Monday, November 30, 2015

Dark Chocolate Orange Pistachio Bark

More often than is probably normal, the moments before I fall asleep at night are spent thinking about things I want to eat. This recipe began just that way about one year ago, also near Christmas, a time when everything I want to make seems to involve chocolate, ginger, or copious amounts of cheese piled on starchy things.

This recipe is decidedly chocolate-focused. I used a nice bittersweet chocolate bar because I love dark chocolate and orange together. They’re incredibly fragrant, floral, and holiday-ish in combination. The pistachios add a nice mild, slightly salty crunch that goes perfectly with the chocolate and orange. Also, they look pretty.

This recipe is very easy to make, and it gives me a sense of accomplishment to make my own candy (and eat it). You can feel even more accomplished by candying your own orange peel, or you can just buy it already made. I won’t judge you.

Fun Fact: Pistachios contain lutein and zeaxanthin, both of which are carotenoids (yellow-red-orange pigments) that are involved in retina health. Those who eat foods high in lutein and zeaxanthin may have lower rates of age-related macular degeneration.

Dark Chocolate Orange Pistachio Bark
3½ oz. bittersweet chocolate
3 Tablespoons shelled, roasted, salted pistachios
2 teaspoons diced candied orange peel (instructions for candying below)

The measurements above are to taste and can be altered as desired.
Chop the chocolate, and melt in a double boiler. (I use a glass bowl set over a pot with about an inch of simmering water.) While the chocolate is melting, shell the pistachios, if not already done, and chop to whatever size you want in the bark. I did mine in approximate halves and quarters. Spread the melted chocolate to desired thinness over waxed paper. Distribute the pistachios and orange peel prettily over the top. Let the chocolate cool and harden for 2-3 hours, then break into pieces. Store unlikely leftovers in an airtight container.

Candied Orange Peel
2 oranges
1 cup water
1 cup + 2 Tablespoons sugar

Prep: Bring two small-medium pots of water to boil (or just one – you decide after reading instructions). Rinse oranges thoroughly. Slice the ends off of each orange, then score the peels so that there are two peel hemispheres on each orange. Carefully remove the peels without ripping into smaller pieces, and then slice into 1/8 or 1/4-inch slices.

Blanching: Blanch the sliced orange peels in boiling water twice for about 3 minutes each time, rinsing the peels and changing the water after each blanch.

Candying: Stir together the water and sugar until sugar is dissolved, and bring to a gentle boil. Place the orange peels in the syrup, and boil for about one hour, checking occasionally to make sure the water hasn’t boiled away. Note: I have made these twice, and the first time, I found an hour to be too short because the orange peels were limp, though delicious. The second time, I went closer to 75 minutes, and it worked pretty well, though some might find them too sticky. You can try lifting them with a fork during cooking to check progress.

Cooling: Remove the candied peels from the syrup, and place on a cooling rack set over a plate or waxed paper to catch the drips. Let cool thoroughly. The orange peels will stiffen as they cool.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Caramel Apple Cake

If you like the idea of caramel apples but get overwhelmed by the apples, this is the cake for you. If you like desserts with plenty of butter, sugar, and happiness, this is the cake for you. If you like desserts that typify everything that is good about autumn and life itself, this is the cake for you.

Apple Carnage

This seasonal beauty comes from the King Arthur Flour website, which has yet to lead me astray. There are a few steps involved in the assembly, but none are difficult, and each is well worth it. This cake is moist, intensely apple-flavored, and pleasantly spiced. It’s warm and autumnal and crowd-pleasing.

Deceptively Unattractive
From Drab to Fab 
I must warn you that should you decide to disregard the recipe’s advice to use a deep cake pan, you will have batter and caramel ooze out and burn on your oven floor. I saved myself the second time around by putting a sheet of tin foil underneath the cake while it was baking. To be honest, though, I rather like that it overflows a bit. I’m always left with deeply browned, extra-caramelized bits that I have to cut off to get the cake out of the pan. I took a plate of these crispy-licious bites around my apartment, and my roommates and I devoured them greedily. They make a nice appetizer while you’re waiting for the cake to cool.

Fun Fact: Cake is good for the soul. Also, it increases your levels of friendship, which is definitely health promoting.

Caramel Apple Cake

Not really adapted at all from

2 small apples, peeled and sliced between 1/8-1/4 inch thick*
4 Tablespoons butter
¾ cup brown sugar, packed
2 Tablespoons frozen apple juice concentrate, thawed
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
½ cup light corn syrup

¾ cup canola oil
1 cup brown sugar, packed
2 Tablespoons frozen apple juice concentrate, thawed
2 large eggs
1½ teaspoons cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour**
1 medium apple, peeled and finely chopped
(The original recipe includes ¾ cup chopped walnuts or pecans, which would definitely cut the sweetness. However, I have a childlike palate and don’t want to cut the sweetness.)

Preheat the oven to 325-350 degrees F. (I have only baked this in Utah, and 350 seemed excessive for my particular oven. I usually preheat to 350 and then turn down to 325 or even a little lower once I put the cake in. Peek at the cake after about 10 minutes to see how quickly it’s browning.) Grease the bottom and sides of a 9-inch round cake pan that is at least 2-inches deep (see commentary above). Cut a circle of parchment to line the bottom of the pan, and grease that as well.

To make the topping:
Place the butter through corn syrup in a saucepan, and heat over medium flame, stirring occasionally until the brown sugar is dissolved. It’s okay if it reaches a gentle simmer.

Place the sliced apples in a ring around the bottom of the pan, overlapping each other. Place a few extra slices in the center so it isn’t lonely.

Pour ½ cup of the caramel over the sliced apples, and set the remaining caramel aside.

To make the cake:
Beat the oil, brown sugar, juice concentrate, spices, and salt at medium speed for about 2 minutes. (You can do this by hand easily enough too.) Mix the flour and baking soda together separately, and then stir into the batter a bit at a time. Finally, stir the chopped apples into the cake batter.

Drop the batter in large spoonfuls over the apple topping, and spread smooth. Bake for 50-55 minutes until a fork or cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the cake cool for five minutes in the pan. Then, run a knife around the edge, and invert onto a plate.

Reheat the reserved caramel sauce, and boil for 30-60 seconds to thicken, if desired. Keep in mind that it will thicken as it cools. Pour desired amount of caramel over the cake, letting it drizzle down the sides. I usually have extra caramel, but you could definitely use all if wanted.

*You can really use any variety that you like. I’ve tried both Red Delicious and Fuji.

**I may or may not have accidentally left out ½ cup flour the last time I made this. I admit nothing, except that this cake has been delicious every time. Good thing it’s hard to mess up.