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Whole Wheat Maple Apple Tart

My life in London always feels like a series of weekend travels interrupted by weekdays of work, but the past few months have been a whirlwind even for me. In a mere four weeks, for instance, I spent days peering out the top of a Land Cruiser at zebras and elephants and lions, days climbing into the innermost burial chambers of a number of the nearly 180 pyramids found in Egypt, days flying prop planes over Mt. Kilimanjaro, and, on each of those days, seen so many places I almost couldn’t believe I would ever see with my own eyes (I’ve also seen more paperwork than I ever thought I’d see with my own eyes, between vaccinations and visas and hotel bills). And, in between those days of travelling, I have had visitors in droves from America and Paris and beyond, witnessed a few unforgettable shows, watched a few of the most memorable films I’ve seen in months, finished a handful of the most engaging (and sometimes controversial amongst our holiday book club) books, ushered in Spring amongst the flowers in bloom and eaten in some of my most beloved places. There just hasn’t been much time left to spend in the kitchen, you see. The place that is usually at the forefront of my mind held only a cameo role in the story of my life over the past 4 weeks (once to make a traditional batch of pre-flight, pre-annual exotic adventure with FDW pecan buns and three times to feed guests that have come to expect to gain weight my house with chocolate sheet cake, macaroni and cheese, chocolate apricot cookies and red velvet cake). And so, it was with great joy and excitement that I stepped into my kitchen on Sunday with no deadlines, no places to be (aside from upstairs sorting through weeks worth of laundry, but that’s the best excuse to be in the kitchen anyway), no guests to entertain, no e-ticket in my left hand and passport in my right.

And no sooner had I stepped into the kitchen and cleared off the counters full of old mail and souvenirs that I unearthed a small paperback book that FDW had brought with him from home when he arrived for our safari what felt like ages ago. We met in Terminal 5 at Heathrow (my “happy place”) bright and early on a Saturday morning and didn’t see our luggage again until 10 or so hours later, when we were ushered into our hotel in Nairobi. So it was that I found myself, at nearly midnight, safari-time, digging through my brother’s bag to uncover all the goodies he had brought to me from home. At the time, that small paperback book was understandably overshadowed by treasures such as my brand new camera, fluer de sel caramel-filled chocolate from a trip to Paris the week before (FDW has kept himself busy these past few weeks, as well) and a signed copy of Alice Waters’ magnum opus. But, yesterday morning that little, well-travelled book was the Holy Grail, the missing link, the one thing I needed in a sea of bills and laundry and unread emails. The book, affectionately entitled, “Now that’s a Linzertorte! 30 Years of Recipes and Vermont Stories from the Trapp Family Lodge”, was written by the Executive Pastry Chef of one of my favourite hotels in the world, The Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, Vermont. My parents, lovers of all things skiing and mountain-related, have been taking us “kids” to Trapp since we were born. I took my first steps outside a Trapp Family villa. I learned how to cross-country ski out Trapp’s front doors. When I watched The Sound of Music for the first time it was the visions of von Trapp children and grandchildren whose photos line the halls of the Trapp Family Lodge that I had in my mind. And I had my first taste of pure Vermont maple syrup at Trapp’s astounding breakfast buffet (followed, years later, by my first visit to Trapp’s syrup house, to taste “sugar on snow” for the first time and to learn how it is that they make that most perfect of syrups). It’s a magical place. It’s, as the welcome sign that greets you reads, “a little of Austria and a lot of Vermont”. It’s maple syrup and warm fires and cozy reading rooms. And maple syrup. And home. And that syrup. As soon as I opened the book I knew whatever I made would have to feature maple syrup (despite the initial urge to make the ubiquitous Linzertorte I presume I’ll feel every time I open this book). I narrowed down which maple-infused recipe to make based on sheer preservation tactics: I am no longer within driving distance of the best maple syrup in the world and so I must fiercely preserve the few jugs I have in England, which meant I quickly pushed aside anything asking for 2 cups (or more!) of the sweet nectar. The whole-wheat maple apple tart seemed a fitting compromise, calling for less than ½ a cup, and it was that fact which sealed the sweet deal.

