Monday, September 28, 2015

An Apple A Day (and a few great books!)

Apple picking season is in full swing, and we (like everyone else and their mamas) went to the orchard this weekend. We brought home two pecks of apples, a half dozen cider donuts, and a bunch of gorgeous pumpkins in all shades, shapes and sizes. Fall is one of my favorite times of year, not just for the weather, foliage, and food, but for the projects. September is such an awesome time to be home crafting, reading and cooking with littles, and we do lots of it. Since we have so many apples on hand (as I'm sure some of you do), it's time for some baking, reading, and science(ing?).

Today we did the obvious apple sauce, since all the littlers were sleeping and it was just Jude and I. He's grown to be a great kitchen helper, so apple sauce only takes about half an hour. He got his own set of kitchen knives for his birthday this past year, and they are awesome. I do the peeling and coring, he did the chopping all by himself. The nice thing about apple sauce is that the size of the apples makes no difference,unlike with a pie, so messy chopping is all good! I highly recommend these knives if you have a toddler who wants to help in the kitchen!
Curious Chef Knives via Amazon
We make our favorite apple sauce every year, and it's so simple it's hardly a recipe. We fill a Dutch oven with the peeled chopped apples (I used a full peck of apples), the rind of one lemon (try to keep the peel in one piece so it's easy to remove later), 1 tsp. of cinnamon and a 1/4 tsp. of nutmeg. Squeeze the lemon juice over and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Reduce the heat to low, and simmer, stirring occasionally until apples are softened and break down easily. You can mash it with the back of a spoon or puree with an immersion blender if you wish. This yields about a quart and a pint of applesauce, which goes really fast around here! 

While we make our apple sauce we always talk a little about irreversible change, observe the differences in our apples from start to finish, and review kitchen safety, too. There's a cute episode of Sid the Science kid that uses apple sauce as a science experiment, just in case you have Netflix! 

We also read a few new appley books today, and there are so many out there! I grabbed a few at the library yesterday, and was so happy that they turned out to be great ones! We started with Apple Pie ABC by Allison Murray, which is a quick board book with adorable illustrations and some great new vocab. Jude now knows "ogle," "pine." and "determined!" It follows a little dog through the alphabet while he tries to get a slice of the apple pie his owner has baked and not shared with her little pup.

The next book was Rain Makes Applesauce which I chose by the cover (shame on the teacher in me). It's lovely, just lovely. The illustrations are beautiful, the story is so clever and creative, and Jude loved the silly parts. It's like it came straight from a child's imagination. I'm ordering a copy!

Rain Makes Applesauce via Amazon

The last book is not apple themed, but it's a cookbook and it has a great Apple Charlotte recipe in it! If you love Mary Poppins or quirky stories like I do, the book Mary Poppins in the Kitchen will be a favorite. It's definitely for the older set, but I read the first chapter aloud to Jude today and he loved it. We will likely do a chapter a day and try to bake as many of the recipes as we can. We're going to make the Apple Charlotte for tonight's dessert!
Mary Poppins in the Kitchen via Amazon
What are some of your favorite books to read this time of year? 
Please let me know so I can add them to our book list!

We have yet to do a new apple craft project, but we did a ton of apple stamping last year. We did mini tote bags, lunch bags and pencil cases for party favors, and they are so cute and easy! It's a "hardly any prep" craft, so I'm sure we'll do it again this year! 

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

One Last Hoorah and a Crazy Cannoli Cake

My next 5 Day Clean Eating Challenge begins tomorrow, and how did I spend my weekend? Making this cake of course. This mouth watering, over the top, totally swoon worthy cake. My neighbor turns 30 today (BABY! I feel like 30 was so long ago) and his lovely wife asked me to bake him a cake. Cannoli are his favorite, but of course, I have never made or eaten a cannoli cake. As with all new things, I had to go overboard. I looked at a bunch of recipes and pictures for ideas, and then put together a bunch of my own favorite family recipes to put together this cake. My grandmother's cannoli cream, my mom's vanilla cake, and my aunt's chocolate cake were added to a frosting I made up on the fly and Bakerella's ganache (it's better than Martha's!).

My issue with cannoli has always been that they are too sweet! This cannoli cream isn't overly sweet, and the frosting isn't either, even with all of that sugar. The cinnamon and lemon zest really help cut the sweetness, and the ganache adds a richness that is decadent, but not toothache inducing. While this cake does take time to put together, I promise you that it's worth it. When you need a showstopper for a special event, this is the cake. Trust.

One recipe vanilla cake baked in 8 inch round cake pans and cooled. 

Chocolate Cake (it's vegan!)
1 2/3 cups flour1/4 cup cocoa
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt1/2 tsp. vanilla1 cup water1/3 cup vegetable oil1 tsp. white vinegar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and spray an 8 inch round cake pan with cooking spray. Line the bottom with parchment. Whisk all dry ingredients in a large bowl.  Add wet ingredients and whisk until combined. Pour  into prepared pan and bake for 25 minutes or until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes in pan before inverting. Dust with powdered sugar and serve warm.

Cannoli Cream Filling
4 cups whole milk ricotta cheese
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
1/2 cup heavy cream
zest of one lemon
1/2 cup mini semi sweet chocolate chips

Beat ricotta in a large bowl until fluffy and smooth. Sift in sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg and beat to combine. In a second bowl, beat cream until fairly stiff. Fold cream into ricotta mixture. Fold in lemon zest and chips.

Ganache (from Bakerella)
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup butter
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate morsels

Heat cream and butter in a saucepan over medium high heat until melted and remove before it starts to boil. Place chocolate morsels in a small bowl and pour cream on top. Let sit for a two minutes before whisking by hand until completely smooth. Let cool until thick and pourable, more like fudge sauce than chocolate syrup (you can put it into the fridge to speed this up). Just use a whisk to stir it occasionally!

Cannoli Frosting
2 cups vegetable shortening
2 lbs. powdered sugar
1/2 -1/3 c. milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
zest of a lemon

In a large bowl, beat shortening until fluffy. Sift in half of the powdered sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Add 1/4 c. of milk and beat to combine. Gradually add more sugar and/or milk until you reach the desired consistency. I prefer a stiffer frosting when piping roses, but a fluffier frosting for crumb coating, so it is up to you! Fold in lemon zest at the end.

Slice your chocolate and vanilla cake rounds into two layers. Place one vanilla layer on your plate and pipe a thick circle of frosting around the outside edge. This will keep your cannoli cream from sneaking out!

 Fill the circle with cannoli cream and lay a chocolate cake layer on top. 

Repeat for each desired layer (the cake pictured had lots of travel to do, so it was only three layers!). Crumb coat the cake and refrigerate for at least an hour. Remove the cake and cover with a smooth layer of frosting. Whisk ganache to be sure it is smooth and pour slowly from the center of the cake to allow a small amount to drip over the sides. You won't need it all! If you choose to decorate with a cannoli, just fill with extra cannoli cream, pipe a few frosting roses or stars in the center and top with your cannoli.

Got extras? Little cannoli cream filled cupcakes are amaaazzziiing:)