Thursday, October 13, 2011

INDIVIDUAL APPLE UPSIDE DOWN CAKES WITH SALTED BUTTER CARAMEL

HOMEBAKED WITH LOVE...AND CONVENIENCE


When I was a girl way back when (way back in the Dark Ages, as my sons love to remind me), homemade snacks, baked with care and attention, started their very short life in a box, can or plastic container. Cakes and brownies were fine powder smelling sweetly of chocolate or heady with vanilla, blended ever so lovingly with an egg * crack * whacked sharply against the edge of the mixing bowl, a splash of milk until a thick, luscious batter ribboned down into the largest baking pan we had. Pudding rich and creamy was born of the same exquisite dust, creating as if by magic the most velvety of desserts by the mere addition of milk. Cans popped open revealed swirls of sumptuous frosting and the scritch of a plastic lid being peeled back from a dense white tub exposed a flourish of luxurious, elegant whipped topping. Four basic ingredients, if you will, which, when combined, made for an abundance of wonderful, delicious desserts, treats prepared from the heart.

As we grew a bit older, still under the mysterious influence of the Powers That Be during that long ago age of the newfangled, Space Age era of gadget cooking, the fascination with all things packaged, we celebrated this new form of convenience cooking and dining by whipping up Tuna Noodle Casserole, a recipe learned in the Girl Scouts, with canned tuna and cream of mushroom soup and topped with crushed potato chips; lovely, shimmering jello molded into something so elegant, studded with jewels of canned fruit; after-school snacks made with melted marshmallows and our favorite cereals; fabulous, flavorful Surprise Burgers made delicious for our grade school selves with jarred spaghetti sauce and a slice of processed cheese in all of its day-glo glory! Ah, the food of the Sixties.


And the food of the Space Age Sixties morphed gently into the food of the dyn-o-mite, jumping Seventies. The variety of treats that could be whipped up in a matter of minutes or just a few more from the boxed and the bagged was beyond our wildest dreams and we loved it all. It was stuffed with chemicals and laden with high fructose corn syrup but what did we know or care? It was the height of a thoroughly modern food revolution, a time of convenience when our hours could be better spent playing outside, going to club meetings or doing homework. Our moms (or, well, my mom) loved the ease and my dad loved the rapidity and, quite simply, we loved the flavor. We had been tentatively stepping over the edge into from-scratch baking, trying out muffins, cookies and even candy that we had learned in Home Economics or youth group outings, but the boxed mixes turned out such perfect, tasty treats every time, why bother? And the grocery store shelves were groaning under a veritable cornucopia of fabulous, flavorful goodies that were just screaming to be bought, taken home and tasted. Our creativity and imagination knew no bounds with such an abundance of sweets and ready-to-eat-and-bake to choose from.

So maybe it is because I have grown up. My years of discovery and travel have turned on my curiosity in such a way that the pre-packaged have little charm for me anymore except as an occasional jaunt back into my childhood, a decadent little sinful eating in the privacy of my own bedroom. Or maybe my palate has evolved, becoming accustomed to French and Italian tastes so that foodstuffs like American candies, packaged cookies, flavored yogurts and even cake mixes taste cloyingly sweet with an odd chemical aftertaste. Or maybe having lived in Europe where for years there really was no pre-packaged, boxed or canned and all baking was either picked up at the corner bakery or homemade from scratch. But over the years as a gourmande, a wife, mother and friend who loves nothing better than offering a cake, cookies or a pie, sharing the love and spreading the smiles, I have discovered the joys and pleasure of homebaking with flour, butter, cream, eggs and bars of chocolate.


Yes, once in a while I’ll buy a box of chocolate chip cookies (LU of course!) or chocolate-covered marshmallows if I am feeling rather decadent or need the comforting blanket of childhood memories, but would I ever use one or the other as the basis of a home-baked treat for my family? Or even a boxed cake mix? What is the point when whipping up something from scratch is so easy? If I have the time and the energy, I will create something spectacular, a baked good both time consuming and demanding patience. But no time on my hands? Sons begging for a sweet snack or breakfast tout de suite? There are so many easy, one-bowl favorites that take the same amount of time as boxed. And if I want a fun family activity, a day spent baking with my children (when they were small, of course)? Why assume that they will only eat something made with overly sweet children’s cereal or candies from a plastic bag?

