Just Desserts

You can have your cake and eat it too when the finale features seasonal fruits.

Cast-Iron Apple Cake with Maple Brown Butter

Makes one 10-inch cake

  • 1 lb. red-skinned baking apples (2 to 3), like Jonagold, Braeburn, Rome Beauty and Stayman
  • 4 Tbs. unsalted butter
  • ¼ cup maple syrup, preferably grade B Cake
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • ¾ cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • ¾ cup milk, at room temperature
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp. ground nutmeg, preferably freshly grated
  • 1/3 cup apple cider, at room temperature
  • Preheat the oven to 350° F.

FOR THE TOPPING, do not peel the apples. Cut into quarters, core and cut into ¼-inch thick slices. Meanwhile, in a 10-inch cast-iron skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Continue heating for 4 to 5 minutes, gently tipping the pan back and forth, until the butter smells toasty and has turned a medium shade of amber. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the maple syrup. Arrange the apple slices on top in concentric circles, tightly overlapping the slices to fit as many as possible. Set aside.

FOR THE CAKE, cream together the butter and sugar with an electric mixer. Mix in the eggs one at a time. With the mixer running, add the milk slowly and mix well. In a separate medium bowl, sift together the flours, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Add half of the dry ingredients to the batter and mix just until combined. Then mix in the apple cider. Add the rest of the dry ingredients and mix just until incorporated. Pour the batter on top of the apples and smooth it evenly to the edges.

Bake the cake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean and the edges are lightly browned and pulling away from the sides of the pan.

Remove the pan from the oven and let it cool until it’s no longer hot to the touch. If you’re strong, invert the cake onto a serving plate by setting the plate over the top of the skillet, holding firmly together, and flipping. Or bring the skillet to the table and slice the cake, inverting each piece onto a plate, apple-side up. Serve warm.

Honey-Roasted Pears with Blue Cheese and Walnuts

Serves 6

  • 3 ripe pears (about 1½ lbs.), like Bosc, unpeeled
  • 3 Tbs. unsalted butter, melted
  • ¼ cup honey
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup chopped walnuts
  • ½ cup crumbled blue cheese
  • Preheat the oven to 375° F.

Cut the pears in half, then slice a thin sliver from the rounded side of each half so the pears can rest flat. Scoop out the core of each pear half with a melon baller. It doesn’t have to be pretty, as you will later be filling the cavities with cheese and nuts.

Pour the melted butter into a 9"x13" baking dish. Whisk in the honey and sugar. Arrange the pears, cut side down, on top of the honey-sugar mixture. Roast the pears until they are tender, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium dry skillet, lightly toast the chopped walnuts over medium heat for 4 to 5 minutes, tossing occasionally, until they are fragrant, lightly browned in spots and softly hissing. Remove to a plate to cool.

Remove the pears from the oven and gently flip them, cut side up. Baste the pears with the honey syrup and return them to the oven for 10 minutes. Remove the pears again and fill each cavity with a generous tablespoon of blue cheese. Return the pears to the oven and bake until the cheese has melted, about 5 minutes more.

To serve, spoon some of the caramelized syrup onto serving plates, set the warm pear halves on top and sprinkle with toasted walnuts. Any leftovers can be stored, covered, in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days and reheated in the microwave.

Cranberry Torte

Makes one 9-inch cake

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated sugar, plus 2 Tbs. for topping
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 drops almond extract
  • 1 cup cranberries, fresh or frozen
  • Preheat the oven to 350° F.

Butter a 9-inch springform pan. You can also use a 9-inch standard cake pan. In that case, butter the pan well, line the bottom with a circle of parchment paper, butter the paper and dust the whole pan with flour, shaking out the excess.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar on medium speed until fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix in the eggs, one at a time, then the almond extract. Add the flour mixture, and beat on medium speed just until combined. Spread the batter in the prepared pan. Arrange the cranberries on top of the batter in a single layer, and sprinkle the top with the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar.

Bake the cake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove the pan from the oven and let it cool.

Use a sharp paring knife to loosen the edges of the cake from the pan before unbuckling and removing the ring. Remove the pan bottom by sliding a spatula between the cake and the bottom of the pan. Set the cake on a serving plate and slice. The cake can be covered and stored at room temperature for 3 to 4 days.

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