Apple Caramel Spice Cake

While Italy has swiftly jumped from Halloween to Christmas  -- lights have been hung, panettone and torrone are on display! -- my home country is still very much focused on Thanksgiving. In the U.S, you see, there is an unwritten, yet very much respected rule that Christmas festivities begin only once we are done with our turkey, gravy, stuffing, and in some cases, but certainly not mine, the viewing of the Thanksgiving day football game. Then -- and only then! -- do us Americans commence listening to Christmas carols and decorating the tree. It simply feels wrong to do otherwise, or in other words: you'll have to wait until after November 28th for any Christmas recipes. My blog, my rules. 

So! While the first half of the Thanksgiving meal is characterized by cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, and green beans, the end comes in the form of pie, most typically pecan, pumpkin, and apple. I'm a fan of this tradition -- I happen to love pie -- but what about those people who -- gasp! -- don't really like pie? After all, much like cookie vs brownie, pancakes vs waffles, pizza vs pasta, there is cake vs pie, or rather: two camps of people, one who prefers soft spongy layers and frosting to buttery pie crust and lattices and fillings. What about those who find pie less than perfect, or rather the pecan pie cloying, the pumpkin pie strange, and baked apples off-putting*?! Surely they too should have some options at the Thanksgiving, arguably the most food-centric holiday of them all?! 


(For the record: I love pecan pie and pumpkin pie, but have never gotten fully on-board with apple pie*).

For all of you I'll-pass-on-the-pie people on Thanksgiving: I give you Apple Caramel Spice Cake, the cake-lovers answer to the last course of the biggest meal of the year. First things first: while it is true that all recipes published on the blog have been tested, swooned over, and subsequently deemed worthy of sharing with you -- those that do not meet my standards aren't posted, plain and simple -- this one was truly over-the-top and supremely swoon-y. Ladies and gentlemen, this Apple Spice Cake is One of My Very Favorite Things I Have Ever Baked -- the highest honor! -- and with good reason. It's deeply spicy and superbly moist, infused with apple and cinnamon and ginger and all things Fall, delicious on its own but so spectacular when dressed up with a buttery, salty-sweet caramel glaze which -- if you're not careful! -- might never make it to your cake (my advice: try your best to limit yourself to one spoonful, ok?) This is festive and rich and special and most certainly deserves a place at your Thanksgiving table, or, if you're me: in your office, for your lovely colleagues, some of who will pass once, twice, three times for a slice. This is festive and autumnal and even a little bit magical, in that disappearing-act sort of way -- and, in my experience, equally good eaten in between photographs for this blog, while you have your Dad on speaker phone. Enjoy, everyone!
A couple of notes: You can use store-bought applesauce here, but I have to say that I have always made my own -- it really doesn't get any easier, promise -- and I would imagine that it makes for a cake that is a lot tastier. Up to you! If you wanted to simplify this cake, I imagine you could leave the frosting out and dust the whole thing with powdered sugar with good results (though the caramel glaze is pretty special...). Finally, I baked this cake in a bundt pan but a rectangular pan to make this a sheet cake would work well too!

Looking for other apple desserts? I've got this Best Ever Apple Cake, this Apple Pie, this Apple Tart, these Apple Muffinsthese Apple Dumplings, and these Apple Crisps


APPLE CARAMEL SPICE CAKE
Cake recipe from Merrill Stubbs of Food52; icing recipe from the blog The Runaway Spoon
Serves 12.

Ingredients for the cake:
2 cups (260 grams) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 rounded teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 rounded teaspoon cloves
2 large eggs
1 cup (200 grams) sugar
1/2 cup (100 grams) light or dark brown sugar
1 ½ cups (375 grams or 354 mL) unsweetened applesauce -- I used this recipe here
2/3 cup (80 mL) canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Ingredients for the caramel glaze:
4 tablespoons (56 grams) salted butter, cut into chunks
1/2 cup (100 grams) packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup (80 mL) heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup (90 grams) sifted confectioners’ sugar

Directions: 
Heat the oven to 350 degrees F, and butter and flour a 12-cup Bundt pan. Sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger and cloves, and set aside. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the eggs with both sugars until light. Then add the applesauce, oil and vanilla, and mix until smooth.
Using a spatula, fold in the dry ingredients (careful not to overmix!). Pour the batter into the Bundt pan, and bake for about 45 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool the cake for 10 minutes in the pan on a rack before turning it out and cooling completely on the rack. Wait until the cake is cool to make the caramel glaze.
The make the glaze, put a piece of foil or paper under the cooling rack to catch any drips before you start. Then, put the butter in a medium saucepan with the brown sugar, cream and salt over medium heat. Bring it to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly. Boil for one minute, and then pull it off the heat.