You see, I bring this all up because I am rather stunned and confused at the deluge of everything from Rice Krispie Treats made with every possible high sugar breakfast cereal on the market to my favorite dessert, the ambrosial, heavenly Italian Tiramisu made not with delicate ladyfingers but Twinkies, as just two examples, all over apparently highly-respected or at least much-talked-about, popular food blogs! Cakes made from boxed mixes and even canned frosting grace the posts of more than one Big Name food blog. Baked goods and after-school treats stuffed with Oreos and candy bars. Call me a food snob, if you will, but I don’t get it. Haven’t we moved on? Don’t we in the food blogging world have the desire and the goal to achieve something healthier, tastier, slightly more elevated than what my own parents made 40 years ago when all of this was new and exciting? We have knowledge and information at our fingertips, we have time and all the necessary cooking utensils so why not use it all towards something a tad more noble?


As fun as the Rice Krispie treats of our childhood are, can’t we have our children baking something healthier or at least something with real flour, sugar, eggs and milk? I remember bumping into a very good French friend of mine whose daughters I tutored in English at our local public library many years ago. I was browsing through the very large English language video collection, looking for more films to watch with my sons and she asked me to recommend one or two that she could play for her daughters to help with their English. I suggested a few of our favorites, all old black & white flicks, explaining to her that the old films had plainer, simpler language that was much easier to understand than recent cartoons – the kind her kids watched on tv – which were full of slang, confusing conversations and was much too speedy and fast paced for them to capture what was being said. She looked at me in horror exclaiming, “My girls won’t watch old black & white movies!!” As so many parents are when it comes to food. Are so many moms and dads stuck in a time warp, longing to offer their children what they enjoyed as kids or are they simply hanging onto old traditions and wives tales, believing that their children will only eat the over-processed, overly sweet foods of our own youth before we knew any better? My lovely friend Lael wrote an article about baking French macarons from scratch with her daughters. Lora the Cake Duchess recently showed her children happily making cookies while my own sons started with one-bowl chocolate cake, chocolate chip banana bread and Tiramisu. No brainers, really, wouldn’t you say?

So what the fascination with retro baking? Some may imagine that starting with a boxed cake mix is easier than starting from scratch. Or cheaper. Some may believe that children will only eat snack foods stuffed with candy corns and high fructose corn syrup or that Twinkies can replace ladyfingers for an exciting new taste sensation. Or maybe some think that baking from scratch is complicated, messy and time consuming. Or impossible. But this is simply not true, a series of myths that the food blogger must battle to break. I have several friends who had never baked a cake from scratch in their life yet made my one-bowl wonders with great success. Friends of my son began baking my brownies, quick breads and snack cakes while still in high school and all on their own and loved it all.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I understand the dilemma so many of us working folk and/or parents often find ourselves in when in need of a quick dessert or in front of demanding, hyperactive kids in need of an afternoon activity or a treat. I understand the attractiveness of “quick and easy”; of having no time yet the desire to offer my family something homemade and from the heart, the “short on dollars and time” argument. Yes, I do. I also understand the joy and the fun of getting the children involved in a family fun project and interested in cooking. And I even get the whole “let’s get the girlfriends over for movie night and a fun snack” bit. But, really? Rice Krispie treats? To be honest, there are so many fabulous, fast and easy recipes one can make to create a warm, wonderful homemade snack that is pure, delicious and sure to be loved by one and all.


And I have one for you! And in only four individual portions it is the perfect snack to whip up when you don’t want or need leftover cakes or cookies hanging around. Apples and salted butter caramel sauce make this a luscious autumn snack or dessert and it is both simple and fast. And so much better than a Rice Krispie treat. In my own humble opinion.