As soon as I began assembling the ingredients, I discovered that my preservation tactics were paying off in spades. This is an interesting recipe: the tart dough is assembled by first creaming butter with brown sugar (usually the first step in my cake-making process, but never before when I made a crust), there is no freezing/pre-baking of the dough required (and for a girl who has had many an escapade with tart dough in her tempermental oven this was a surprising twist), the cream cheese filling, which makes up the bulk of this tart, tasted to me just like the French toast bagel with cream cheese at Panera Bread and the number of apples (2) left little be done in the peeling/slicing department. It’s an easy dessert to create, to be sure. And yet, it is so surprising.  Truth be told, it’s more like a cheesecake than a tart, right down to that gooey, brown sugar, heavens-be-praised stable crust (surely I’m not the only one who has PTSD from experiencing the terrifying phenomenon that is a sunken tart crust?).  A tart-y cheesecake? A cheesecake-y tart? I lost all desire to debate the semantics as soon as I took my first bite. I was floating in a maple syrup and cream cheese dream right there in my neglected English kitchen. And, after travelling so far from home, this was the perfect reminder of just where I’ve come from.

Whole Wheat Maple Apple Tart

Whole Wheat Maple Apple Tart
Adapted from Now That’s a Linzertorte! 30 Years of of Recipes and Vermont Stories from the Trapp Family Lodge

For the whole wheat crusts*:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup (2 sticks) butter
1 1/3 cup brown sugar, tightly packed
1 whole egg

For the filling/topping:
1 lb. cream cheese
1/4 cup Vermont maple syrup
1 whole egg
1/4-cup all-purpose flour
1/8 cup Vermont maple syrup for brushing on tart
2 tart apples, peeled, cored, sliced thin
1/8 cup cinnamon sugar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Start with the crust, mixing the butter and brown sugar together until slightly creamy. Add egg and flours. Mix into a workable dough.

Grease and lightly flour a 10-inch tart pan. Divide dough into two halves, set aside one half in freezer or in the fridge for later use (or double filling/topping recipe to make 2 tarts). Divide remaining half into thirds. Press two thirds into the bottom of the tart shell. Use the remaining third to use as the rims.

Make the filling by combining the cream cheese and maple syrup and beating until creamy. Add the egg and the flour and mix until smooth.

Spread the filling into the tart shell. Layer the apples over the filling, sprinkle with cinnamon sugar and brush with maple syrup.

Bake tart for 40 minutes or until golden. Remove tart from pan while still slightly warm and chill.

Serve cool with ice cream or whipped cream.

*This recipe (and most in the book) makes 2 10-inch pies. While I halved the filling/topping ingredients, I did make two crusts and have left the recipe as is for that reason (I don’t like halving eggs, for one, and who wouldn’t want another one of these crusts at the ready in the freezer?).

Whole Wheat Maple Apple Tart

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All-In-One Holiday Bundt Cake

Even as I get older and wiser (?), life continues to be full of firsts. This recipe, for instance, was the first TWD entry in my brief TWD career baked entirely by King H, my first love (discounting the likes of Taylor Hanson and Jordan Catalano, who may have come earlier, but certainly weren’t as…real), during his first foray into baking in our first kitchen. As you might imagine, I am usually the one doing the baking in our relationship. King H, on the other hand, makes a fitting sous chef (he’s often found cleaning up the wake of baking products I leave behind), a mean Chicago deep-dish pizza, and the perfect choice of music to muck around in the kitchen to. He’s also very often left to eat half a batch of muffins or 25 cookies, all in the name of feeding my baking habit. And for that I’m grateful.

Imagine my surprise, then, when he came home from work one night and mentioned he was involved in a bake-off at work. Another first: our roles had suddenly been reversed. We got into the spirit last week, when our friend B stopped over to use the kitchen and prepare her entry, these stunning Carrot Cake Cupcakes with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting (incidentally, this will now be my go-to Autumn carrot cake recipe, and is a perfectly fall-spiced compliment to my more spring-y version previously posted here), but this week it was finally King H’s turn to shine. Initially inspired to bring in sweet potatoes with marshmallows, a Thanksgiving staple which is all but lost on anyone outside of the US (believe me, I’ve begged more than one English chef to make this for the holiday, only to be met with complete and utter shock and disgust, which is a big part of the reason I’ll be finally be hosting Thanksgiving at home this year), his excitement was tempered by the fact that he’d be assisting in making six pounds worth of candied yams (yams? Sweet potatoes? I’m going rogue and calling them both*) a mere four days later. And so King H had a momentary lapse in bright ideas on Sunday afternoon, as he was dragging a 14 pound frozen turkey and 12 pounds of potatoes home from Waitrose. Suddenly, all he saw before him was days of mashing, basting and mixing. It was enough to put him off baking entirely and he was suitably forlorn.

