Cold days, warm desserts
These are homey desserts, comforting sweets best served warm and perfect ways to counter end-of-winter blues. Two are cherished family recipes; the other a recent find.
I stumbled upon this Armenian Orange Cake when I wrote about Microplane graters last Christmas. According to the Microplane website:
“By now, cooking aficionados worldwide are familiar with the story: A Canadian housewife commandeers one of her husband’s favorite woodworking tools and discovers it effortlessly produces the lightest, most wonderful orange zest she could have ever imagined. It’s 1994, her Armenian Orange cake is a huge success and her husband’s Microplane® rasp has morphed into a must-have kitchen grater.”
I was unacquainted with Armenian cuisine, and it sounded intriguing, so I Googled it. While I didn’t find anything tying the cake to Armenia, I did find dozens of recipes for it. All were identical, except for one calling for 2 teaspoons of grated orange peel instead of 2 tablespoons (possibly a misprint?), and all came from Western Canada.
It’s an absolutely delectable and unusual cake, with a kind of crust on the bottom. Every recipe called for topping it with sweetened whipped cream flavored with orange liqueur. I’ve included that, but to me the cake is sweet enough; I prefer a dollop of sour cream or thick yogurt.
Armenian orange cake (via Canada)
• 2 c. brown sugar
• 2 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
• 1/2 c. unsalted butter
• 1/2 tsp. salt
• 2 T. grated fresh orange peel, packed
• 1/2 tsp. ground allspice, preferred, or ground cinnamon
• 1 tsp. baking soda
• 1 c. dairy sour cream or Greek-style yogurt
• 1 large egg lightly beaten
• 1/2 to 1 c. lightly toasted chopped nuts, preferably walnuts or almonds
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Combine the brown sugar, flour, butter, salt, orange peel and allspice or cinnamon in a medium-sized bowl. Blend with a pastry blender, fork or in a food processor until mixture is crumbly and completely blended.
Grease a 9-inch square or round pan (a 9-inch round springform pan also works well, and is best if you want to bring the cake whole to the table). Spread half the crumb mixture evenly over the bottom of the pan without packing it down.
Stir the soda into the sour cream or yogurt and mix it into the remaining crumbs along with egg. Pour the batter over crumbs and sprinkle with the chopped nuts.
Bake 40 to 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Serve warm from the oven or at room temperature. Leftover individual servings can be rewarmed briefly in the microwave.
Top with orange whipped cream, below, or with a dollop of sour cream or yogurt.
• 1 c. whipping cream, chilled
• 2 T. confectioner’s sugar
• 1 tsp. grated orange peel
• 2 T. orange liqueur, such as Grand Marnier
Whip cream until stiff. Stir in sugar, peel and liqueur. Refrigerate for an hour to let the flavors blend.
Prunes’ association with intestinal regularity has made them something of a joke. That’s a shame, because prunes – which, after all, are merely dried plums, just as raisins are dried grapes – are delicious. This cake showcases their wonderful flavor. And the warm caramel icing seeping into the cake makes it succulently special.
• 1 c. unsweetened prunes, halved or quartered if large
• 2 c. unbleached all-purpose flour plus 1 T., divided
• 1 c. vegetable oil
• 1 1/2 c. sugar
• 3 eggs
• 1 tsp. baking soda
• 1 tsp. cinnamon
• 1 tsp. allspice
• 1 tsp. salt
• 1 tsp. vanilla
• 1 c. buttermilk
• 1 c. broken pecans or walnuts, lightly toasted
Preheat oven to 300 F. Toss the prunes with the tablespoon of flour until the prune pieces aren’t sticking to each other. You may need to do this with your fingers. Set them aside.
Add all the remaining ingredients except the nuts to a mixer bowl. Begin at lowest setting and mix until the ingredients are blended, then increase the speed and mix until a thick batter is formed. Stir in the floured prunes and nuts and pour into a greased and floured 9-inch by 13-inch pan.
Bake for 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Have the icing ready to pour over the cake as soon as it comes out of the oven (see below).
• 1 c. sugar
• 1/2 c. buttermilk
• 1 tsp. soda
• 1 T. light corn syrup
• 1/4 c. butter
• 1 tsp. vanilla
About 5 minutes before the cake comes out of the oven, put all the icing ingredients except the vanilla in a heavy pot over medium-high heat. Cook to the soft ball stage, 235 F. or 118 C. on a candy thermometer, or until a drop of the mixture forms a soft ball when dropped in a glass of water. As soon as the cake comes from the oven, poke it all over with a knife, then quickly pour the caramel all over the cake.
Serve the prune cake while still warm, or at room temperature. Individual servings can be rewarmed briefly in a microwave. Makes one 9-inch by 13-inch cake.
My grandmother called these apple dumplings. I was an adult before I discovered that apple dumplings are typically made from whole cored apples wrapped in pastry, and that Nana’s version is commonly called an apple roll. Maybe it’s nostalgia, but I’ve never had a traditional apple dumpling that could compare with these spiral rolls baked in syrup. It’s also wonderful made with pears.
For the syrup:
• 1 1/2 c. sugar
• 2 c. water
For the dough:
• 2 c. unbleached all-purpose flour, plus additional for kneading and rolling
• 2 T. sugar
• 1 T. baking powder, preferably Rumford, or another brand that does not contain aluminum salts
• 1 tsp. salt
• 6 T. unsalted butter, at room temperature
• 2/3 c. milk, plus extra if needed
For the apple filling:
• 3 c. diced apples, peeled or not as you prefer
• 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
• 1 T. butter
Preheat the oven to 450 F.
Put the sugar and water for the syrup in a 9-inch by 13-inch metal baking pan. Place over medium heat and stir until the sugar is melted and the mixture simmers, about 5 minutes. If your baking dish can’t withstand direct heat, use a saucepan to make the syrup, then pour it into the baking dish. Set aside and keep warm.
Put the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl and stir until everything is well combined.
Add the shortening in small bits and cut it into the flour mixture with a pastry blender or fork until the butter is incorporated into coarse crumbs.
Add the milk, and stir until a dough forms that is soft, but not sticky. You may need to add a bit more milk.
Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead it lightly 6 to 8 times. Roll out the dough into a rectangle approximately 6 inches by 12 inches, using additional flour on the rolling pin and surface to keep the dough from sticking.
Toss the diced apples with the cinnamon, then spread them evenly over the surface of the dough. Dot with bits of the butter.
Roll the long side of the dough, jellyroll fashion, then lightly pinch along the seam so that it holds together. Cut into 8 pieces with a sharp serrated knife, or with a piece of kitchen string.
Arrange the pieces cut side down into the syrup in the baking pan. If necessary, squish them lightly to make them fit.
Place in the oven immediately. Bake for 20-25 minutes. Serve warm from the oven. Sometimes the syrup will have been completely absorbed by the dough. If there is syrup in the bottom of the pan, spoon some over each slice. The rolls are wonderful alone, or also with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream, whipped cream or dollop of sour cream or yogurt. Leftovers can be rewarmed in a microwave. Makes 8 servings.
Contact Julianne Glatz at email@example.com.