Leave the pan to cool for a couple of minutes, and then slowly whisk in the (sifted!) powdered sugar until you have a thick but pourable consistency (you might not need all the sugar). If the mixture seems too thick, add a splash of cream to thin it out a little. Immediately pour the glaze over the cake, moving slowly and evenly to cover as much of the cake as possible. Let the glaze set before serving the cake.



Pasta series #6: Gnocchi di zucca

After a two month long break – a first in these 5 years of Pancakes & Biscotti history – the blog and I are back and feeling refreshed! The recent hiatus has been decidedly useful; it’s given me time to recharge my blogging batteries and figure out what my next steps in 2020. Most importantly of all, I've had the time needed to rework the look of the blog -- that's right,  expect a blog makeover soon -- something I'd been meaning to do for ages and that has now been more or less crossed off one of my many beloved “TO DO” lists. Stay tuned for the blog’s new look shortly, and a big thanks to Giacomo for all his help!

In the meantime – a new recipe! As per relatively new tradition, the first post of every month recounts my latest adventures in pasta-making -- what better way to start off a new month than with a bowl of pasta?! -- and so here is episode #6 in the P&B pasta series, Gnocchi di zucca, aka pumpkin (or squash) gnocchi. Fun fact: in Italian the word zucca is used for both pumpkin and squash, and for the record, I used squash. 

Gnocchi are pasta, yes, but quite different than the pasta I’ve grown accustomed to make so far this year; after months of lecturing you on kneading techniques, different types of flour, and the difference between egg pasta and semolina flour/water pasta, gnocchi are here to give you all a break and switch up my repertoire a little. They aren’t so much more complicated than making cavatelli, orecchiette, or malloreddus, but they can be a bit finicky. Below the main points acquired in my Gnocchi Education while coming up with this recipe:


1.) Rule #1 when making gnocchi: the more flour you add, the heavier your gnocchi, so try and use as little flour as possible! You might notice there is no egg used in this recipe, when many gnocchi recipes call for one. I made these twice, once with egg, and, per the advice of Carla Tomasi, without egg. The idea of course here is that the more moisture you add to the dough, the more flour you need to add; the gnocchi made without the egg were much lighter, not to mention a lot less messy on my board. The addition of potato flakes -- a tip I picked up from my beloved Giallo Zafferano -- was also great. Win win!

2.) I used delicata squash here, as the flesh has little water -- what we want when making gnocchi, because again, the more flour we add, the heavier our gnocchi! -- but butternut squash should work here too. I used red skinned potatoes, as they have a low-water content, too. 

3.) Try and work together the potatoes and squash while they’re still warm; both veggies are starchier at this stage, and the starch will bring the dough together without adding too much flour. Work your dough quickly and don’t over knead it, which could (also) lead to heavy gnocchi.

4.) I tried to form my gnocchi the traditional and also slightly fancier way, using the gnocchi board, but found that simply cutting my gnocchi with the bench scraper -- or rather, leaving them at the step before rolling -- was faster and made gnocchi that were just as nice. In these photos you'll see my first test of the recipe, where I rolled my gnocchi with the board (a bit uneven, I must admit) so feel free to disregard if you, like me, don't want to bother with this step. 

The verdict, then, after all this? These gnocchi are feather-light – if they’d floated off my fork, I wouldn’t have been the least bit surprised --  just barely sweet and tinged with nutmeg, blissful when paired with melted butter (what isn’t!) and the herb equivalent of a-hug-on-a-bad-day sage. With a shower of Parmesan and a sprinkle of toasted walnuts for a little crunch, there are few things more satisfying. BONUS: this pasta is arguably Thanksgiving-appropriateThanksgiving may not be celebrated in Italy, but if you, like me, tend to do something every year anyways, these gnocchi are the perfect Thanksgiving-in-Rome sort of dish, a little nod to my adopted country of Italy and still not so out of place next to the usual stuffing and Turkey. Win win!

A couple of notes: In addition to my notes in the post above --  gnocchi should ideally be eaten as soon as they're cooked, but if there are any leftover, can be kept in the fridge for up to one day. These gnocchi can also be frozen; spread them out on a cookie sheet, dusted lightly with flour, and put in the freezer. Once frozen, place in a freezer bag and keep them handy for whenever you'd like. Highly recommended. 

Want to know what the other five recipes are in my blog's Pasta Series? I've got these ravioli fatti in casa this lasagne ai carciofi, these gnocchetti sardi, these cavatelli, and these orecchiette. Looking for other pumpkin pasta recipes? I've got these pappardelle with porcini and pumpkin, and this pumpkin lasagne.

GNOCCHI DI ZUCCA. Serves 4.

