Monthly Archives: September 2014

Perfect for Fall…Jewish Apple Cake!

ApplesThis time of year, it seems the overwhelming flavor that is out there is pumpkin. Pumpkin latte, pumpkin doughnuts, pumpkin soda even! Don’t get me wrong, I love the fact that it is pumpkin season, but I quickly lose interest in the flavor. But one flavor that is perfect for fall, and I can’t seem to get enough of, is apple! I love apple crisp, apple pie, and definitely, this Jewish Apple Cake. It’s an easy recipe, just stirring the apples with cinnamon and sugar, mixing the batter in one bowl, and then layering the rich dessert in a tube pan.

Melon BallerI am not really sure where the name comes from, but it’s the name that my grandmother, and everyone else in the family for that matter, has always used to describe this cake. I’ve heard the name could come from the fact that there is no dairy in the cake, so you could eat it at a meal that has meat in it, not conflicting with Jewish law. Sounds like a good answer, but who really knows. I just know it’s delicious!

To start, peel, core, and slide 4 apples. I usually mix the apples for this, using a few sweet like Gala, and a few tart like Granny Smith, but honestly, any apple will do. And, a little tip here, try using a melon baller to scoop out the cores.  It goes really fast, and it save most of the apples.  Cinnamon ApplesPut the slices in a bowl and sprinkle with 2 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon and 5 tablespoons sugar. Stir and let sit while you prepare the batter. As the apples sit, their juices will start to run and you’ll have a lovely, syrupy pile!

In a large bowl, stir together 4 eggs with 2 cups sugar. Add 1 cup vegetable oil, 2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla, and 1/4 cup orange juice. Then add 3 cups flour and 4 teaspoons baking powder. The batter will be thick and sticky, but that’s it, your batter is ready!

LayeringGrease and flour a tube pan, then layer in the batter and apples. Start with a little bit of batter, then add a layer of apples, and continue till you’re at the top. End with the batter. And make sure you get all of the juice from the apples in there. Don’t worry if it looks like there is hardly any batter. It will puff up and surround the apples, and just be perfect!

Bake the cake at 350 degrees for 1 hour 10 minutes-1 hour 20 minutes. You want a toothpick to come out clean. The top will be crisp, and the inside will be dense and rich. Let it cool in the tube pan, then just run a knife around the edges to release.

This really is an easy recipe, and just perfect for these early fall days! I’ve been eating it all week…and it keeps getting better! How does that saying go…an apple a day…?Finished CakeSlices Missing

Party Favors for a Wedding…Gingerbread Cookies of Course!

CuttingI feel like I’ve been MIA recently.  I haven’t posted, haven’t commented, nothing for a few weeks.  It wasn’t because I wasn’t thinking of all of you…I was.  But I’ve been crazy busy.  On top of work and the normal craziness, I had the pleasure of making favors for a friend’s wedding.  And, since it was a fall theme, I had to incorporate gingerbread, cut into falling leaves, covered in orange royal icing!

BakingI got the call back in May.  A friend was getting married in September, and she needed help with her favors.  She wanted to give something people could eat, and wanted it to tie to fall.  And, to top it all off, red was her color.  We went back and forth on what to do, looking at different treats and snacks, settling on cookies, but looking at large cutters, small cutters, different shapes and sizes, you name it.  We finally settled on the gingerbread leaves, but adding a single sugar cookie heart with red royal icing.  I think they turned out pretty well, and she was very pleased.  Here’s how I made the leaves.

IngredientsI searched and searched for the gingerbread cookie recipe, and I had several tries with different recipes.  Ultimately, I turned to my master, Martha Stewart, and used her “Melissa’s Gingerbread Cookies” recipe from The Martha Stewart Cookbook. The cookbook came out in 1995, and I remember my mom getting it back then.  Thankfully, I found a copy at a library sale a few months ago for $2! 🙂  The recipe makes a great dough, very easy to roll.

To start, combine 1 cup molasses, 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar, 1/2 cup granulated sugar, 4 teaspoons ground ginger, and 4 teaspoons ground cinnamon in a bowl you can use as a double boiler.  I just use a metal bowl and set it over a saucepan of simmering water.  Heat this mixture until the sugar melts.  Because of the amount of sugar, I was never able to get it completely melted, but I kept it on the heat, stirring occasionally for about 10 minutes, until it was dark and smooth. Baking Soda Then, while still on the heat, add 3/4 tablespoon baking soda.  Stir, and the mixture will bubble up and lighten in color.  Remove from the heat, and add it to a large bowl with 2 sticks butter, at room temperature.  Give this a good stir, combining and melting the butter with the sugar mixture, then let it sit to cool to 90 degrees (or warm to the touch).  Once it’s cooled a bit, add 2 eggs, lightly beaten, and mix well.  I used the mixer for this.

