One of the nicest things you can do for yourself, and your friends and family, on a cool and windy autumn day is to make the house smell good with baking. Baked cinnamon speaks to comfort, home, and autumn here in Virginia, as it must in many other places as well.
We got an early start here this morning with four dozen cinnamon rolls made for friends at our favorite garden center who sponsored a festival today to benefit the Ways and Means Auxilliary of our local Sentara Hospital. Since it was way too early, and I was too rushed this morning to get photos of those beautiful cinnamon rolls. We’ll make them again sometime soon and get photos for a future post. Instead of my usual simple topping of confectioner’s sugar mixed with coconut milk, I was tempted by Michael’s posting of his Devil’s Food cake last night to make a variation on his cream cheese frosting for my simple little rolls. Short on cream cheese, I added in some sour cream to round out the little bit I had on hand, and made a smaller batch of frosting. It was the perfect topping to let melt over the hot from the oven cinnamon buns before loading them into the car to head over to Homestead Garden Center, where we added them to their bake sale.
The house smelled so good when we got back, that after washing up all of the pans, I started melting butter again, pulled out the mixing bowl, and began mixing a fresh apple loaf for friends. They have had a rough week after some medical issues. Back to normal diet again, this healthy little apple cake will be my gift to them this afternoon. You know what they say about apples….
When you think about it, our good health is our treasure. The more we cook for ourselves and our loved ones, with simple healthy ingredients, the more good health and strength we enjoy. After many decades on the planet, we realize just how important it is to take good care of ourselves so we can really enjoy the years ahead.
This is a simple recipe, but we break it out into several steps, preparing each ingredient before combining them. We base this recipe on one of those standard “go to” formulas that we “Zen” cooks cherish. My formula, good for everything from biscuits and scones to cornbread, cobblers, sweetbreads and fruit muffins begins with self-rising flour, butter, sour cream, and liquid. Add in what you will, this is the basic mix.
Preheat the oven to 350 F.
Step 1: Roughly chop 1/4-1/2 c. of raw pecan halves or pieces while heating a skillet over medium high heat. Add 1-2 TB of butter to the skillet, and when it melts, add the chopped pecans, a sprinkle of sea salt, and a sprinkle of raw (unrefined) sugar. Stir as the ingredients come together to coat the nuts. When the nuts have deepened in color and smell good, remove from the heat and allow the pecans to cool on a plate. Keep the pan handy to use again immediately.
Step 2: Thoroughly wash and finely chop (1/4″ dice) 2 medium apples, peels left on. I used Golden Delicious. Add about 1/4 c. brown sugar and the apples to the pan, and return to a medium heat. Sprinkle with cinnamon, and toss the apples in the sugar as they begin to heat through. When the apples are well coated and begin to look a little shiny and translucent, remove from the heat.
Step 3: Melt 1/2 of a stick of butter. (An egg in this recipe is optional . Use it if you like eggs, I normally skip the egg and use 1/4 c. more liquid or apple butter.) In a large mixing bowl, whisk 1 egg until light with the melted butter, 2 TB sour cream, 1/4 c. honey, and 1 c. apple cider.
Step 4: Stir the apples into the mixing bowl, add 1 tsp. cinnamon, 1/4 tsp. cardamon, and 1/4 tsp. ground cloves. Scoop 2 c. of self-rising flour on top of the mixture; and measure 1/4 tsp. baking powder (and 1/2 tsp. sea salt, optional) onto the flour. Mix very gently with a rubber spatula just until the liquid and flour are combined. Add up to 1/2 c. water as you mix to keep a loose consistency. Pour in the seasoned nuts, mix gently and pour into a greased loaf pan lined with waxed paper. Sprinkle the top of the batter with more cinnamon, and drizzle with honey or lightly sprinkle with raw sugar.
Step 5: Bake at 350F for about 40 minutes, or until a toothpick stuck in the middle comes out clean. Turn onto a rack to cool, remove the waxed paper, and enjoy with butter, cream cheese, or some fresh apple butter.
Baking this apple loaf is guaranteed to make your kitchen warm and cozy, and to make your whole house smell nice for the rest of the day. As the autumn breezes blow, we have all earned a bit of a cozy rest indoors with a good book or blog. When you feel ready for a little more “Zen” cooking, switch out the apples for peaches or bananas. Substitute coconut milk or freshly brewed chai for the cider. Throw in a handful of dried cranberries, currants, cherries, or raisins. Substitute walnuts for pecans. Bake it in muffin tins rather than in a loaf pan. Or skip the fruit entirely, pour the batter into a 9×9 baking pan, and top with your favorite preserves. It’s all delicious, and all relatively healthy. We will burn off those delicious calories raking and mulching our leaves one day soon, won’t we?
Photos and recipe by Woodland Gnome 2013