Ingredients:
1 pound (500 grams) Delicata squash 
12 ounces (350 grams, to be more precise) red-skinned potatoes, scrubbed clean
1 1/4 cups (150 grams, to be more precise) 00 flour 
2 tablespoons potato flakes 
3/4 teaspoon (3 grams) salt
Pepper
Freshly grated nutmeg

Butter, sage, Parmesan, and walnuts for serving

Directions:
1.) Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit (200 degrees celsius) and then get to preparing your potatoes. Bring a pot of water (salted) to a boil and cook your potatoes for 30-40 minutes, roughly -- this will vary based on the size of the potatoes, but they should be ready when they are easily pierced with a fork but not so soft that they are falling apart (remember: the less water they absorb, the better!) . Note that if you prefer, you can also cook the potatoes in the oven. 

2.) While the potatoes cook, prepare your squash. Cut the squash in half and clean out the seeds and stringy inside; cut in to slices and remove the skin on the outside too. Using a kitchen scale, measure out 350 grams (12 ounces) of squash. Line a baking sheet with kitchen paper, and bake the slices of squash in your preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, or until softened and slightly dried out -- the squash should be losing excess water here, which is what we want! Once cooked, remove from the oven and leave to cool slightly.
3.) At this point, the potatoes will be cooked. Drain them and set them aside to cook slightly. Next sift, your flour on to a clean work surface (I used my pasta board) and create the classic "volcano" shape. Next, once the potatoes are cool enough, peel them and mash them with salt, pepper, and a bit of nutmeg. Next, mash the pumpkin (or pass through a potato ricer). Place the potato and pumpkin into the "well" part of the volcano, and working quickly with a bench scraper to help you, incorporate them in to the flour, mixing them and cutting them in as you go. 

4.) Once your ingredients are well mixed, give them a knead or two to bring everything together -- the minimum amount of work possible here! -- and sprinkle over the potato flakes. Work everything together briefly to incorporate them, then bring your gnocchi dough together and give it a round shape. Cover it with a kitchen towel and let the dough rest for about 10 minutes.
5.) Once the 10 minutes are up, sprinkle your work surface lightly with flour. Cut a piece of dough -- keeping the rest of the dough covered -- and roll it out into a rope. Using your bench scraper, cut the rope into uniform pieces to form your gnocchi, placing them on a floured baking sheet as you go. Feel free to also use a gnocchi board here, if you'd like (see "notes"). 

6.) Cook the gnocchi in boiling salted water, until you see them start to float to the top -- that's when they're done! Drain them and serve immediately tossed with melted butter and sage, plus sprinkle of Parmesan cheese, and a handful of chopped walnuts, if you're feeling fancy. 



















See you in November!

Pancakes & Biscotti is under construction and will be closed for the months of September and October! I'll be back with new recipes and posts in November; in the meantime, get your P&B fix on Instagram and Facebook, and have a piece of this Chocolate Fudge Cake to hold you over.  :)










Highlights of Summer 2019

It's that time of year again -- Summer, my very favorite season, is drawing to a close, evidenced by shorter days, once again crowded subways (filled with my fellow commuters fresh from vacation) and temperatures that are pleasant rather than unbearable. I tend to feel a bit melancholy in late August -- vestiges of that sort of back-to-school feeling that has never left me, even though I haven't been a student in ages? -- and I annually lament the loss of sunshine, sundresses, and watermelon season.

(You "Fall" people with your love of sweaters and boots and scarves and autumn leaves have always befuddled me, by the way). 

But Summer 2019 and I had a good run! We traveled, we ate spectacularly, and we cooked; we saw friends, and family, and spent time near the sea and ocean, and ate lots of ice cream, too. Here are the highlights for you, and my salute to the best season of them all. Until next year!


Long Weekend in Procida

Procida is a small island off of Naples, one that is delightfully  accessible (1 hour train ride from Rome-Naples, and a 40 minute ferry ride, and that's it!) and incredibly beautiful. It seems to be overshadowed by the showier, more famous Ischia and Capri, and is all the better for it; Procida was peaceful, calm, and with few tourists (at least in mid-July). The island was picturesque and could be crossed in half an hour on foot; the beach was a dazzling five minute walk from where we were staying; the views were gorgeous, with lots of clear blue water and sky and colorful buildings and tiny boats; the food was delicious, the people were generous, and overall it was a perfect couple of days. One of the highlights? Befriending a family of Neapolitans sitting next to us at the beach, who were all curious about our lack of tans ("Why did you come to Procida if you want to stay out of the sun?! Tell everyone you went to the mountains instead, ok?") our vegan travel companion ("A life without mozzarella di bufala is a like a life without oxygen") and then fed us lunch, parmigiana di melanzane made the Neapolitan way, with two different kinds of meat (vegans be damned) and tomatoes and eggplant picked from their garden that morning. Ahh, Italy. Icing on the cake: We stopped in Naples for lunch on the way back to Rome, and ate our weight in perfect, Neapolitan pizza.