DoughOnce the eggs are mixed in, start to add the flour.  Add 6 cups all-purpose flour, one cup at a time.  You’ll want to let the mixer run before you add more.  As Martha says, you don’t need to use a mixer, but it does make it easier.  I did it by hand for the first batch I made, and the mixer was easier, but by hand really wasn’t bad.

Once the flour is incorporated, turn the dough onto a floured surface.  Shape into a rectangle, and start rolling.  I divided it into 4 before rolling, but you could do the whole thing if you want.  You’ll need a good bit of flour to be sure it doesn’t stick at first.  Roll to 1/4 inch thickness, then start cutting out shapes.  I used 2 different leaf shapes, one maple and one oak.  And keep rolling up your scraps and reusing.  Bake the cookies at 325 degrees for 15-20 minutes, until firm to the touch.  Mine took about 18 minutes.

IcingOnce cooled, I iced with royal icing.  I used Alton Brown’s recipe.  Just whip 3 oz egg whites until frothy, then add 4 cups powdered sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla.  Whip this for about 7 minutes until thick and white.  Then, just add your coloring.  I used Wilton’s orange gel coloring.  I used a piping bag with a small round tip, and I piped the outline, then swirled the icing around the center to cover.  As it dried, it because smooth and hard.

For my cookie project, I needed 110 bags, so I needed 550 leaves.  I made 6 batches, with each batch making just under 100.  I’m sure one batch will be enough for you! 🙂CookiesAll Done

A Summer of Nursery Tours

I’ve been very lucky this summer.  I have had the opportunity to tour several nurseries and garden centers, some of which are not always open to the public.  It was so inspiring to see the huge variety of plants that these gardeners are making available to the public, and the cutting-edge techniques some of these nurseries are employing to ensure they are helping, not hurting, the environment.  It was also very exciting to be able to take some of their amazing plants home with me! 🙂

Peace Tree FarmIn June, I attended a nursery tour class through Longwood Gardens.  Our tour guide, and general expert, for the day was David Culp, a knowledgeable gardener and author of The Layered Garden. David planned a tour of several amazing nurseries that day.  The first stop was Peace Tree Farms in Kintnersville, PA, with an impressive greenhouse and state of the art production.  They are certified organic, and they have the most amazing begonias I’ve ever seen.  I’m happy to report that I’m now the proud owner of 6 of their begonias, and they are doing great!

Peace Tree Farm Production

BegoniasWe then went to Paxson Hill Farm in New Hope, PA.  They have a beautiful nursery, filled with amazing plants, but also a garden maze, peacocks, and even turkeys.  I was happy to be able to take home some of their varieties of coneflower and a few other perennials that are doing great in the garden.  Paxson Hill Farm MazePaxson Hill Farm TurkeyPaxwon Hill Farm PeacockOne of the last stops we had that day was at RareFind Nursery in Jackson, NJ.  They had wonderful trees and shrubs, and a great variety.  I’m happy to report that I am now a witch-hazel owner after spending some time at their nursery!Witch HazelNorth Branch Nursery HydrangeasAlso this summer, I was visiting in Ohio and was lucky enough to meet the owners of North Branch Nursery in Pemberville, OH.  North Branch Nursery is a truly impressive operation with over 300 acres and 300 varieties of trees and 300 varieties of shrubs.  They grow over 20,000 perennials each year and have 75,000 plants in container production.  It is an absolutely beautiful property.  The property is huge, and we were happy to take a tour.  You can meander through the fields, seeing all of the trees and shrubs they have growing.  And the greenhouses with perennials is a site with such a great variety!  They grow just about everything!North Branch Nursery RosesNorth Branch Nursery ClematisNorth Branch Nursery TreesWhile we were there, I got a Little Lime hydrangea that I was very excited about.  I haven’t seen these before, but it’s a dwarf variety and has the most amazing lime green blooms.  The plant was beautiful and very hardy.  It is doing great in the yard.  North Branch Nursery Little LimeLittle LimeI was also thrilled to receive their 2014 catalog this week in the mail.  You can really see the breath of offerings they have in the catalog.  I can’t wait to dive in and see what other inspiration I get for next year!North Branch Nursery Catalog

So often, we get used to convenience, and if you’re looking for plants, that could mean looking no further than your local Home Depot.  But there really is so much out there.  If you haven’t explored some of those hidden nurseries in your area, even if they are a drive away, give them a try.  Catalogs are also a great way to get variety, but there is nothing like wandering through a nursery to get your creative juices pumping!  I know it was a great experience this summer for me, and I plan to keep it up in the future!