Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Irish Apple Dulce de Leche Cake

Everyone should have a couple of reliable recipes for signature cakes and desserts.  This Irish Apple Cake first came into my life from Myrtle Allen's Ballymaloe House cookbook, published in 1990.  Steve and I visited the famous farm-cum-guesthouse-cum-restaurant outside of Cork a while back. Since I enjoyed the cookbook so much, filled with interesting recipes and stories from the Irish countryside, our luncheon at Ballymaloe and subsequent tour of the gardens was akin to a personal Irish Haj.

Our visit, and the cookbook, occured before the advent of the great dulce de leche craze.  As I'm not one to knock a good thing I thought perhaps a little cross-cultural, Ireland meets Latin America might work nicely. Turns out it's a splendid idea.  If there could be any criticism of the original recipe, it would be that to some tastes it might be a bit austere.  Adding a good dose of dulce de leche to the apple filling gives a nice sweet gooiness to the enterprise without overwhelming the original concept. I also added the apple slice fan to the top as well as the candied mint leaf garnish.  Myrtle's not big on showiness for its own sake in her recipes, though I don't imagine she'd greatly mind these little embellishments. 

2 cups flour
3/4 t. baking powder
1 stick (1/2 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/2 cup plus 2-3 T. sugar
2 extra large eggs, 1 of them beaten with 1 T. milk for a glaze
7 T. cold milk
2 tart cooking apples -- Myrtle recommends Rome Beauty or Bramley's Seedlings, which "break down in the required way to a white foamy mass when cooked."  Lucky you if you have a source for these heirloom varieties.  Sturdy, standard Granny Smiths perform admirably
6 generous T. dulce de leche
Coarse turbinado or cane sugar if you have it, if not another T. of regular sugar will do

Lightly butter a 9" pie plate. 

Sift the flour and baking powder together in a large bowl.  Cut in the butter until the mixture resembles course meal. Stir in 1/2 cup of the sugar.  Make a well in the center of the mixture and pour in the unblended egg, beaten, and the milk all at once.  Stir to make a very soft, wet, sticky dough that does not clean the sides of the bowl. With floured hands pat half the dough into the bottom and sides of the pie plate.

Peel and core the apples and slice half of one thinly, making enough slices to fan out around the top of the cake.  Cut the rest up into smallish (not tiny) chunks. Distribute the apple chunks evenly on the dough in the pie plate to within 3/4" of the edge then sprinkle the remaining 2-3 T. of sugar over the apples.  Drop the 6 generous blobs of dulce de leche in an even circle on top of the apples, not too close to the edge.  Moisten the edges of the dough with a brushing of the egg/milk glaze. 

Sprinkle a large dinner plate with flour and pat the remaining dough onto the plate, making a circle big enough for the top crust.  Invert the plate and the dough over the apples in the pie plate. Pinch the bottom and top crusts together, sealing well.  Gently press the apple slices into a fanned circle around the top of the pie, and make an X cut in the center of the ring to let steam escape.  Neatness counts.  Brush the entire top with the egg/milk glaze, and sprinkle with sugar.  I've got some really nice, course brown crystals of Hawaiian cane sugar that work well.  Simple sugar is fine too and lends the top of the cake a little sparkle.

Bake the cake in the middle of a preheated 350 degree oven for 45 minutes, when the dough will be golden and the apples will be tender.  The stick-a-toothpick into the cake test isn't a reliable measure here -- the apples and dulche de leche will always cling to the toothpick.  If you have any doubts leave it in for another 5 minutes, though I've always found 45 minutes to produce a thoroughly baked yet still moist cake.

Garnish with candied mint leaves if you have them.  It's not a tragedy if you don't and the relative simplicity of the unadorned cake is probably more in keeping with Irish reserve anyway.  Serve warm.  Perfect and complete as it is, no one is going to refuse a nice slathering of whipped cream so go ahead, live a little.

Voila! Irish Apple Dulce de Leche Cake Mit Schlag.  As fit for the General Assembly of the United Nations as it is for the ending of one your memorable meals.

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