INDIVIDUAL APPLE UPSIDE DOWN CAKES
Served with Salted Butter Caramel Sauce

These cakes are dense, moist and fragrant, filled with a wonderful, warm touch of cinnamon and the fruitiness of the apples. The perfect autumn snack and wonderful to serve on girls’ night in front of a chick flick or as a family dessert or a snack with the kids. Easy and fast with all the satisfaction and goodness of homemade.

¼ cup (60 ml) water
2 – 3 Tbs granulated brown sugar
1 large apple, peeled, cored and diced

3 Tbs (45 g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1/3 cup (70 g) granulated white sugar
1 large egg
¾ cup (105 g) self-rising flour
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ cup (60 ml) milk

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Butter 4 individual molds, each able to hold about 2/3 cups (150-160 ml).

Place the water and brown sugar in a skillet and heat until the sugar is melted and the mixture begins to bubble or steam. Added the chopped or diced apple and cook, stirring, for 10 - 12 minutes and the apple is tender and beginning to caramelize. Divide the cooked apple into the four molds.

Cream the butter and sugar in a medium-sized mixing bowl until blended and fluffy. Add the egg and continue beating until thick and pale. Blend in the milk and finally the self-rising flour and cinnamon. Beat until smooth. Divide the batter evenly between the four molds on top of the apples.

Place the molds on a baking sheet and bake for 20 – 25 minutes until the top is golden, the cake set and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven, carefully lift or slide the molds off the baking sheet onto a cooling rack and allow to cool.

Carefully slide a sharp knife around each cake to loosen from the mold and invert onto a dessert place. Drizzle each cake with as little or as much Salted Butter Caramel Sauce as desired. Serve immediately.

43 comments:

A Spoonful of Yumm said...

they look so cute & i love the topping

girlichef said...

Oh yes, light-years better than a RCT! That caramel looks absolutely fantastic and I know it's just the "icing on the cake", if you will. Glorious dessert for any age :D

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

Those little upside-down cakes look marvelous! A real delight.

I think that I have never eaten any cake or cookies mixes... When I see the additives that are put in such mixes, I prefer to stay away from them. ;-P

Cheers,

Rosa

Lisa said...

I grew up on a lot of boxed mixes because my mother hated to cook/bake. Thankfully my grandmother's and friend's Mom's showed me how good 'real' food from scratch tastes. Now, when I taste a boxed cake/brownie/whatever mix, I taste chemicals - just a weird after taste. I can pick it out even when I don't know it's from a boxed mix when served a slice at a party or anywhere. Thing is..like you said, same amount of time to whip up a cake or dessert from scratch as a mix..just have to measure out flour and leavenings! What does that take..1 minute? LOVE your gorgeus apple cakes with the love of my sweet life, salted caramel (you know, the stuff I drink lol)! I think these will be part of my Thanksgiving dessert menu! Excellent post as always!

WiseMóna said...

We grew up with a Mum that loves neither baking or cooking. But she always always baked. 2 loaves of bread a day and lots of cakes, pies, and biscuits/cookies. There was always something sweet in the house because she has a wicked sweet tooth and had a lot of hens and ducks that kept her in supply of eggs year round. We do not let our kids eat a lot of processed food - but yes, they have had homemade rice krispie treats! I love this upside down cake with that salted caramel Jamie. It looks and sounds like the perfect afternoon pick-me-up!

Nelly Rodriguez said...

This is such the perfect treat! #applelove for sure!

JavelinWarrior said...

This is a wonderfully written, beautifully told, ethically inspiring post - I thought perspectives like yours only existed in my lonely imagination, so I'm a bit giddy at discovering your passion to ditch the boxed, highly processed, preservative-laden cleverly marketed conveniences. I'm sitting in rapture - please continue :)

Jamie said...

@JavelinWarrior : Wow, your comment blew me away and I thank you wholeheartedly! I think that there are so many things about the world of food blogging that need to be said and talked about but no one does. Fear of backlash? All I know is that I try and work hard and hold up certain values and it does upset me when really popular blogs serve up less-than-noble fare. Thanks again...and know that we are not alone.

Nuts about food said...