Enter me and my desire to get back on track in my quest to complete Tuesdays with Dorie and…problem quickly solved (at least the pot-luck part – he’s still got lots of mashing to do in the days ahead). I gave King H a choice of all four recipes this month (the folks at TWD have graciously done away with the one set recipe per week rule during November) and this one jumped right out at both of us, courtesy of The Nitty Britty. If he couldn’t make his candied yams, this Bundt cake, it appeared, would be a fitting substitute, as Dorie herself noted you could “name your favorite it-tastes-like-Thanksgiving flavor, and you’ll find it here”. And, as usual, right she was. I left King H to his own devices (one of the rules strictly enforced by his co-workers was that I would not produce this for him) and, aside from chopping a few unruly cranberries (why, oh why must cranberries pop all over the place?!) and answering a few questions about the KitchenAid stand mixer creaming/mixing process, I didn’t reappear again until he was pouring the batter in the well-buttered Bundt pan. And was I ever glad I had the foresight to appear at such a crucial moment, because this was the first time I was the one who got to lick the batter bowl clean, an honour I usually bestow on whoever pops down to the kitchen while I’m baking and tasting in my own time.  If the batter was any indication, this cake was going to be a hit at work. King H drizzled it with a maple syrup glaze and I watched it head out the door with him on his way to work this morning, feeling more than a bit despondent at the fact that I wouldn’t be tasting the cake that filled my whole house with the smells of Thanksgiving a mere twelve hours earlier. I may have to wait until Thursday to smell anything quite as good again, but I have it on good authority that King H’s compatriots were thrilled with this cake. And I’m thrilled with it, too, even though I never had a bite, because he baked something! And it was beautiful! And it smelled like heaven! And he’s so precise! And he told me I keep him, even when he wins the contest and becomes an international Bundt superstar! And, perhaps most importantly, now…now that he’s given these foreigners a taste of the cranberries, pumpkin, apples and pecans that help make this time of year so special, thanks to King H perhaps we just may have another first to look forward to: winning them over with those marshmallow-topped yams on Thursday…

All-In-One Holiday Bundt Cake

All-in-One Holiday Bundt Cake
(from Baking: From My Home To Yours)

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
Pinch of salt
1 1/2 tsp grated fresh ginger (or 1 tsp ground ginger)
1 1/4 sticks (10 tbsp) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup (packed) light brown sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups canned unsweetened pumpkin puree
1 large apple, peeled, cored and finely chopped
1 cup cranberries, halved or coarsely chopped
1 cup pecans, coarsely chopped
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting or maple syrup icing (see note)

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9- to 10- inch (12 cup) Bundt pan. Don’t place the pan on a baking sheet-you want the oven’s heat to circulate freely through the Bundt’s inner tube.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and ground ginger, if you’re using it (not the grated ginger).

Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter and both sugars together at medium speed until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, and beat for 1 minute after each addition. Beat in the vanilla. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the pumpkin, chopped apple and grated ginger, if you’re using it-don’t be concerned if the mixture looks curdled. Still on low speed, add the dry ingredients, mixing only until they are incorporated. With a rubber spatula, stir in the cranberries and pecans. Scrape the batter into the pan and smooth the top with the rubber spatula.

Bake for 60 to 70 minutes, or until a thin knife inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Transfer the cake to a rack and cool for 10 minutes before unmolding, then cool to room temperature on the rack.

Note: just before bringing the cake to the table, dust it with confectioners’ sugar or drizzle it with maple syrup icing, which Dorie introduces in her “playing around” section and which King H used to much praise in his version. Simply sift 6 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar into a bowl and stir in 2 tablespoons maple syrup. Add more maple syrup little by little, until you have an icing that runs nicely off the tip of the spoon — you might need another 1/2 tablespoon syrup to get the right consistency. Put the cooled cake on a sheet of wax paper and drizzle the icing from the tip of the spoon over it. Let the icing set for a few minutes before serving.

*Edited to add this link, aptly found by King H a mere day after my great yam/sweet potato debate.

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