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My Oh My Cakes and Pies

Photography by Eugenia Uhl

The holiday season is also the baking season, the time when many who never bake do so nonstop. I would wager that the sales of flour, sugar, butter, eggs, vanilla, shortening, nuts, dried fruits and all the other essentials skyrocket between Thanksgiving and the New Year.

Cakes and pies are favorites this time of year, but frequently those who are comfortable making bars and cookies are reluctant to undertake something more ambitious. This month’s recipes are a good place to start. None of them are difficult to execute and the flavor payoff is high. Your friends and family will be pleased and you will experience the satisfaction that comes from expanding your repertoire. If you are already an accomplished baker, making these pies and cakes will be — well, a piece of cake.

 

Dried Cherry and Walnut Coffee Cake

This is an excellent not-too-sweet choice for breakfast and for pairing with coffee or tea in the late morning or mid-afternoon. Other dried fruits and nuts can be substituted for the cherries and walnuts, if desired.

Ingredients
¾    pound unsalted butter, softened
1¾    cups sugar
6    large eggs, at room temperature
2    teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3    cups all-purpose flour
1½    teaspoons baking powder
½    teaspoon salt
1     cup milk
1     cup dried cherries, chopped
1     cup walnuts, chopped
    powdered sugar


Preparation
Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease a 12-cup Bundt pan.
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large mixing bowl, using a handheld mixer), cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down bowl as needed. Beat in vanilla extract.
In another bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt. Add to mixer in three portions, alternating with the milk and mixing on slow speed only enough to incorporate dry ingredients. Stir in chopped cherries and walnuts. Transfer batter to pan and smooth top with a rubber spatula. Bake in preheated oven until cake slightly pulls away from pan and a tester comes out clean, about 50-60 minutes. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn cake out onto a rack. When cake is completely cool, dust with powdered sugar.

Makes 12 or more servings.


Mascarpone Cheesecake

Mascarpone, the rich and creamy Italian cheese best known for its starring role in tiramisu, makes an elegant cheesecake.

If you would prefer a non-chocolate crust, use graham cracker crumbs or breadcrumbs and eliminate the instant espresso. Similarly, the brandy in the filling can be replaced with an orange liqueur, liquor, or another liqueur if desired.

Ingredients
Crust
1½     cups chocolate wafer crumbs
3     tablespoons sugar
1     tablespoon powdered instant espresso
¼     pound unsalted butter, melted
Filling
16     ounces mascarpone, at room temperature
16     ounces cream cheese, softened
4     large eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten
½     cup sugar
2     tablespoons brandy
1     teaspoon pure vanilla extract


Preparation
Preheat oven to 350 F. To make crust, grease a 9-inch springform pan. Process chocolate wafers in blender or food processor to yield 1½ cups. Combine with other ingredients in a small mixing bowl. Press mixture in the bottom of springform pan and bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes. Cool.
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large mixing bowl, using a handheld mixer), mix mascarpone and cream cheese until smooth. Add eggs, sugar, brandy and vanilla and mix until smooth and well combined. Pour filling into cooled pan, smooth top and bake until cake is lightly browned and pulls away slightly from the pan, about 55 to 60 minutes. Remove to a rack to cool. When completely cooled, cover and refrigerate for at least 8 hours before serving.

Makes 12 or more servings.


Pecan Pie

Whether to use pecan halves or pieces is a decision that has split families. Using a combination of both may be a peaceable solution.

Most pecan pie recipes call for corn syrup, and some historians believe that pecan pie was created as a way to market Karo. Be that as it may, I am not a big fan of corn syrup, but I do love cane syrup, hence this recipe.

Ingredients
Crust
1¼     cups all-purpose flour
¼     teaspoon salt
8     tablespoons cold unsalted butter
4     tablespoons ice-cold water
Filling
4     large eggs, at room temperature
1     cup light brown sugar
½     cup cane syrup
2     teaspoons pure vanilla extract
¼     teaspoon salt
5     tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1¼     cups pecan halves, pieces or a mixture


Preparation
To make crust, combine flour and salt in mixing bowl. Cut butter into small pieces and mix into flour with a pastry blender, two knives or your fingers until mixture is like coarse meal with pea-sized clumps of butter. Add water, one tablespoon at  time, until dough begins to come together. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface, form into a disc and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least two hours before proceeding.
Preheat oven to 425 F. Roll out crust and fit into a 9-inch pie pan. Trim off excess and fashion edge as desired.
In a mixing bowl, beat eggs with a wire whisk until well mixed. Add brown sugar, cane syrup, vanilla, salt and melted butter and whisk to combine. Stir in pecans. Pour filling into crust and place on a rack in the lower third of oven. Reduce heat to 325 F and bake until filling is set and crust has browned, about 40 minutes. Cool pie on a wire rack.

Makes 8 servings.


Apple Pie

Apple pie evokes strong feelings. Many devotees have ironclad rules about what should and should not go into apple pie. What kind of apples? Which seasonings and how much of them?  What to use for a thickener? This recipe uses almond flour, which adds flavor, unlike flour, cornstarch or tapioca. But if you don’t have almond flour, use one of the others.