I couldn't agree more Jamie. Even the prepackaged desserts require the cracking of eggs, the addition of liquid etc. I only once used Oreos in a cookie recipe, just out of pure curiosity and the excitement of finding Oreos here in Italy. The result? Good but too sweet for my taste.

Jenn said...

I think those that have been looking back to finding our "culinary roots" so to speak are actually a rather small minority. In the end, sweet and easy/fast is still the most popular type of thing searched for on the internet. In a way my husband being gluten free has been great because it has forced us to embrace actually cooking in the kitchen, from scratch, with real ingredients. I think Michael Ruhlman said once that if we all made our own junkfood from scratch, we'd certainly make/eat less of it and be healthier for it :)

But at the same time, food products are part of the definition of American culture. People look on rice krispies treats with childhood nostalgia and fond memories as are so many dishes we associate with comfort foods - and it's funny I don't actually have a problem with recipes for variations on rice krispies treats - maybe because there's no other way to make it.

Twinkies in tiramisu however? I cannot get past such a bastardization when the real thing is so fantastic. I think that many don't believe they *can* cook, and so feel they *need* the shortcuts to pull off a dish. We as food bloggers need to be able to show our readers that yes, they too can cook - that it can be from scratch and not take a ton of money or time, and that it's really not that hard and tastes so much better!

I view several (not all) foodbloggers as the guiding beacon leading the movement to get people having fun in the kitchen again - Jamie, you are one of those inspiring people, and posts like this show your heart is in the right place :)

Cristina, from Buenos Aires to Paris said...

I see my kids are not the only ones who think their mother belongs to the Dark Ages....Your mini-cake is just beautiful? and what you say is true..Nevertheless, when I go to Argentina, and my friends invite me for coffee with a "box cake" , I still feel so happy...It's the moment shared..a home-made cake would be better obviously..but then, maybe they would not invite me..."I make them nervous with my supposed baking skills" So, welcome box-cakes !!

Cristina, from Buenos Aires to Paris said...

I see my kids are not the only ones who think their mother belongs to the Dark Ages....Your mini-cake is just beautiful !! and what you say is true..Nevertheless, when I go to Argentina, and my friends invite me for coffee with a "box cake" , I still feel so happy...It's the moment shared..a home-made cake would be better obviously..but then, maybe they would not invite me..."I make them nervous with my supposed baking skills" So, welcome box-cakes !!

Jamie said...

@Cristina, From Buenos Aires to Paris: Oh don't get me wrong. I understand people relying on boxed mixes and I've been known to love a boxed brownie, but I'm talking about food blogs where in my humble opinion, this kind of "baking" just doesn't belong.

Junia said...

love the idea of individual apple cakes! :D welcome to our #applelove bloghop!

Aimée @ Food: Je t'Aimée said...

Another beautiful, thought-provoking post, Jamie. Thank you! I agree that food bloggers need to help spread the gospel of 'real food' and debunk myths of quick and easy pre-packaged foods. I've been on an incredible learning curve these past several blogging months and I've definitely come to realize this! The extra effort (at times a matter of a couple of minutes!) is completely worth it.

Love the idea of making dessert with no left-overs ;) They look delicious and perfect for this time of year!

Nicole said...

My mother and grandmother for that matter were definitely "old school" as in very old school, in that everything was from scratch. Everything. I have followed their lead for the most part, and since I am a stay at home Mom, Roman is starting to become a master "stirrer" already, and quite adept I might add! He can even fill the muffin tins. All of the processed stuff is still the downfall of our youth. Well, one of them.

Jenn @leftoverqueen said...

That caramel looks soooo good!

Barbara | Creative Culinary said...

I can not lie...I've done box cake mixes (and frosting back when you actually started with butter and added the dry frosting ingredients) and I know that practice grew from what I knew growing up. I can't say I blame my mom...6 kids and I might resort to some 'modern' conveniences too. One of my grandmother's always made the best cakes and it took a light bulb moment for me in my twenties to realize why...she did them all from scratch!

