Monday, January 16, 2012


Food porn.

Welcome to the world's least-controversial blog.
That, at least, is the way it feels when post after post drifts out into the sphere and no one sneers, argues, whines or even comments. 
It's not that I like anger or argument, but writing to a silent audience does begin to feel pointless. I mean, here I am, generating calorific treats that require discipline for proper disposal, or that end up benefiting only a couple of skinny ice skaters, and the careful, accurate recipes get tried out by absolutely nobody. Or so it seems.
My own critical voice asks, "Are you surprised? I mean, how many of your pathetically tiny handful of readers has the time, to say nothing of the inclination, to track down something like mahlep or Expandex?" Indeed, who besides me would trek to Jersey City on a 10 degree morning in search of Fenugreek seeds, roast and grind their own spices, sprout sorghum, or patiently squeeze frozen butter pads into chilled flour? 
What I'm hearing myself say, is, make an easy recipe and they will read. And dine.
OK, I have. Sort of. Now, if you make this, will you let me know?
Apple-cranberry upside-down spice cake.
My inspiration for this recipe, which is yet again a mini, suitable for two adults who love dessert but not a lot of dessert, was the half-empty bag of cranberries that's been knocking around in my crisper drawer since Thanksgiving. Now I find it amusing that a food lasts so long without spoiling, but, hey, I need the space in that drawer. And yes, I bought too many Gold Rush apples the last time I was in Ohio, and they're in the drawer too. And I'm tired of pie. But not tired of butter, flour egg and spices. So here we go.
I began work on this cake by following one of Michael Ruhlman's recipes from his wonderful book Ratios, adapted with a gluten-free pastry flour. My first iteration didn't have a pleasing enough crumb, though, so I riffed on technique. This second version - which I barely got photographed before Leslie and I wolfed it down - is the benchmark.
On the way to our plates. And palettes. 

