Friday, August 3, 2012

cake for an applesauce party

The following article first appeared in the Daily News Record on August 1, 2012. 

This year, we skipped church to make applesauce. The whole day stretched open in front of us, and with the promise of unlimited amounts of warm, sweet applesauce at the end, it felt like a holiday.

Before we started on the actual sauce making, we had to set up the assembly line. My husband cleaned off the porch, attached a utility sink to the porch deck railing, and brought the outdoor cookstove over from the barn. I scrubbed washbasket loads of jars, sorted jar lids (we reuse the undamaged ones), and measured the dry ingredients for the gingerbread, a traditional applesauce-day treat.

Turning four bushels of Summer Rambos into sauce is not an everyday challenge, and the kids were quick to get caught up in the festive atmosphere. They clamored for the best jobs, pretty much any task that involved fire, water, sharp blades, or motors.

They were excited to wash the apples and cut them. It’s always a great deal of fun to use my husband’s whippy-fast apple-cutting system. But then the system broke down due to a faulty handheld apple corer and we had to change tactics. My husband laid a long piece of pine on the picnic table, and I handed the kids a bunch of knives and told them to have at it. They chopped most of the apples themselves. We got out the Band-Aids only three times, I think.

The most coveted task of all, however, was the cranking of the apples through the mill. My husband has rigged up a special bit for his drill so the mill can be run with an easy squeeze of the drill’s trigger—I call the method “Drilling for Sauce”—and each time he ladled more mushy, spitting-hot apples into the mill, the eager-beaver kids crowded round, vying to be first.

Late morning, as the first batches of applesauce streamed from the mill, I finished mixing up the gingerbread and popped it into the oven. Soon the scent of peppery molasses was wafting around our heads, too, along with the fragrant smell of tangy-sweet apples.

To serve the cake, I put the pieces on dessert plates and spooned the warm sauce around each square of gingerbread, like spicy castles surrounded by steamy, pale-green moats. I handed out spoons and told everyone to eat all they wanted. It was, after all, an applesauce party.

Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook

For a gentler cake, omit the fresh ginger.

3/4 cup strong, dark beer such as Guinness
½ teaspoon baking soda
2/3 cup molasses
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1/3 cup flavorless oil such as canola
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger, optional
1½ cups flour
2 tablespoons ground ginger
½ teaspoon each, baking powder and salt
1/4 teaspoon each, cinnamon and black pepper

Bring the beer to a boil in a small saucepan. Remove from the heat and stir in the baking soda. Pour into a large bowl and whisk in the molasses and sugars. Add the eggs, oil, and fresh ginger.

In another bowl, combine the flour, ground ginger, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and black pepper. Add the dry ingredients to the wet in three parts, whisking until smooth after each addition.

Pour the batter into a greased 8x8-inch pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 35-45 minutes. Serve with fresh applesauce or a dollop of whipped cream.

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