Spiced Applesauce

Raise your hand if you delighted in watching September walk out the door and October walk in. The tenth month is one of my utmost favorites of the year! Tart, crunchy apples piled high.  “New Crop” and “Local” signs calling my name at each turn. I like apples every which way. I eat them in my oatmeal for breakfast or spread with peanut butter for a snack. Last night’s dinner was a rendition of this sheet pan concoction that included bratwurst, brussel sprouts, potatoes and apples. My post dinner treat? Crisp, fresh apple cider served piping hot. Yet, one of my all time favorite ways to enjoy the season is by making applesauce. The apple chunks simmer just long enough to relax into a softer, slightly sweeter version of themselves. Adding a few spices to the pot round out the flavors and remind us that this applesauce is something all together different than the runny, bland variety.

Another reason I love October? My husband and I commemorate another year married. We gave up exchanging gifts or cards years ago but still take ourselves out for some delicious food and drinks. A quick search online informs me that the traditional gift to celebrate 18 years is porcelain. Surprisingly, toilets were NOT on any gift suggestion lists. Ha!

Also, I’m happy to say that my preschool cooking class is up and going again now that fall has begun. Last week we made this spiced applesauce in class. I know that applesauce doesn’t really need a “recipe”. The whole process in its simplest form is:

  1. Cut apples
  2. Add water
  3. Add seasoning
  4. Cook on medium until tender
  5. Mash

Yet, if I walked up to my 12 year old and gave him those directions – he would look at me with the most bewildered of expressions and (understandably) have a million questions. Though making applesauce is quite simple, if you want a walk through – I’m your girl.

Ready to get started?

Spiced Applesauce

Using fresh ginger, a cinnamon stick and star anise, this applesauce is lightly spiced and reminiscent of chai seasoning. Three pounds of apples creates a hearty 3-4 cups of applesauce. We ate it for most of a week. I like to check the bulk section for cinnamon sticks and star anise. This enables me to purchase exactly the amount needed and have the freshest products at a much lower price. Score!

Supplies:

Colander, cutting board, vegetable peeler, knife, bowl for compost, medium-sized stock pot (mine is 4 quarts), large spoon for stirring(I used a wooden one), liquid measuring cup, tablespoon, slotted spoon, medium bowl, potato masher

Ingredients:

  • 3 pounds apples (I prefer honeycrisp)
  • 1 whole star anise
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 inch piece of fresh ginger
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Steps:

Start with washing hands. Safe food handling is really important.

Prepare Apples:

  1. Put apples in a colander.
  2. Put the colander in a sink and run cold water over the apples to rinse off dirt.
  3. Transfer apples to cutting board.

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Cut & Peel Apples:

  1. Hold the apple firmly in one hand and the peeler in the other.
  2. Work the peeler around the apple, being sure to keep fingers out of harms way. I like to leave a little peel on each apple to add to the pretty color and chunky texture of the finished product.
  3. Set peeled apple on the cutting board and de-core by slicing the apple into quarters, leaving behind the stem and seeds.
  4. Chop each apple section into quarters.
  5. Put apple pieces into pot.
  6. Dispose of peels and core

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Prepare Ginger & Add Spices

  1. Cut a 2 inch knob off a large piece of ginger. The ginger should be firm and cream colored on the inside (not greenish).
  2. Slice the skin off with either the peeler or knife.
  3. Add ginger, cinnamon stick, star anise and kosher salt to the pot with apples.

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Add Water & Sugar

  1. Using a liquid measuring cup, fill with 1 1/2 cups of water. The most accurate way to measure liquids is to set the measuring cup on the counter and then crouch down to view it at eye level.
  2. Pour water into the pot
  3. Scoop three tablespoons of sugar into the pot with the apples, spices and water.
  4. Stir to combine.

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Bring to a Simmer & Cook

  1. Turn the burner onto medium and bring the mixture to a simmer. The liquid won’t cover the apples and that is ok.
  2. Once the liquid is bubbling, stir occasionally so that the apples at the top move to the bottom for even cooking.
  3. As the apples cook, they will turn opaque and soften. Keep going until it mushes easily with a fork; 15-20 minutes.IMG_1507

Strain & Mash

  1. Transfer apples using a slotted spoon, to a small mixing bowl. The one pictured is an XXL cereal bowl. Make sure that the ginger, cinnamon stick and star anise are removed and discarded. Keep liquid leftover from straining.
  2. Let cool for 5 minutes. Use a potato masher to mash into chunky applesauce.
  3. Taste! Add back in leftover apple liquid for a stronger spiced flavor or thinner consistency. I added a 1/4 cup liquid back into my applesauce, but there is no wrong answer here. IMG_1509

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Serve

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  1. Lots of options here! Spoon into ramekins and serve warm or cover and transfer to the refrigerator and serve cold. Refrigerate any leftovers for up to 10 days.

 

Meyer Lemon Pavlova Bites

Everyone (except me!) in our family has birthdays between March and April. It dawned on me this year that the gift of a homemade cake is the gift I give. It is a labor of love and I care about it deeply and we have a lot of fun planning each year’s cake. Apparently, we are bringing back the 80’s with this year’s birthday themes: Pac Man and Rubik’s cubes.

Kai’s cake was a 3-layer Neapolitan cake shaped like Pac Man. He picked out bright yellow sprinkles and we used black fondant for Pac Man’s eye. Vanilla cream cheese frosting separated each tender layer of vanilla, strawberry and chocolate cake. Silky smooth chocolate Swiss meringue buttercream coated the whole tasty concoction.

