October 4, 2017

Dear friends,

I have made apple pie, apple turnovers and apple tarts; apple dumplings, apple cake and apple mousse. But I had never made apple kuchen until last weekend, when I came across an old recipe card and decided to remedy the omission.

“Kuchen” means cake in German, and there are as many types as the generic term would suggest. Most apple kuchens, judging from recipes I found on the Internet, are baking powder quick breads whipped up in a jiffy, with sliced apples either folded into the batter or arranged in a pattern on top. The sort I made was a lesser-known, yeast-raised coffee cake that takes a bit more forethought. The butter- and egg-rich dough must be kneaded and raised twice, but it produces two handsome loaves you’d be proud to serve anyone.

I divided up the prep time by making the dough one day, refrigerating it overnight for the first rise, and shaping and baking it the next. A word to the wise: Because of the  butter and eggs, the rich dough will not rise as high as regular dough. In fact, you’ll be lucky if the dough rises at all the second time, after it is shaped and in the pans. It will just look a bit puffy.

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APPLE KUCHEN

(Yeast-raised coffee cake)

  • 1 envelope active dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup warm water (110 to 115 degrees)
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • Grated rind of 1 lemon
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 4 to 5 cups flour
  • 1 tbsp. melted butter
  • 5 or 6 apples (6 cups apple slices)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tbsp. ground cinnamon
  • 2 tbsp. butter
Sprinkle yeast over warm water in a small bowl or measuring cup. In another measuring cup, bring milk almost to a boil in a microwave, then pour into a mixer bowl with the 1/2 cup butter, 1/4 cup sugar and salt; cool to 110 to 115 degrees. Add softened yeast mixture, grated lemon rind and eggs. Beat with the paddle beater of a stand mixer until combined.

Add flour a little at a time while beating on medium-low speed. Add just enough flour to produce a soft dough. Exchange the paddle beater for a dough hook and knead with the mixer for about 10 minutes, adding more flour if necessary to prevent stickiness.

Scrape dough onto a counter and shape into a ball. Wash and dry the mixer bowl and coat the insides with oil. Place dough in bowl and turn the dough to grease all surfaces. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight (or let stand in a warm place until doubled if making the kuchen immediately).

Remove dough from refrigerator and bring to room temperature. Punch down dough, remove from bowl and divide in half. Shape each piece into a 10-inch disk. Place each in an oiled, 10-inch-round cake pan. Brush with melted butter. Cover with plastic wrap and set in a warm place until dough looks puffy. Remove plastic wrap.

Peel apples and slice very thin. Place in a large bowl with the 1/2 cup sugar and the cinnamon. Toss well. Spread half of the apples on each round of dough. Dot with the 2 tablespoons butter. Bake at 350 degrees for 50 to 60 minutes, until apples are soft and bread is cooked though. Cool for 10 minutes before cutting into wedges. Makes 2 coffee cakes.

HELP U COOK

To “scald” a liquid means to bring it almost but not quite to a boil. My old kuchen recipe specified scalding the milk, and although I didn’t actually scald it,  I made sure it was hot enough to melt the butter. Scalding milk, however, is no longer necessary when making yeast bread, according to the folks at Red Star Yeast:

“It used to be that scalding milk was necessary to kill bacteria that might affect the yeast activity and to alter a protein in the milk that played havoc with the gluten structure in bread. However, pasteurization has protected us from harmful bacteria and has altered the proteins, so scalding milk is no longer necessary.”

What IS necessary is making sure any liquids added to yeast are no hotter than 115 degrees, the point at which yeast is killed. The temperature range for activating yeast is 110 to 115 degrees. I use an instant-read thermometer held under the hot water tap to gauge the temperature.

GUT CHECK

Note: A friend signed me up for three days of mail-order meal kits from Hello Fresh, which arrived last week. The food was decent, although it could have used more seasoning.  The portions were more than adequate for me, if not for Tony. He and I enjoyed making two of the meals together. My friend Elizabeth and I had a great time making the third meal for lunch. She said she would sign up for the service. Another batch from a different purveyor arrives Friday.

What I cooked last week:
Roast whole chicken and roasted potatoes, zucchini, yellow squash and cherry tomatoes; hoisin shrimp with crispy green beans and ginger scallion rice from Hello Fresh; chicken salad with walnuts and grapes; sesame beef tacos with quick-pickled veggies and spicy crema from Hello fresh; creamy dill chicken with roasted potatoes and green beans from Hello Fresh; bacon, tomato and spicy mayo sandwiches on health-nut toast.

What I ate in restaurants last week:
Pierogis, bratwurst, fried cabbage and German potato salad at Mike’s Place in Kent; half of a Southwest chile lime ranch salad with chicken at Panera Bread.

THE MAILBAG

From Jill:
I just got a pressure cooker this spring and I only used it four times this summer but I really got it for soups and stews and more winter food.

But the first time I used it the meat was done so fast and I hadn’t been watching it that I thought I must have done something wrong so I kept it closed up in the pot and recooked it. Boy, was that roast tender, falling apart but not dry.

I’m going to start making some tomato sauce today with the two bushels of tomatoes I have. I’m really happy I got a pressure cooker — but I think I remember my mother having an exploding pressure cooker. Lots of something on the ceiling, but it could be that I remember my mother telling about it, as she wouldn’t use it unless we were out of the house playing or at school.

I hope you enjoy yours.

Dear Jill, So you saw that little aside in Gut Check about ruining a venison roast in my first try at pressure cooking? I did exactly what you described — let the pressure cooker sit long after the thingy popped up so that it overcooked. Heck, I couldn’t even SEE the little pop-up thingy because it’s so small and rises only about  quarter inch. I was so disgusted — and leery — that I haven’t used my Instant Pot since. I guess I’ll give it another try this winter. I never thought of using it for pressure canning. Good idea.

I did find a good primer on pressure cookers (specifically the Instant Pot) written by Melissa Clark of the New York Times. It is at https://cooking.nytimes.com/guides/46-how-to-use-an-instant-pot.

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