Apple and Maple Syrup Pie

imageIt doesn’t take much to make this city girl happy.  The crackling sound of fallen leaves beneath my boots.  A carpet of red, green and golden orbs beneath trees whose limbs are releasing their precious fruit to my care.  Air crisp enough to don a scarf and lightweight jacket, adding to the Fall-ish atmosphere of a day of apple picking, and I’m happy!Apple and Maple Syrup Pie RecipeThe love of country living runs deep in my veins.  For as long as I can remember, I have been charmed by rural life.  My fondest childhood vacation memories are of trips to my great-grandmother’s farm in the mountains of West Virginia.  As a child, I delighted in the gathering of fresh eggs from the hen house and picking sun ripened tomatoes right from the garden.  My siblings and I entertained ourselves for hours catching salamanders in the brook just over the hill from the house.  For many years, the old farm house was without indoor plumbing which meant daring, fright-filled adventures to the out-house in the middle of the night.  For this little Girl, life on the farm was the greatest show on earth. No circus or carnival held the possibility for more entertainment and amusement.

Once as a teenager, I remember riding along with my boyfriend as he delivered wood to a young family who lived in a farm house at the end of a winding country road.  It was late December and a pure blanket of white covered the road and adjacent fields for as far as the eye could see.  The husband and wife welcomed us inside where we were offered freshly baked bread warm from the oven, slathered with preserves from the past summer’s bounty.  Nothing more than a wood-burning fireplace heated the house, yet I had never felt so warm.  We left their home dreaming of the day we would have our own land and farm house, so we too could live such an ‘idyllic’ life.  Ah, young love.

I’m sure there are plenty aspects of country/farming life far less romantic than the memories I hold from my youth.  Reading ‘Bean Blossom Dreams’ and ‘The Dirty Life’ set me straight on that account.  But when I can, I welcome the opportunity for any adventure that takes me on a bucolic journey.  Last week, one such adventure came in the form of apple picking in upstate New York.

Apple and Maple Syrup Pie RecipeAt many U-pick farms, apple picking has become as commercial as Christmas.  After all, it’s a business and I guess they are smart to make the most of it.  We forewent the moon bounce and corn maze and headed straight for the orchard, but not before stopping to buy bags for our apples.  At this farm you begin with empty pre-purchased small or large bags that are sold at a fixed price.  The goal is to cram as many apples into the bag as one can fit.  When I suggested we ‘start with’ four bags, the look on H’s face prompted an immediate downsizing to a measley three bags.  Come to find out, the small bags hold WAY more apples than I realized.  Row after row of apple trees, varieties of which I cannot get on the West Coast, sent me right to apple heaven.  New to me this year, I discovered the huge, green skinned, Mutzu apple.   Although perfect for baking and cooking, it is my new favorite eating apple.  We also filled our bags with Cortlands, Romes, and Macouns – my best discovery during last year’s picking.

Apple and Maple Syrup Pie RecipeOnce back at J’s tiny studio apartment, I was raring and ready to bake.  Her postage stamp sized kitchen presented a few challenges along the way but I thought, if Deb of Smitten Kitchen can do it, so can I!  A little ingenuity, and a whole lot of patience proved to be the recipe for success.  With no food processor or pastry blender, I made the crust using nothing more than a fork and it turned out perfectly.  A little reminder for me to step away from all the gadgets and gismos from time to time and get re-acquainted with the basics.

Apple and Maple Syrup Pie RecipeThe secret to this apple pie lies in replacing most of the sugar with maple syrup that has been boiled down to a thickened consistency.  Boiling the syrup intensifies its flavor and add a caramel-y richness.  So delicious is this concentrated syrup, I just couldn’t help myself from drizzling it over the finished pie as well. 


Spiced and Spiked Chocolate Pumpkin Cake

Chocolate Pumpkin Cake with Spiced and Spiked Whipped Cream RecipeI’m pretending it feels like Autumn around here even though the temperatures are rising instead of falling. I’ve lost patience waiting for cooler weather so I’ve been making lots of big hearty meals and tummy warming soups in spite of it feeling more like summer than Fall.  A gigantic pumpkin sits on my doorstep and the house is decorated with witches, and ghosts, and various other scary things.  I’m embracing October full on, even if the weather refuses to cooperate.
Chocolate Pumpkin Cake with Spiced and Spiked Whipped Cream RecipeI’m still without an oven but I can’t not bake so I’m making the best of the situation.  I put my toaster oven to use once again, but of course this recipe works in a regular oven as well.  This dessert is super easy – like ‘one bowl’ easy.  Honestly, in less than an hour you can put together this lovely cake.  Whether you serve it at a dinner party or for a special weeknight treat, friends and family will be impressed.  Simple enough for the novice baker but impressive enough to uphold any seasoned baker’s reputation.
Chocolate Pumpkin Cake with Spiced and Spiked Whipped Cream RecipePart of the inspiration for this cake was a bag of Pumpkin Spiced Pumpkin Seeds I bought at Trader Joe’s.  The cashier told me I was going to love them and she was right.  If you don’t have a Trader Joe’s in your area you can always make your own using this recipe.  Just substitute pumpkin pie spice for the savory spices.  Make them ahead, and make extra for snacking.
Chocolate Pumpkin Cake with Spiced and Spiked Whipped Cream Recipe Chocolate Pumpkin Cake with Spiced and Spiked Whipped Cream LR-2752




