Thursday, February 23, 2006

Cooking School: Apple Kuchen

There are many, many varieties of dessert that claim the name kuchen, from yeasted pastries to custard and fruit-filled pies. At its core, though, kuchen is simply the German word for "cake" and none of the delightful baked goods associated with it are misnamed.
This recipe is published in the French Laundry Cookbook - the gorgeous tome dedicated to the works of Thomas Keller - but I picked it up some time ago on the Amateur Gourmet's site. The original version adds blueberries and has a slightly different spicing, though I really love the combination I used here. Mine has cinnamon and vanilla, in addition to nutmeg. The nutmeg really shines in this dish and I strongly recommend using freshly ground.
The unusual thing about this cake is that the batter is thick and stiff. It doesn't fill the pan completely in its unbaked state, but rises high around the apples as it bakes. The kuchen is beautiful to look at. After it has cooled, the cake will shrink back from the apples slightly, so don't be suprised when it happens.
Apples seem to pose a challenge to many chefs who don't like the fact that they begin to brown as soon as you have sliced into them. Don't bother tossing them in lemon juice or any other slightly acidic solution. The apples will brown in the oven, so it's not necessary to try to prevent browning before they are cooked. In fact, a browner appearance to the fruit will probably be more appealing the the final dish. I used a combination of Fuji and Pink Lady apples for this kuchen. I think that a sweeter apple is a much better choice to compliment the light sweetness and spicing of the cake than a tart Granny Smoth-type apple.
The kuchen is best served warm, so slice it after cooling only for a short time or let it cool completely and reheat each portion in the microwave. I think it tastes just as good, perhaps better, on the second day. Top each warm piece with a dollop of whipped cream or a small scoop of vanilla ice cream, if desired.

Apple Kuchen
(adapted from French Laundry Cookbook)
2 or 3 Fuji apples
1/3 cup butter, soft
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups ap flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp nutmeg (fresh grated)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp sugar, for topping

Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly grease an 8-inch round cake pan.
Peel and core apples. Slice into approximately 1/4 inch thick slices. Set aside.
In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugars. Beat in egg and vanilla. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, nutmeg and cinnamon.
With the mixer on low speed or by hand, add flour mixture and milk to sugar mixture in 2 or 3 alternating additions. Spread into prepared pan.
Arrange apple slices as desired and sprinkle with 1 tsp sugar.
Bake for 40-45 minutes, until a tester comes out clean.
Serve warm.
Serves 10.