Ingredients
Crust
2     cups flour
¼     teaspoon salt
14     tablespoons cold unsalted butter
7-8     tablespoons ice cold water
Filling
5-6     large apples
½     cup sugar
2     tablespoons almond flour
½     teaspoon cinnamon
¼     teaspoon nutmeg
pinch salt
2     tablespoons freshly-squeezed lemon juice
1     teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1½     tablespoons unsalted butter
Glaze
1     tablespoon milk
1     teaspoon sugar


Preparation
To make crust, combine flour and salt in mixing bowl. Cut butter into small pieces and mix into flour with a pastry blender, two knives or your fingers until mixture is like coarse meal with pea-sized clumps of butter. Add water, one tablespoon at time, until dough begins to come together. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface, form into two discs and wrap each in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least two hours before proceeding.

Preheat oven to 425 F. Peel, core and thinly slice enough apples to yield 6 cups. Combine sugar, almond flour, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt and toss with apples in mixing bowl. Add lemon juice and vanilla and toss again.

Roll out one disc of dough and fit into a 9-inch pie pan. Roll out the other disc and cut into half-inch strips. Add apple filling to crust. Cut butter into small pieces and scatter over top of apples. Make a lattice top using the strips of dough. Cut off excess dough, tuck the ends of the strips under the bottom crust, press to seal and fashion border as desired. Brush lattice crust with milk and sprinkle with sugar. Place pie in lower third of oven, reduce heat to 350 F and bake until crust is nicely browned, filling is bubbly and apples are tender, about 50-60 minutes. Cool pie on a rack.

 Makes 8 servings.


Madeira Pound Cake

A sweet Madeira should be used for this cake, and a glass of the same wine is an excellent accompaniment.

Madeira, the fortified Portuguese wine made on the island of Madeira, was extremely popular in the early days of the Republic. Madeira comes in a variety of styles, ranging from dry aperitif wines to sweet dessert wines.

Ingredients
¾     pound unsalted butter, softened
1½     cups sugar
6     large eggs, at room temperature
1     teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3     cups all-purpose flour
1     teaspoon baking powder
½     teaspoon salt
⅓    cup Madeira
Glaze
½     cup Madeira
3     tablespoons sugar


Preparation
Preheat oven to 325 F. Grease and flour a 9-inch tube pan.
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large mixing bowl, using a handheld mixer) cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down bowl as needed. Beat in vanilla extract.
In another bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt. Add to mixer in three portions, alternating with the Madeira and mixing on slow speed only enough to incorporate dry ingredients. Transfer batter to pan and smooth top with a rubber spatula. Bake in preheated oven until cake slightly pulls away from pan and a tester comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Turn cake out onto a rack, then invert on another rack.
For the glaze, combine Madeira and sugar in a small pan and heat only enough to dissolve the sugar.
Brush cake all over with Madeira glaze.

Makes 12 or more servings.


Dulce de Leche Cake

Dulce de leche, the rich confection made from cooking sweetened condensed milk until it thickens into a caramelized, jam-like substance, is the perfect consistency for filling and frosting a cake.

You could make your own, but La Lechera Dulce de Leche, which is widely available in the Hispanic food section of supermarkets, is an excellent time saver.

Ingredients
½     pound butter, softened
2     cups sugar
4     eggs, separated
2     teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3     cups all-purpose flour
2     teaspoons baking powder
¼     teaspoon salt
1     cup plus 1 tablespoon milk
2     (13.4 oz) cans La Lechera Dulce de Leche


Preparation
Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease and flour three 9-inch cake pans.
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large mixing bowl, using a handheld mixer), cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg yolks one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down bowl as needed. Beat in vanilla extract. In another bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt. Add to mixer in three portions, alternating with the milk and mixing on slow speed only enough to incorporate dry ingredients.
Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold into the batter. Divide batter among the three pans and smooth tops. Bake until cake pulls slightly away from the pan and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Cool on a rack for about 5 minutes, then turn out on another rack.
When cake has completely cooled, invert one layer on a plate and spread with half a can of dulce de leche. Place another layer on top and spread with the remainder of that can of dulce de leche. Place third layer on top. First, frost the side of the cake with more dulce de leche, then the top.

Makes 12 servings.


TIPS

Butter
Why, you might wonder, do recipes for baked goods usually call for unsalted butter, even though salt is often in the list of ingredients. Using unsalted butter allows the baker to control the amount of salt. If you substitute salted butter, reduce or eliminate the salt called for in the recipe.

 

Eggs
Baking recipes almost always specify “room temperature” eggs. Simply take cold eggs from the refrigerator, put them in a bowl and cover them with warm water to take off the chill.

 

Baking Times
Baking times can only be approximate for several reasons, the principal one being that ovens vary greatly and are often not calibrated accurately. When you set your oven to 350 F, for example, the actual temperature may be significantly different.

 

Apples
What is the best apple to use in a pie? Opinions vary greatly. Some prefer a tart apple, such as Granny Smith. Others like to combine several varieties with different characteristics — sweet, tart, crisp, soft. Since this is not prime apple growing country, we don’t see many varieties that aficionados recommend, but Golden Delicious comes highly recommended and is widely available.

 

Dessert Wines
When paired with an appropriate dessert, a sweet wine is a wonderful way to end a meal. But the wine should be sweeter than the dessert. A pound cake is a good choice to serve with a dessert wine, while a dulce de leche cake would be too sweet.

 

Ice Cream?
What do you like with your apple pie? Some prefer ice cream, others like whipped cream and still others want a wedge of sharp cheddar cheese. It’s all a matter of preference. Don’t forget that apple pie is great for breakfast.


 

 

 

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