Take note of that riffing. That's what this recipe offers, lots of opportunity to improvise, change and adapt. Ruhlman's version is not a spice cake. I removed two of his ingredients and replaced them with a teaspoon of spice blend, which I made by toasting raw spices and adding a dose of mahlep. Not inclined to be so fussy? Use a mix of allspice, ground mace, ginger, rose buds, or whatever tweaks your nose. You can reduce the amount of butter, use a mix of butter and coconut oil, even substitute a nut oil. You could use brown sugar, or make the "bottom" from berries, peaches, or (God forbid) canned pineapples. Scroll to the recipe and you'll see my suggested substitutions.
There is one ingredient you should track down for this cake: Ivory Teff flour. It is not an absolute necessity - the pastry blend spelled out below lists acceptable substitutions - but it is one excellent flour to have on hand. Teff is an Ethiopian grain, now grown in Idaho (USA) and probably other places. It is very high in iron, has a bright, spicy flavor, and comes in two colors: dark and ivory. Dark is fairly easy to find; it's even in New Jersey grocery stores. I've never seen ivory here, however - I order it in bulk (50 lbs) from a mill that will also sell smaller quantities. Click any of the hotlinks in this paragraph to get to their website. I use both colors of teff, but prefer ivory for some recipes. Its flavor is markedly different from dark teff, and its lighter color allows the spices in this cake to tint the crumb an appetizing hue. I'll be posting more ivory teff recipes as the year goes on, so I do urge you to get some. It can be safely stored in your refrigerator.
One more caveat: this recipe takes a lot of bowls. Having grown up in a household without a dishwasher, and hearing "tsssk!" every time I got a dish dirty, I get nervous making such a mess. Hopefully your neurosis is different. But you will need space in the dishwasher or sink to clean up after making this.
Cranberry-apple upside-down spiced mini cake
Makes 2, 4" round cakes, or four small servings
Ingredients for the cake:
54 grams Ivory Teff Pastry blend (see formula below)
54 grams granulated sugar
54 grams unsalted butter, melted (or other fat, such as coconut oil)
54 grams of egg, separated (1 extra-large) 
(note this 1:1:1:1 ratio. If you expand the recipe, just keep this. The amounts listed fill the round 4" springform pans about 3/4 full. You can build this recipe up to about 75/75/75/75 but no more if you stick to 4"pans. With two medium eggs you'd have too much batter, since each weighs 45 grams and you'd therefore need 90 grams of flour, sugar, and fat. In such a case you can use one egg and a second yolk, or one egg and a second white.)
1.9 grams (1/4 tsp) salt 
1/2 tsp baking powder (optional)
2.0 grams Xanthan gum
1 tsp spice blend (I toasted 5 shreds of mace, 7 green cardamom pods, 1/3 a star anise and 1/4 a cinnamon stick, plus a tablespoon of raw mahlep.)
For the topping:
1 Gold Rush or similarly tart apple, cored, peeled and sliced thin (weight about 125 grams)
30 grams chopped raw cranberries (if you don't chop them they'll float)
2 tsp granulated sugar
1 TBLSP corn starch
1 TBLSP boiled cider (available from King Arthur Flour) (substitutes: maple syrup, corn syrup, honey. If you use any of these, cut sugar by 1/2.)
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground ginger
Note on I-teff pastry blend: the formula is: 167 grams ivory teff flour (or white rice or brown rice flour); 145 grams cornstarch; 115 grams tapioca starch or Expandex modified tapioca starch; 13 grams potato flour (not potato starch). I pour these into a ziplock, shake to blend, scoop out what I need and "store" the leftovers by tossing onto my cool granite work surface.
1. If you are roasting your own spices, place the cinnamon, cardomom, mace and star anise in a heavy frying pan. Heat on moderate high, stirring constantly, until spices smell toasted and good - about 3 minutes. Dump immediately onto cool countertop. Pick out the cinnamon chunks and set aside. Place the remainder in a spice grinder and 
pulverize. Add mahlep and blend, then place into a small bowl. Place cinnamon, nutmeg and grated ginger in the grinder and pulverize. Set into a separate bowl. 
2. Preheat oven to 350 F. Prepare two, 4" springform pans by lining bottom and sides with parchment paper. Do not grease. 
3. Peel, core and slice the apple(s). Chop the cranberries. In a medium to large bowl, mix apples, cranberries, the 2 tsps of sugar, the cornstarch, and the cinnamon/nutmeg/ginger spice blend. Mix well, then layer the bottoms of the two pans with equal quantities of this blend. 
4. Separate the egg. In a medium bowl, whip the whites until  they are stiff but not dry. In another medium bowl, mix 1 tsp of the mahlep spice blend, the salt, the baking powder and the flour. whisk to blend well. In a third bowl, whip the egg yolk and sugar until the sugar is dissolved. Add the yolk/sugar to the flour and stir well. Add the melted butter and stir well. Fold in the egg whites. Divide the batter between the two springform pans and insert into the oven. Bake 30 - 40 minutes, turning half way through, until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Cool on a rack. 
5. Invert cakes over small plates, peel away paper edge, then separate bottom and paper. Serve as dessert or a breakfast coffee cake. 


Kate Braden said...

Hello, I understand that you want people to make your recipes and comment on them here. You'll get more people to do this, I think, IMHO, if you make it easy and instead of grams or whatever, you would please use the standard cup/teaspoon/tablespoon, etc. measurements. I have no idea what a gram is, and I'm not a committed cook and don't bother with things that are difficult. Also I am near destitute and can't afford fancy things like kitchen scales, and I'm very bad at math. But I do have a measure cup and spoons, and a sink and hot plate plus a toaster oven in which I can bake things. Hope you won't take this as a criticism. Thank you.

Charles Luce said...

Hello Kate, and thank you for your comment. I appreciate your position. I have to admit that as I create and post recipes using weight, I realize I'm excluding some readers. However, weight is becoming the standard measure for home bakers because it is so much more accurate. I have seen kitchen scales in CVS stores for $10, though your circumstances may forbid this extravagence. BTW I too resisted converting to weight, rather than dry measure, until I found scales for $15. For convenience I've posted a conversion table on my web site, which you can reach VIA the blog. Thank you again and I do hope you try some of these recipes.