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Just finished News of the World: A Novel by Paulette Jiles. One of my book-reading friends said this is one of the best books she’s ever read in her life. That kind of praise required me to read it and I just LOVED it. It’s about an old man (a widower), who was a former military captain, during the 1800s, who goes from town to town to read out loud the current news of the world (yes, there WAS such a job.) Newspapers didn’t make it to small towns back then. By chance he’s asked to take a 10-year old girl to East Texas to reunite with relatives. The child had been captured by an Indian tribe as a baby (her parents were killed in the raid), raised by the Kiowa and as was often the case of such children, she wants nothing to do with leaving. So the “hero” in this story has his hands full. And yet, they learn to trust each other on the journey. Reaching the destination, there are lots of complications (of course!). This book is truly a wonderful read – I didn’t want it to end. The author has a gift of description and the severe dangers and difficulties of a old west horse and wagon journey. The relationship is tender. Now I’ve got to investigate the author’s other books, of which there are many.

Winter Journey by Diane Armstrong. Have you ever read about forensic dentistry? I sure had not, so I found it fascinating reading. It’s a debut novel for the author, and what a story. Halina, an Australian, with Polish roots, specializes in this obscure profession as a forensic dentist, and is asked to go to Poland, to help identify bone (and tooth) fragments, to put to rest a sad event in the story of this small town, when many, many people (Jews) were murdered. Was it the Nazis? Or was it the local townspeople who disliked the Jews. What a tangled web of intrigue, including Halina’s own mysterious past. I really enjoyed the read. The author does a great job of developing the characters (which I always like). This is no light read if you consider the subject matter, although it IS a novel (but based on fact). Nor is it a spy thriller – it’s more just an historical novel with lots of interesting people throughout. There’s a romance thrown in too, and a whole lot of angst about the discoveries found in the mass grave. But, the subject expanded my knowledge about forensics.

The Lost Painting: The Quest for a Caravaggio Masterpiece by Jonathan Harr. I just LOVED this book. I’ve never been much of a fan of Caravaggio’s paintings, although I’ve seen plenty of them (many are extremely large) in museums around the world. His paintings were dark, often with dark subjects. But as with many of the old masters, occasionally some obscure work surfaces, perhaps credited to another artist, even, that turns out to be one done by “the” master. In this case, Caravaggio. Although this book is written as a novel (with dialogue, etc.) it’s historical through and through. It begins with two young women art scholars, in Italy, who are asked to do a research project. One thing leads to another, and to another. All true.  If you enjoy books about art – I learned some things about the paint and the canvases of the time – you’ll be intrigued as I was.

Eye On the Struggle: Ethel Payne, the First Lady of the Black Press, by James, McGrath Morris. Each year my AAUW book club reads something related to Black History Month. This is a biography of a woman you’ve probably never heard of, Ethel Payne, and about her life-long journey in journalism, struggling to keep her head above water financially, but staying true to her purposes of telling the truth about the black stories and black racism of the day. Sometimes biographies aren’t all that riveting, but I found this one to be so, and I savored each new chapter. We had a really good discussion of the book, and the ups and downs of Payne’s life, especially during her years as a Washington reporter. You’ll not be sorry to have spent the time reading this book. It’s well-written, as well. I was thrilled when the author, Morris, left a message here on my blog, thanking me (and my group) for reading his book.

H Is for Hawk, by Helen Macdonald. This one has been on the best seller list. It’s a memoir about a woman who takes on a personal challenge of taming a wild hawk. Prior to reading this book, I knew next to nothing about the entire subject of hawking, or taming any of the big, wild birds. The book is equally about the writer’s inner journey. She’s a consummate writer, and every page was a joy of words, for me. My only problem is my own – I found it hard, the more time that went by, and the more time the writer spent trying to tame this bird, to scream out “let the bird go.” Perhaps it’s because I spent time in Africa in 2015, seeing animals in the wild, that I felt more for the bird than I did with the writer’s discontent with herself and the taming process. Little did I know what a hard job it is to tame a hawk. I actually didn’t finish the book. It was a book club read, and highly recommended by several of our members. And I ended up not being able to attend the meeting as I had a cold. So perhaps there is some great ending to it that would have made me feel better. I haven’t gone to the end to find out. I just had to stop reading it. But I’m not NOT recommending it. If nothing else, read it for Macdonald’s sublime proficiency with words.