 


Class with Carla

I've said it before -- hereherehere and here -- and I'll say it again: there is nothing I enjoy more than spending time at Latteria Studio with Carla Tomasi (vegetable whisperer, preserver, teacher, cat guardian, and all around know-it-all, in the best of ways). Latteria offers Market-To-Table classes, a lovely experience where participants are taken to a local market to buy fresh ingredients to cook with. I was lucky enough to help Carla with one of these classes in July, where I took a wonderful group to a small market in Monteverde to stock up on all sorts of fantastic cheese and produce and herbs to go on to make an impressive menu, or rather: fried zucchini flowers and sage leaves; homemade focaccia (zucchini flour + anchovy, tomato + oregano); caponata; borlotti beans with mint and vinegar; rice-stuffed tomatoes with roast potatoes; gnocchetti sardi with a fresh tomato sauce; a riff on tiramisu, with cherries; and cannoli. It was all fantastic, summer-y and so much fun. See for yourself!



Maccheroni, Trofie, Fusilli 

As you may recall from this post last month, Julia Ficara is 1/2 of the marvelous cooking school that is Grano & Farina; she is a sfoglinaor expert pasta-maker, one who works without the use of a machine but rather with a rolling pin, producing fresh pasta equal to that of any Italian nonna. In continuing with my pasta quest, I was lucky enough to have an opportunity to learn how to make trofie -- squiggly, cheerful pasta typically paired with basil pesto -- plus spiraled fusilli and long, hollow maccheroni. The trofie were tricky; the fastest way is to make them is by rolling them in two deft motions with your hand, one forwards to roll the pasta into a small log, and then back to create the squiggled sort of shape (you can see a video of Julia demonstrating how to do this here). The easier way to make them is by using a bench cutter, though it isn't quite as fast, and I started with this. With Julia's careful guidance (bench cutter out straight in front of you like you're reading a book! now drag it down towards me!) I made enough progress. The maccheroni and fusilli -- formed with long iron rods, one very thin (maccheroni) and one fatter (fusilli) were a little easier but still require some practice, a question of deftness and sureness of movement and of applying the correct amount of pressure to get the pasta to the right width and keep it from sticking to the rods.  I still need a bit of practice, but expect to see these shapes in the Pasta Series soon! Bonus: we conducted the lesson on Julia and Pino's lovely terrace, and then had a fantastic dinner of trofie afterwards.



Dinner at Osteria Fernanda 

Hold the press: I've found a new favorite restaurant, one that I will recommend wholeheartedly when friends or friends of friends come in to town, a place I will surely be dining often. It's called Osteria Fernanda -- just around the corner from Latteria Studio, turns out -- and it was one of the best, most exciting meals I've had in Rome, perfect if you're looking for something a little special and different. We went for the five course tasting menu, and feasted on a very creative amuse bouche (example: a seaweed "cannolo" filled with raw fish and yazu) a dish with fresh sardines and citrus, a secondo of roast pork with a red pepper sauce, and peanut ice cream with ginseng, vermouth and popcorn. The best course? A simple dish of bucatini all'amatriciana -- my very favorite way to eat pasta! -- made to perfection, with a lightly spicy tomato sauce, crisp guanciale, and just the right amount of Pecorino cheese. Bonus: Homemade bread with the very best French butter.


Trip to Rhode Island 

As per summer tradition, I traveled -- along with an overweight suitcase full of cheese, olive oil, and other gifts -- to my home state of Rhode Island for two weeks. It was a whirlwind of friends, family, and food; I went to Boston, and Newport, and Providence, and Block Island; I met up with my childhood friend who I hadn't seen in 3 (!!!) years and who had since had a baby, and spent the day catching up with my best friend Kelly; I taught my mom how to make gnocchetti sardi, spent lots of time with my Dad (include a visit to his office, see below), had a whole week with my brother who flew in from D.C, and saw my aunt and grandmother. I taught my Nonna Ada how to make a few new pasta shapes (I know! I'm obsessed) and even my brother helped out. I made very American pancakes, and homemade ice cream, and as if that wasn't enough, visited the ice cream shop I went to as a child (pure nostalgia!) and ate vanilla soft serve with sprinkles. We indulged in a box or two of freshly made donuts, discovered an excellent Syrian restaurant opened just a few months ago by refugees, and overall spent a good stretch of time together, my brother and sister and parents, which is rare and always special (the 6th member of our group, my sister-in-law, had to work. Boo!) Photos below!




Big news! I'll be taking the month of September off -- gasp! -- a first in P&B history. This will be to recharge my batteries somewhat, but also focus on changes I've been wanting to make to the blog for a while. Stay tuned! I'll be back with more recipes in October -- in the meantime, I'll be keeping the blog's Instagram and Facebook page updated. Have a good start to the Fall everyone!