Fig Jam, Pear and Pistachio Coffeecake and Baking in a Toaster Oven

Fig Jam Pear and Pistachio Coffeecake RecipeDo you know how frustrating it can be when baking is your passion and you don’t have an oven?  VERY!!!  Two weeks ago, just as I was rolling out the pastry for Howie’s birthday pie, my oven ‘short circuited’.  Literally.  The control panel fritzed out and the room filled with an electrical burning smell.  But that wasn’t the worst.  The worst was the ear piercing beeping sound blaring from the oven.  Might I just mention that for safety reasons there is no way to turn the beeping sound off.  I had eight people coming for dinner in less than five hours and I had no oven.  Yes, there are worse things, but at that moment I was struggling to think of one.  Hours later a repair person arrived and informed me that my oven panel was shot.  What a surprise!  The only good news – he was able to shut off the oven’s main circuit breaker which stopped the annoying beeping.  I baked the pie at my neighbor’s house, finished the dinner on the barbecue, and everyone had a lovely evening in spite of the broken oven.
Fig Jam Pear and Pistachio Coffeecake Recipe Fig Jam Pear and Pistachio Coffeecake LR-2611Then I left town.  Not because my oven was broken, but because I went to spend some time with my Mom.  I returned home this past week raring and ready to embrace the Fall weather and to get back to baking and blogging.  And then I was told my new oven wouldn’t be installed for at least two more weeks.  GRRRR!!!  Then a light bulb came on in my head.  I have a really nice, and really large toaster oven.  It fits up to a 13×9-inch pan.  Heck, I can accomplish a lot of baking in that size space.  With the warm weather still lingering in Southern California, there was actually an advantage to not turning on a big oven.  Under the heading of  ‘where there is a will, there is a way’, I am just going to bake away in my little (large) toaster oven until my brand spanking new one is delivered.  And with that, I bring you coffeecake.
Fig Jam Pear and Pistachio Coffeecake RecipeThis cake was inspired by a recipe I saw on the Southern Living website.  I changed quite a bit in the recipe to get to the one you see here.  I was more than surprised by how well it turned out.  I was especially surprised by how well my toaster oven baked.  I think I might be onto something here.  Look for more toaster oven recipes in the future.
Fig Jam Pear and Pistachio Coffeecake Recipe




Italian Cream Cake…and a Milestone Birthday

Italian Cream Cake with Mascarpone Buttercream RecipeThis birthday is not a milestone birthday for the reason you might think. It isn’t the beginning of a new decade for me.  No, it’s much more significant than that.  Ten years ago, just a day or two before my forty-seventh birthday, I received my first chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer.  On that birthday,  I wasn’t thinking much about my age.  I wasn’t thinking much about anything except fighting for my life.  The passage of time had taken on new meaning  Instead of dreading the thought of getting older, each year’s passing brought me out of the darkness of fear and into the light of recovery.
Italian Cream Cake with Mascarpone Buttercream  RecipeBy the time I reached my middle years, I had grown wise enough to realize the importance of living in the present moment.  Never one to wish away time, I was suddenly fixated on the future.  Jael was only thirteen at the time, and so often I found myself lost in “what if” thinking.  Those thoughts were unbearable, but they were also what fueled my fight.
Italian Cream Cake with Mascarpone Buttercream  Recipe So here I am!  Ten years later!!  Celebrating bigger than ever this birthday.  The passing of years has brought peace of mind and an odd sense of accomplishment.  To be sure, I did not win my fight through will alone.  With the love and support of family and friends, and the good fortune to have had great doctors, I am a survivor.  And as trite as it may sound, I am grateful for my journey.  The gifts along my road to recovery have been countless.
Italian Cream Cake with Mascarpone Buttercream  RecipeSo today I am celebrating by baking myself a birthday cake.  Do you know why I am baking my own cake?  Because I can!  Because getting back to my oven was a motivator when I was struggling through chemotherapy.  And because this year is special.
Italian Cream Cake with Mascarpone Buttercream  RecipeThis cake isn’t particularly fancy, but it suits my taste perfectly.   I have been intrigued with its origin for a very long time and so I did a little research.  Turns out its name is a little misleading since there isn’t anything Italian about it.  It hails from the South, which was a happy coincidence since I am a KY girl.  Each golden layer is laced with flaky coconut and studded with chopped pecans.  More pecans are folded into what is traditionally a cream cheese frosting.  On a quest to put some legitimate ‘Italian’ into my cake, I topped it with a Mascarpone Buttercream instead.  The final creation was a cake more than worthy of such a special occasion.
Italian Cream Cake with Mascarpone Buttercream  Recipe Italian Cream Cake with Mascarpone Buttercream LR-2576

Sending a special thank you to my husband for bearing with me during shooting these photos.  It was incredibly hot, and I probably gave more instructions from in front of the camera than he would have liked.  ‘Thank you, Hun, for your patience and your love!’  Below is the poem he wrote for me for my birthday.  Such a talented man.

My Love -
have between heartbeats
present and solid as stone
yielding and ephemeral.
are a constancy
as time flows.
My experience
of you
is that you are my coming
and going
are placed center
as life rises and falls.
My neshma
My breath
as I breathe in and out
rocking forward
then still
as the pulse of life
beats on.
Steady, here, present
as we swirl and dance
grasp for stars
or simply gaze at them burning
that life placed us
close together
to spend it -
such precious currency
in this little shop
of our entwined experience.
Now, a birthday,
a moment to count
how well it has been expended
Rich are we both
in love.


Note:  I researched many recipes before choosing the cake component from Vintage Cakes by Julie Richardson.  If you have a fondness for heirloom recipes, you will want to pick up a copy of her book.