Also read George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution, by Brian Kilmeade and Dan Yaeger. Here’s what it says on amazon: When George Washington beat a hasty retreat from New York City in August 1776, many thought the American Revolution might soon be over. Instead, Washington rallied—thanks in large part to a little-known, top-secret group called the Culper Spy Ring. He realized that he couldn’t defeat the British with military might, so he recruited a sophisticated and deeply secretive intelligence network to infiltrate New York. I won’t exactly call this book a riveting read, but it was interesting. Relating facts that few people knew about, this Culper Spy Ring. It’s a little chunk of American history researched in depth by the authors. An interesting read.

Also read The Little Paris Bookshop: A Novel by Nina George. If you’re an avid reader, you probably have the same kind of longing as I do for a quaint, independently owned bookstore right around the corner. So few exist anymore. This novel is about a very unusual book store, and book store owner. In Paris. On a boat/barge. It’s not a typical book store, and the writer takes you on a journey of discovery about (likely) her own lifetime of book reading. You’ll learn all about a variety of existing books and why they’re a good read. But it’s all cloaked in a story about this book store and the owner. And the customers. Very fun. I’m reviewing it for one of my book clubs next month.

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small, old and some very dented engraved silver plated tea spoons that belonged to my mother-in-law, and I use them to taste my food as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Desserts, on February 4th, 2014.

emily_luchettis_50_year_apple_cake

Why is it called Fifty-Year Apple Cake, you wonder? Because it’s a very old-old apple recipe. Not, as I thought, that it has something to do with heirloom apples. And the photo above doesn’t exactly show you that this cake is mostly apples, cloaked in a small amount of batter that merely binds the apples together. Well, there’s the crumb topping added on top, too. But still, it’s mostly apples.

When we were having a big group at our house one recent evening, I wanted a delicious mid-winter kind of dessert. We are in a Bible study group that’s ongoing, reading the whole Bible in a year (our whole church), but synopsized in a book called The Story, NIV: The Bible as One Continuing Story of God and His People. We get into the most interesting discussions in this group. There are 12 of us if everyone makes it, and we’ve been meeting weekly since late September with a break for Christmas. We enjoy each other. We’re all members of our church, but some of us didn’t know one another. It’s been a very pleasant bonding experience. And I’ve enjoyed having an excuse to bake since I don’t want lots of left overs hanging around for me to snack on.

Anyway, we’ve been hosting it at our house up until now and I’ve served dessert each time. A couple of times someone else helped out. Last week I scanned through my to-try recipes and decided on this one. I will tell you that I erred in the making of this recipe, but it actually didn’t make any difference. It was only now, days later as I’m writing this – and beginning this post that I went online and tried to learn more about the original recipe. That’s when I learned who Emily Luchetti is (a pastry chef in San Francisco). That’s when I realized that the recipe I had put into my MasterCook file was Cheryl Sternman Rule’s riff on the cake. If I’d gone back to her blog post and read it again before I started, I’d have realized it, but I was in a hurry and didn’t. Anyway, I got a little confused about the crumb topping. In actuality, the original recipe didn’t HAVE a crumb topping. That was Cheryl’s addition, among other things. She also took out the walnuts and raisins, switched out some brown sugar for white, and added a whole lot more apples. All of those things are good, and it made for a delicious cake nevertheless. One I’d make again, no question! But I’d be wary of the mistake I made – adding some of the topping to the dry ingredients, which didn’t have any negative effects; it just isn’t necessary, that’s all.

apple_cake_mound_cakepanAt left is a photo of the apple/cake batter before it’s spread out in the pan.

