridays crowd this week. It wasn’t the long bake at 300° or the layers of melted butter and spiced sugar. It wasn’t even figuring out what to use to press down on the apples as they cooked. It was that the recipe asks you to wrap the ramekins in a layer of plastic wrap under another of foil.

I’ve long been scared away from using cling wrap in the microwave, for fear of leaching chemicals, so I was also dubious about putting some into a conventional oven. My brother (a chef) advised that there are two kinds of wrap – restaurant-grade wrap that’s oven-safe and the cling wrap most of us have at home, which isn’t. I decided to brush the leftover melted butter onto foil and leave it at that.

That seemed to work just fine. My layers of apples were reduced to about a quarter of their original height and their texture had changed, too. They’d absorbed the butter and sugar and had become dense and rich. I used homemade vanilla sugar, skipped the zest, and added ground cardamom along with the ginger. It was a nice mix of flavours.

The apples are meant to be served with whipped cream, but I decided to dust them with icing sugar instead, which promptly melted into the apples, which were still a little too warm. This (relatively) quick apple confit made a great late night snack last weekend and I’d happily make them for a dinner party (with whipped cream, of course).

I’m curious to see what choices the rest of the Doristas made when they wrapped these for the oven. You can find their links here: Long and Slow Apples.

In the meantime, this week’s recipe was published here.

FFWD – Crispy-Crackly Apple-Almond Tart

The tart, about to go into the oven.

My mother’s rule has always been, make the recipe as written the first time, then improvise from there. You get a sense of what the recipe’s author meant the dish to be and can adjust it to your own taste, if necessary, another time. It’s a good practice and one which helps me avoid recreating the flavours I already know I like.

Sometimes, though, the ingredients that are on hand take precedence over the recipe. When I made the Apple-Almond tart for this week’s post, I wanted to use up some ground almond that I’d had for a little too long. There was also some Greek yogurt in the fridge, so I didn’t go to the store for heavy cream. The resulting tart filling wasn’t exactly an almond cream, but it was awfully good.

It was thicker and a little less puffy than almond cream would have been, but it complemented the butter-soaked phyllo and tart apples very well. I sliced this up into small pieces, froze some and then sent most of the rest off with my parents on their yearly weekend away with several other couples. It was a hit, I hear. It certainly was at home, too.

Next time, I’ll follow the recipe more closely and use almond flour and heavy cream, but I’m happy to know that this tart is amenable to a little improvisation.

A slice of tart.

You can find many other blogged descriptions of this week’s FFWD recipe here: Crispy-Crackly Apple-Almond Tart