Wednesday, November 10, 2010

ingredient: APPLES

Apples are the James Madison of fruit. If presidents were fruit (“if”) then apples would be the 4th president, the man of whom was said, “No man could do everything for the country. Madison did more than most, and did some things better than any. That was quite enough.” If we were playing fruit Mad Libs, we'd see that “no fruit could do everything for everyone. Apples do more than most, and do some things better than any. That is quite enough.” What am I getting at, other than bringing back an awesome game you probably haven't played since the 6th grade? I’m saying that apples are a reliable and delicious, versatile yet traditional fruit which I love dearly. If apples could write the constitution, I’d let them. Instead, I’ll let them write my bill of health, on which they’ll give me an A.

How do apples do more than most fruit? It's simple. They are just as good eaten raw as cooked in pies and cakes and muffins, as made into sauce, or turned into cider (of both the alcoholic and dry varieties). They may just be the most dependable fruit out there. In fact, it's unclear to me how, of all the fruit, apples became the poster child for the fall of man. A pomegranate, a peach, even a banana seem much more fitting to serve as a symbol of sin. If Eve ate an apple, her brain would have actually started working better (apples are shown to help prevent Alzheimers by protecting an essential neurotransmitter known as acetylcholine) and I'm sure she would have found a way to stay in Paradise.

But maybe Eve just wanted a great source of vitamin C and dietary fiber. Maybe the snake said, "an apple a day..." and doctors were scarce in the Garden. Or she knew that apples are more effective than most other fruits in preventing the growth of cancerous cells. In fact, Cornell University found that apples inhibit the growth of colon cancer cells by forty-three percent. In similar trials, the consumption of apples was linked to a fifty percent decrease in lung cancer cells. Potentially cutting your risk of cancer in half seems like reason enough to put down that mango and rethink the old lunch-bag staple.

In fact, now more than ever, apples are re-branding. They're shedding their association with oranges and bananas as part of the underwhelming fruit trifecta. Farmers have begun to grow heirloom varieties, many of which you may have seen at your local farmer’s market. Popular heirlooms include the Esopus Spitzenburg (apparently a favorite of another president: Thomas Jefferson), the Winesap (best eaten raw or make into cider), or the Northern Spy (great for pies). Heirloom apples tend to have much more interesting characteristics and more intense flavors than your run of the mill Granny Smith or Red Delicious. They're also typically smaller, probably truer in size to apples as Mother Earth intended, and therefore the perfect size for snacks. Forget 100-calorie packs! Look to nature! We’ve also been cross breading apples (in a not scary GMO way), and creating new varieties like the Honeycrisp, which is my personal all-time favorite. The Honeycrisp was released in 1991 by the University of Minnesota, probably in a secret deal with Wisconsin, because this type pairs really well with cheese. But I might actually prefer it on its own because it’s sweet with a tart finish and so crisp you might want close your eyes during the first bite.

Bottom line? You can't go wrong with an apple. Such a well rounded fruit! Their farmers should be proud.

Apple Cake with Hot Caramel Sauce

I bet I had you at hot caramel sauce.

It’s true; this sauce is so good, so luxuriously caramel-y, that you could make it, slice up a fresh apple, dip the slices in the sauce, and call it a day. But if this is more than just an after-work snack, you may want to make the cake too (though I wouldn’t judge you for eating cake as a snack, I bet you work hard). It’s a pretty simple cake. It’s moist with a nice apple flavor, but relatively mild, so eaten plain it’s something you might serve at tea or eat for breakfast. With the caramel sauce oozing over the cake, giving it a sticky, toffee flavor, well, it’s lick your plate good (but let the sauce cool first, trust me). My mother makes this cake for New Years Day. I say make it to celebrate the new day, whichever day that is.

For Cake:

3 Granny smith apples peeled, cored, quartered
¾ cup butter, melted
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1¾ c all purpose flour

For Sauce:

½ cup butter
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
½ tsp salt
½ cup heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla extract


Preheat oven to 350 degrees

To make cake:

Chop apples into bite sized bits. In a bowl whisk butter, sugar, eggs, to smooth cream. Beat in vanilla, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt. Add flour and stir with spoon until just blended. Mix in apples. Pour batter into oiled 9 inch spring form pan.

Bake 1 hour or until tester comes out clean. Let cake cool on rack.

To make caramel sauce:
Melt butter in a small saucepan and stir in brown sugar. Bring to a full boil, stirring.

Add salt and heavy cream, and bring to boil once again.

Remove from heat and stir in vanilla.
Pour caramel sauce over cake and serve.

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