Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Regardless of the season

It's really a shame that Passover doesn't fall in autumn, when apples are in season here in Ohio. Because this Passover apple cake -- still delicious even though it's spring -- would be even more magnificent if made with a handful of my favorite Mutsus, straight off the tree and fresh from my local orchard. (I feel this way about charoset, too, the mixture of apples, nuts and wine that is a staple on the Passover Seder plate. At least apples and honey are also traditional during Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year celebration that takes place in the fall. So that's something.)

But, you know, who am I to judge the Jewish calendar? It's only been working for millennia. As it is the timing of religious holidays has little to do with the growing season in the U.S. Midwest, so as much as I would like it to be, really, this is not all about me. I shall use the apples I can get in April for my Passover apple cake, and I will be happy about it.

Luckily I live near a few fantastic gourmet and organic markets which stock the most delicious apples possible given the season. Plus, the apples are for a cake, for crying out loud. It's hard to make a cake taste bad. So I picked out a few enticing pink-skinned Braeburns and happily began anticipating the cake, all the while wishing Husband was home to share it with me.

Once again, his loss. This rustic and lovely cake is a delicious ending to a Seder. It is light, and apple-y. I particularly like it because of the "optional" crumb topping, which in my book is no way optional. Crumb toppings make the world go 'round, and I am happy to know that the observant Jew does not have to go without during Passover. This cake would also be awesome outside the context of Passover; simple, humble, tasty foods have every right to be present at any time of year. Indeed, perhaps I'll take my own advice and make this cake again when apples come into season. You know, for scientific comparison's sake. 


Adapted from The World of Jewish Desserts, by Gil Marks

Gil sez, "Since apple cakes have long been among the most popular Ashkenazic baked goods, it is hardly surprising that enterprising cooks adapted them to the dictates of Passover."

A note about matzo meal: this recipe originally calls for matzo cake meal. I have yet to locate matzo cake meal, so I grind my own from whole matzos. Just whirl them in a food processor until they make a very fine powder. It takes about 8 matzos to make enough meal for this recipe (topping included).

For the cake:

4 large apples, peeled and diced (your favorite variety will do nicely)
1 T. freshly-squeezed lemon juice
1 c. finely-ground matzo meal 
1/4 c. ground almonds
1 t. ground cinnamon
1/2 t. kosher salt
8 large eggs, separated
1 c. sugar

For the pleasing topping:

3/4 c. finely-ground matzo meal
1/2 c. sugar
6 T. unsalted butter, cut into small pieces and chilled

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a 13" x 9" baking pan (I use glass), line with parchment or wax paper and grease again.

Toss the apples with the lemon juice. In a medium bowl, whisk together the matzo meal, almonds, cinnamon and salt. In a large bowl, beat the egg yolks and sugar together until thick, light in color and creamy. Stir the matzo meal mixture into the egg yolk mixture (it will be stiff), then add the apples and stir through.

In a large bowl, beat the egg whites on low until foamy, about 30 seconds. Increase the speed to high and beat until stiff peaks form (but don't let the egg whites dry out). Fold one-fourth of the egg whites into the apple mixture to lighten, then fold in the remaining egg whites. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.

To make the crumb topping, in a medium bowl whisk together the matzo meal and sugar. Using a pastry blender, cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Sprinkle on top of the cake.

Bake 40-45 minutes until golden and a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 9-12 servings.


Laura said...

This looks fabulous. I'd gladly join you to eat it. :)

Anonymous said...

That looks so great! I know what you mean about Ohio orchards. My Grandfather had a hobby orchard in Tallmadge, on about 10 acres. It was glorious. Anytime I was over there and wanted a snack, I would just climb a tree.

Melanie said...

This looks so yummy.

Dianne said...

Thanks, guys!

Laura, an additional downside of Husband being gone this week is that, left to my devices, I could eat this thing all by myself. But I shall do my very best to control myself.

Lelah, Ohio orchards are the best! They're part of the reason I love fall so much. How much fun that must have been to pick your grandfather's apples.

Melanie, thank you!