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January 17, 2006

Eat Your Heart Out - January 17, 2006

Now that winter has descended upon Chicago, I have been yearning to spend more time in the kitchen cooking. Specifically, I have been longing to cook warm, gooey winter dishes, like risotto or thick, chunky soups. My Mary Poppins-esque saying for this quarter goes as follows: “A spoonful of butter helps the winter go down.”

I was in the kitchen last week with one of my roommates and we were debating what to make. I was tempted to bake from the book Paris Sweets by Dorie Greenspan, which contains recipes from all of the best bakeries in Paris. Many of the recipes are rather laborious and complicated, but there are some that are not too hard and don’t require esoteric ingredients. What is nice about the book, too, is that it is organized by bakery. And, of course, having lived in Paris last year, I have my favorite bakery—Maison Kayser.

A great distinction in France is between boulangeries (bakeries) and pâtisseries (pastry shops), with the former specializing in bread and the latter in pastry. Technically speaking, Maison Kayser is a boulangerie, since its primary focus is on bread. But that does not mean that they are lacking in patisserie (I know from empirical research—I have sampled nearly everything sold in the shop). So imagine my elation when I found an apple cake recipe in Paris Sweets from Maison Kayser! My roommate and I set off to make the soft apple cake, adapting it by discarding the raisins it called for and using vanilla bean paste for a more pronounced vanilla taste.

Did the cake result in a Proustian melodrama of me finding myself back at Maison Kayser? The slices of apple were bound by a gooey vanilla cake and the hint of rum gave a burnt sugar taste to the batter. Piping hot and fresh out of the oven, the cake almost resembled a pudding slumped on the plate as my roommates and I dug in for seconds. By morning, it was all gone.

Soft Apple Cake

Serves about 8 (or 4, if you have appetites like my roommates and I do)

The Ingredients

2 tablespoons dark rum

3 tablespoons lemon juice

3 large apples, peeled and cored (use fuji or gala if available)

3/4 cup flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

pinch of salt

3 large eggs

1/2 cup sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste (use vanilla extract if not available)

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

The Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line a cake pan with parchment paper.

2. In a large bowl, combine the rum and the lemon juice. Slice the apples into 1/4 inch slices and then cut the slices crosswise in half so that each chunk of apple is about 1 inch by 1/4 inch. Toss the apple slices in the bowl with the rum and lemon juice.

3. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt.

4. Put the eggs and sugar in a mixer with the whisk attachment and beat on medium-high speed until the eggs are pale and voluminous, about four minutes (you can use a hand mixer if you do not have an electric mixer). Beat in the vanilla bean paste. Switch to a spatula and stir a couple of spoonfuls of the batter into the melted butter. Working gently, fold the flour into the remaining batter, followed by the melted butter and apple mixture.

5. Spoon the batter into the lined cake pan and bake for about 50 minutes or until a knife inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Transfer the cake to a rack and allow to cool. Serve warm.

Adapted from Paris Sweets by Dorie Greenspan (Broadway Books: 2002)