I am dumbfounded too by the popularity of food blogs that push packaged goods as the way to make something but it is in keeping with our culture of making it fast and easy. I guess without that there would be no 'slow food' movement; that of getting back to the basics, knowing the source of your food, making our meals from scratch and knowing what we are truly feeding our families.

I have a recipe on my blog I have made for years that uses a box cake mix. I thought of revising it but was flooded with people liking that one alternative, yet I am again determined to do my own thing as this holiday approaches. Does it taste bad? Hardly. But I think that is the addition of the rum/butter sauce that surely masked any telltale 'box' signs...still I am encouraged to try again because that use simply does not fit my personal culinary point of view.

On top of the ideology I must not forget to comment on this perfect little cake. Apple and caramel? Like I said...perfect Jamie!

Shulie said...

I think to each their own and I can completely understand why people use boxed. It is so easy, but the couple times I used that shortcut, I was appaled at the flavor and texture and everything about it. I guess it is an acquired taste. I always bake mine from scratch but with saying that I don't have a super sweet tooth and in fact all I care for is once in awhile a slice of a coffee cake like this one Jamie to go with my tea in the afternoons. Come to think of if I didn't bake anything apple for this holiday season, I better get going, better late than never, right?!

Robin said...

Hi Jamie,
Well, there are movements in the US towards good, better, best home and restaurant cooking with local sourced healthy foods. Beyond those that love to create the next crazy deep fried twinky or pickle for shock value, there are those trying to encourage a better way feeding our families and ourselves.

Oct 24, 2011 is Food Day in the US!
http://foodday.org/about-food-day/
Back to healthy basics and fun in the kitchen

Cheers!

Nisrine said...

Beautiful. I love caramel with apples in a cake.

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

It's funny, my mother loves the convenience of plastic and supermarkets. I'm sure plastic was a revolutionary item when it came about to be used in a household context and she's forever showing me her new purchase that is made of plastic :P

Sunchowder said...

Perfect combination and what a lovely and thought-provoking post! I will be trying this one Jamie and thanks for posting this :)

Sunchowder said...

Thought provoking post! Love the look of these cakes too Jamie, Our family lived in both worlds, both box and scratch so that I got to experience the differences. I adore vintage cookbooks and all things basic.

Cake Duchess said...

Love this post and some points you are focusing on. We discussed this in NOLA, so you know how I feel about the whole topic. I was fortunate enough to be raised on home baked goodies. I luckily have the time to bake with my kids and for them. Box mixes are convenient for busy families. They are also convenient for people that have no baking knowledge but do want to make something at home instead of buying a ready made sweet. From what I see available in many stores, boxed mixes are probably a better alternative than an expensive, ready made sweet. Your dessert is gorgeous and I appreciate your shout out to moi;) grazie, bella. Xoxo

Cupcake recipes said...

Hey, what a beautiful post. This dessert looks absolutely amazing. This looks delicious!

Emma said...

Pre-packaged goodies were never really on my radar when I was younger. That said, I go mad crazy for Oreos and tend to eat ten to twelve of them whenever they're in my vicinity. Gross. ...but great.

I've been disappointed to see Martha Stewart's Everyday Food take the direction of pre-packaged foods in place of quickly made-from-scratch items. They have such a huge readership, and thus (in my mind) a huge responsibility towards connecting people with good, reliable recipes, etc. It's a bummer to see them take the easy way out on occasion.

Sarah said...

Another thought provoking post. I was reading about this topic in a book called Near a thousand tables. Americans have been fixated with the modernity convenient foods to the detriment of their health and the loss of the bonding that occurs when cooking together. Like you, I don't have a qualm in indulging every once in awhile but I try not to support the junk food habit.

Carolyn Jung said...

I'd rather have one of these than a Rice Krispies treat any day of the week. Way more special. ;)

Baker Street said...

thanks for sharing this on our apple blog hop Jamie! xx

Love the way you've presented it. Looks absolutely scrumptious! :)

SavoringTime in the Kitchen said...

I understand the need for some convenience foods for people who work full time and come home tired and hungry but, to me, there's nothing like creating something from scratch. These little cakes drooling with caramel sauce look delicious!