IMG_0594For JP’s birthday he picked a lemon cake.  He has become a pro at the rubik’s cube so I fashioned one out of store bought angel food cake and used different colored fondant for the cubes. We found 12 bright colored candles that gave off matching flames. The 3-layer white cake was separated with a bright lemon curd and sunshiny Italian lemon meringue buttercream frosting. It was pure delight.

IMG_0732Over the years, I have made many different types of frostings but my favorites are Italian meringue and Swiss meringue Buttercream. The first time I tried to make Italian meringue buttercream I couldn’t get the egg whites to transform into the voluminous mass it was supposed to. I realized that I needed to learn to make a meringue before successfully making the buttercream. Since then I have learned and am now adore meringues. I find them absolutely beautiful, something other-worldly. Edible clouds created by the magic of science.

 

IMG_0859There are three different types of meringues: French, Swiss and Italian. This recipe utilizes the french style. It was the first type of meringue I successfully made. It is a basic meringue of egg whites, cream of tartar and fine sugar. To create the marshmallow-y center that I so love, we add vinegar and cornstarch and flavor it with vanilla extract and lemon zest. Once these extra ingredients are added, I consider it a pavlova. Most pavlovas are topped with whipped cream and macerated strawberries but I find these delicious enough on their own. The outside is crisp and the inside is the texture of a gooey marshmallow. It melts on the tongue like cotton candy. Meyer lemon zest adds just the right amount of brightness and citrus zing to make the whole treat truly amazing.

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Successfully making a meringue is actually quite simple. I’ll let you in on the tips I learned:

  1. Let the egg whites sit out on the counter to warm up for at least 30 minutes. This will help the whites reach their full volume. As the whites warm, they will thin out and resemble liquid more than thick gel.
  2. Wash and dry the mixer bowl and whisk. Residual oils can inhibit the whites from whipping.
  3. Whip on high. Turn that mixer up and let it do its thing. Medium speed just won’t do.
  4. Add cream of tartar to keep the egg whites from drying out.
  5. Go slow adding the sugar to prevent it from being gritty. Feel it between your fingers and if its gritty then put it back on high and whip until the meringue is smooth.

Meyer Lemon Pavlova Bites

The crisp outer shell and marshmallow-y center, make these mini pavlova bites irresistible. This recipe is adapted from Edible Seattle. Not only are these pavlovas delicious, they are also gluten free! These puff up slightly but I fit about 22 on each 11×17 baking sheet.

Makes about 45 tablespoon size bites

Ingredients:

  • 120 g (about 4) egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 1/4 cup fine sugar (or granulated pulsed in a food processor for 25 seconds)
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon distilled vinegar
  • zest of 2 meyer lemons (about a tablespoon)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Food coloring, optional

Directions:

Heat oven to 300 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Let egg whites stand in a bowl for 30 minutes on the counter while you prepare the other ingredients.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, whip egg whites, cream of tartar and salt. Start on low and mix with the whisk attachment. After 30 seconds start increasing speed until the mixer is at high speed. Continue to whip the egg whites until they reach the stiff peak stage – about 3 minutes from start to finish. Once the egg whites are at stiff peaks, start adding the sugar one spoonful at a time. Go slowly to allow the sugar to be incorporated, about 4 minutes. The meringue will look shiny and thick. Once the sugar is incorporated, stop the mixer and feel the mixture between your fingers to be sure it isn’t gritty feeling. If gritty, continue mixing on high speed and check every 30 seconds. Once it feels smooth stop the mixer and sprinkle cornstarch, vinegar, lemon zest and vanilla extract over meringue and gently fold in with a flexible spatula.

To color: divide mixture into separate bowls. Swirl a couple drops of food coloring into the pavlova by using a toothpick. Use a cookie scoop or spoon to drop pavlovas on to cookie sheet.

Bake on a center rack for 20 minutes.  The pavlovas will be puffed and firm. Turn off the oven and open the oven door to let the pavlovas cool completely – about 1 hour. Once cool remove from the oven and store in an air tight container.

Holiday Goodies 2018

Its the time of year where I want to hide in the kitchen all day and make ALL the family favorites. I’m having such a hard time deciding so I decided to make a list of everything on my mind and then choose a few (ha!) from there.

Peanut Brittle – I have never made nor eaten a better brittle so I think this is a must.

Jam Thumbprints – I slightly adapted this recipe for my holiday kids baking class and it was so good! I used only raspberry jam and rolled them in raw sugar for a nice crunch.

Granola – This makes a fantastic teacher gift or housewarming gift. I usually do 1/2 cup walnuts and add raw pumpkin seeds and raw sunflower seeds to make the other 1/2 cup.

Chocolate Covered Pretzels – No recipe needed! Melt good quality chocolate (I use ghirardelli chips). Dip pretzel rods in chocolate and roll in crushed candy canes or sprinkles. Dry on parchment paper.

Mom’s Soft Sugar Cookies – Always my favorite and I included some easy decorating tips if you need any.

Sparkling Molasses Cookies – I’m a sucker for gingersnaps but I like the slightly deeper flavor and chewy texture of these molasses cookies.

Fresh Ginger Cake – If we’re on the topic of ginger, then I have to tell you about this fresh ginger cake. No matter that my batter overflowed the pan – it was still one of my favorite cakes ever.

M&M Cookies – These are Kai’s favorite and maybe I’ll get some red and green M&Ms and go for it.

Bittersweet Almond Toffee – Homemade candy is a staple of Christmas baking and toffee is always a big hit. So easy too!

Ok – what do you guys think? Do you have any favorites? Happy Baking!