Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Apple-Walnut Picnic Cake

Charcoal-grilled hotdogs! Burgers with all the fixings! That sounded so tempting that we couldn’t pass up a Standing Room Only invitation to an Autumn picnic - SRO because all the picnic benches were damp from recent rain. Have you ever picnicked in the rain? I can’t think of anything more fun - especially if you have an electrical outlet to plug in steaming urns of coffee and tea.

We were actually very lucky: Although rain threatened, it didn’t fall. I made what I call “picnic cakes” for the event. What are “picnic cakes”? They’re substantial (usually made in a 9x13-in. pan), easy-to-make, easy-to-tote, and frosted and served straight from the pan. A large Carrot Cake would be a perfect example (I’ll pass along a great recipe for that some other time). Another is the Deluxe Banana Cake (see Index) I posted in early September, 2012. 

Because I wanted to bring a couple of cakes, I wanted each to have a distinctly different texture and taste from the other. And so I made an Apple-Walnut Picnic Cake with Caramel Frosting, and a Vanilla Butter Cake with Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting. We balanced hulking slabs of cake on paper plates, stabbing at them with the brittle tines of dainty plastic forks. 

Apple-Walnut Picnic Cake:

4 c. all-purpose flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
¾ tsp. baking soda
1-½ tsp. salt
¾ tsp. ground cloves
¾ tsp. nutmeg
2-¼ tsp. cinnamon
¾ c. butter or margarine, softened
2-¼ c. granulated sugar
3 large eggs
2-¼ c. applesauce (commercially made or homemade)
½ c. + 1 tbsp. water (see Note)
1-½ c. raisins, plumped (see Further Note)
¾ c. chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 325 deg, F. Have all ingredients assembled and at room temperature before starting. Sift dry ingredients together and set aside. Using an electric mixer on medium speed, combine butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating about 5 min., or until no “grainy” feeling remains when you rub a little batter between your thumb and index finger. Stir in applesauce. 

With mixer on low speed, alternate additions of sifted dry ingredients and water, beginning and ending with dry ingredients and beating just until combined. Tip: Adding dry ingredients to whirring mixer blades usually makes quite a mess. To keep your counter clean, toss a dish towel over your mixer stand.

Stir in raisins and nuts. Spoon into 9x13-in. pan that has been greased and floured (or greased, with parchment paper trimmed to fit the bottom of the pan). Bake 1-¼ hr. or until a toothpick inserted at cake’s center comes out dry. Cool completely on rack for at least two hours. 

Note: If you like, drain and use the flavored water from plumping raisins and cooking applesauce. If there isn’t enough, add tap water to make up the amount of water required for this recipe.

Further Note: To plump raisins or other small dried fruits such as currants, combine a little water together with dried fruit in covered microwave-safe container, heating 30-to-60 sec. on full power. Length of heating time and amount of water (I use approximately 1 tbsp. water for ½ c. dried fruit) varies with amount of fruit to be plumped. If you cover your microwave-safe container with cello wrap, slightly turn back one corner to allow steam to escape. Plumping dried prunes will require extra water. 

You can, of course, plump dried fruits in a saucepan, but you’ll need more water. Bring it to a boil, put on the lid, turn off the heat, and allow the fruit to sit for several minutes. 

Dry ingredients: Sift well for even distribution in cake

Beat 5 min. at high speed

Add applesauce, stirring in

Walnuts, raisins ... HALT!

Now they're plumped!

Caramel Frosting:

½ c. butter or margarine
1 c. golden brown sugar, firmly acked
½ c. whole milk or light cream
2-¼ c. sifted icing sugar (confectioners sugar or powdered sugar; add more as needed)

Melt butter over low heat in medium saucepan. Add brown sugar, stirring constantly, about 2 min. Add milk, continuing to stir until mixture comes to a rolling boil. Remove from heat. Cool to room temperature, about 30 min. With electric mixer at high speed, add sifted icing sugar gradually, until frosting reaches desired spreading consistency. When frosting has completely cooled, spread over cake in pan. 

Melt butter on low heat, Dollinks!

Stir in brown sugar until mixture reaches rolling boil

Spread cooled Caramel Frosting over cooled cake

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