Meeta K. Wolff said...

For me convenience food never meant coming out of a box. I admit I have done frozen pizza but never cake mixes. I guess I am too much of an experimentalist and a control freak int he kitchen to be bogged down by a boring box. What I really dislike is that I know of people who really have never tasted anything but boxed food and when the kids of those people come to visit and are given food / cake / treats / dessert that I have made from scratch using good ingredients ... at first they wrinkle up their noses because it does not taste "fake" enough for them. The are under the impression that what they have been eating is the real thing!

I do not have to go into the sugar shock treatment some of these crazy all-in-one-treats have. Our kids are already being pumped with so much sugar, preservatives and additives, that as a parent one cannot control (when they get older and begin eating at school cafeterias or out of the home more often)that it makes my tummy turn when these boxed and sugar treats are offered at other homes too. I notice that Soeren becomes very lethargic and moody - he is absolutely not used to eating these things so the reaction on him is highly noticeable. So when I see that these kind of things are actually being presented on mummy blogs as seriously good treats makes me rather mad!

Thanks for the post Jamie. Lovely cakes that has your perfect signature on it.

Jamie said...

@Meeta K. Wolff: you have made some very good points! Those who have never looked beyond this kind of baking or snack! And we wonder why kids are hyperactive and then lethargic! Thanks so much for your valued and thoughtful insights, Meeta! xo

Jill Colonna said...

Jamie, I loved your writing and couldn't agree more with you. Oh, the nostalgia of the 60s - I remember my parents discovering packaged curries and trying out their amazing new bacon surprise using Campbell's mushroom soup (and some of it continues since they're creatures of habit.)

I'm with you on the sweet packaged stuff. My children had their first oreo the other day since I'd seen so many of them on blogs and found them finally. Bof. I was even worried I posted something on FB saying they were just sweet and no flavour.
Much rather have the salted caramel dribbled on these delicious cakes. Sure, takes more time and thought but it sure trains the palette to far more taste, not to mention creativity.
Bravo!

Lana said...

We still don't have cake mixes here in Serbia and mothers still bake from scratch (but I suspect that things are slowly going to change and I shudder). I have never eaten Rice Crispy Treats (they do not attract me enough to taste them - if I go for sweets, which I rarely do, I'll always reach for chocolate something, the darker, the better:)
And I have never developed taste for overly sweet sweets (if only I could convert my Southern-born husband:)
I could not pass by your caramel sauce if it were offered, even though it's not chocolate! It looks absolutely divine!

Margaret Murphy Tripp said...

I had to chuckle reading this. There was plenty of Tang and Velveeta in my growing up days. Now, I bake from scratch more than anyone else I know (in my area, most people work A LOT), but I have to admit, I get a nostalgic craving for a RCT a couple times a year. Your cakes look lovely and the salted caramel puts it over the top. Nice post, thanks.

SMITH BITES said...

oh dear Jamie . . . on. the. floor. laughing!!! we have talked about this until we're blue in the face and it's not from eating canned frosting - LOL! hit. the. nail. on. the. head. preach it sistah!!

bunkycooks said...

You know I am with you on this one. I think it is so wrong that we continue to feed our kids this awful processed sweet stuff when there is such a terrible problem with obesity and the health problems resulting from it. It does not take that much more time to whip up a batch of cookies or brownies from scratch. Perhaps for some people, if less time was spent on Facebook or Twitter, it could be better spent in the kitchen. Just sayin'...

Deeba PAB said...

Love these I do...nom nom nom. Bookmarked and also the salted butter caramel! Gosh, I'm HUNGRY!!! These are comforting and delightful sistah!

Deeba PAB said...

While you were sleeping last night, I crept into your home {blog} and made these beauties, with the salted butter caramel too. Absolutely divine, and the caramel is indeed the icing on the cake. Hugs!

chefncurt said...

That sounds awesome. I will do that for my restaurant one day. Great idea on a a dessert many like

vanillalemonade.com said...

These look great! We have a huge affinity for upside down cakes.

Quinn said...

oh my! this looks so divine! i love your blog!

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