Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Apple Walnut Caramel Kuchen


Over the past two weeks, I've tried the following new recipes:
  1. a pumpkin cream cheese spread.
  2. a pumpkin compound butter
  3. a yeasted apple bread.
Both the pumpkin recipes hearkened me back to my diaper-changing days. Anytime a recipe reminds me of changing diapers, it's a sure sign of failure.

I stuck with the apple bread, and after three rounds of tweaking the recipe, it's still not perfect. My failures soured me on the business of trying new recipes, so I vowed to abstain from trying any new recipe for two weeks.

However, cookbook author and pastry maven Carole Walter entered my life. Her book Great Coffee Cakes, Sticky Buns, Muffins & More pulled me from my culinary abyss, restored my confidence, and injected me with enthusiasm. Out of all the amazing recipes, I gravitated towards the Apple Caramel Kuchen because I like to say "Kuchen" and I had a supply of apples that needed to be used.

Kuchen is German for cake, and that's all I really know about it. I first encountered kuchen last spring when I read the book Little Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression by Mildred Armstrong Kalish. The book is a wonderful little read and contains an outstanding chapter on farm house cooking during the Great Depression.

When I read the recipe for kuchen, I first scratched my head because it was new to me, and then I repeated the word kuchen aloud because that's what I do when I read a word that sounds melodious to me. I do this a lot with words and names. When I'm traveling in my car alone and I hear certain NPR correspondents' names, I repeat them aloud because I like the way they roll off of my tongue: David Folkenflik, David Kestenbaum, Neda Ulaby, Corey Flintoff, and my favorite - Lakshmi Singh.

That's enough nonsense. Here's the recipe:

Apple Caramel Kuchen
**Adapted from Great Coffee Cakes, Sticky Buns, Muffins & More Carole Walter


Crust
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup lightly toasted walnuts
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
Crumb Topping
  • 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly

Filling
  • 3 medium Granny Smith apples (about 1 pound), peeled, halved, and cored.
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped and lightly toasted walnut
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preparation:
  1. Position the rack in the middle of the oven. Generously butter a 9-inch springform pan and line the bottom with parchment paper. Place in the refrigerator until ready to use.
Crust:
  1. Place the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and walnuts in a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Pulse about 10 times. Now add the butter and pulse 10-12 times. Then process for 5 to 7 seconds until fine crumbs are formed.
  2. In a small bowls, whisk together the egg yolks, milk, vanilla, and lemon zest. Add to the processor and pulse until the mixture begins to gather together and form a ball.
  3. Remove the dough from the food processor and place it on a lightly floured surface. With lightly flours hands, pat it into a disk. Place the disk into the springform pan, and with lightly floured hands, press the dough into the bottom of the pan. Gradually work toward the side of the pan. Once you reach the side, force the dough upward to form a wall 3/4 inch high. Refrigerate the pan while you're preparing the topping and filling.
Crumb Topping
  1. Simply whisk the dry ingredients together. Add the the melted butter and stir with a fork until small crumbs forms. Set aside. My four-year-old daughter assisted with this step and enjoyed the process. For the record, she enjoyed repeating the word kuchen, and giggled after saying it. She especially enjoyed taste-testing the crumb. I stress to her that good cooks always sample a dish as it's being prepared.
The Filling
  1. Cut the apples into 1/4-inch slices and place them in a large bowl Toss them with lemon zest and 2 1/2 teaspoons of lemon juice. Set the apples aside.
  2. Place 1/4 cup water in a 2-quart saucepan. Add the sugar, 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice, and the salt. Stir gently. Cook the liquid on medium-low heat until it comes to a boil. Decrease the heat to low, and continue cooking until the liquid turns a medium amber color. This took me about 10-15 minutes. When the color of the sugar begins to change, watch it carefully, as it can burn in a matter of seconds.
  3. Remove the caramel syrup from the heat, and add the heavy cream. Stir until the caramel is smooth. Return to the heat and simmer for 3-4 minutes, or until big bubbles begin to form on the surface. Remove from the heat and stir in chopped walnuts and vanilla. Let cool for 5 minutes.
  4. Fold the caramel/nut mixture into the apples. Spoon this mixture into the dough-lined pan.
  5. Take the streusel crumbs and sprinkle then evenly over the filling.
Baking
  1. Preheat over to 350 degrees.
  2. Anytime I use a springform pan, it seems like it leaks, so I placed the pan on a rimmed baking sheet to catch any leakage. Lady Luck was on my side when I baked because there was no messy leaks. Bake for 55 to 60 minutes.
  3. Remove the cake from the oven and let it cool on a rack for 20 minutes.Release and remove the side of the pan and allow to cool for 30 more minutes. To remove the bottom of the pan and the parchment, place a strip of foil directly on top of the cake, cupping the foil around the side to hold the topping in place. Cover with a cooling rack, invert the cake, and carefully lift off the bottom of the pan and remove the parchment. Immediately cover with another rack, invert again, and remove the foil. Anxiety heckled me during this process. I just knew I was doomed to fail, but the cookbook - Carole Walter's proxy - was there to calmly talk me through the process. I successfully unveiled my Apple Walnut Caramel Kuchen.

Enjoy,
muddywaters

PS. . . Later I tackle babka - another fun word to say.

I highly recommend the book Great Coffee Cakes, Sticky Buns, Muffins & More by Carole Walter. Not only do you get great recipes, but you get:
  • her expert advice.
  • tips on freezing and reheating many recipes. If you're like me and like to stow away tasting treats in the freezer to have on hand when company drops in, you'll appreciate these tips.
  • an entire chapter on different glazes, spreads, and streusels.

3 comments:

Rebel said...

This looks incredible. I plan on making it Thursday. Thanks for the recipe. I really like your site.

muddywaters said...

Thanks for your kind comments.

Maggie said...

This looks like a delicious labor of love! I'd love to see the babka if you make it. I've only ever had disappointing store bought ones.