What I did find online is a video of Emily Luchetti making the original of this cake – if you’re interested  – you do have to sign up (free, but you know at some point they’re going to start charging for viewing the videos). The video of Emily will start playing, then it will stop and you have to sign up in order to see the rest of it. If they begin bugging me via email, I’ll just unsubscribe. I don’t know about you, but I get about 30 or more advertising emails a day – all websites I’ve signed up for for some reason and they send me something every day or two, 365 days a year. Some I like to get, but they send things way too often. Annoying.

buttery_crumb_mixtureEmily’s cake didn’t have any brown sugar in it, and half as much apples, so it was a bit more cakey, I’d say, than the recipe you’ll find below. I kind of liked this version, though it’s not true to the original. You’ll find many recipes for a Fifty-Year Apple Cake online (from some heirloom cookbooks, for instance). Even Emily says it’s probably more like 75 or 100 years old since it’s been around so long. She suggests you use a juicy apple (not a Pippin or Granny Smith, which she reserves only for pies). Cheryl used Fuji because it’s what she had. You can also use Gala or Braeburn or Pink Lady. Cheryl didn’t peel the apples at all, just cored and chopped. I mostly peeled mine. The addition (or substitution) of brown sugar gives the cake a much more caramely flavor. One that I liked.

batter_spread_cakepanAt left is the batter all spread out in the pan. In making it, the apples are chopped and you make the cake batter using vegetable oil as the fat in it, add the topping and bake it in a 9×13 parchment lined baking pan. Once cooled, you cut it into squares and serve with powdered sugar, crème fraiche (Emily’s recommendation because she thinks the cake needs something a little tart on it rather than something sweet), sweetened whipped cream or ice cream.

There below right you can see the cake with the topping on it – ready to bake.

apple_cake_ready_to_bakeWhat’s GOOD: a great showcase for good, juicy apples. The cake is dark from the brown sugar and cinnamon (the only spice). It’s a moist and tender cake, worth making. The crumb topping gives it some crunch. Really delicious in every way. Yes, I’d definitely make it again.

What’s NOT: can’t think of anything I didn’t like.

printer-friendly CutePDF

Files: MasterCook 5+ and MasterCook 14 (click on link to open in MC)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Emily Luchetti’s Fifty-Year Apple Cake (a riff on)

Recipe By: A Passion for Desserts by Emily Luchetti, adapted by Cheryl Sternman Rule at 5 Second Rule
Serving Size: 20 small servings

2 large eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup light brown sugar — (packed)
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 pounds Fuji apples — (about 4) or other variety, peels on, chopped (5-6 cups chopped apple)
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup cold (or even frozen) crumb topping from below
Powdered sugar — for sifting over the top
1/2 cup chopped walnuts — (in the original recipe, as well as raisins) optional
CHERYL’S CRUMB TOPPING (you’ll use 1 cup of this for the above cake):
1 cup dark brown sugar — packed
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoons cinnamon
1 cup unsalted butter — melted and warm
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

Notes: The nutrition info on this recipe is incorrect as you do not use all of the crumb topping to make the cake. Next time I make it, I’ll be adding chopped walnuts, probably about 1/2 cup. You could also add raisins.
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease the sides and corners of a 9×13-inch rectangular cake pan and line the bottom with parchment.
2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk the eggs, two sugars, cinnamon, and oil. Fold in the apples. In a separate bowl, sift the flour, baking soda, and salt. Stir the dry ingredients into the wet, folding and mixing until all the white, floury bits are completely incorporated. The batter will be extremely thick. Continue stirring until you can’t see any white flour crumbs.
3. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, and use a small offset spatula to work it into the corners. Sprinkle with 1 cups of the crumb topping (see below).
4. Bake in the center of the oven for 45 minutes, until a skewer comes out clean, or until it reaches 210°F on an instant-read thermometer. For neat slices, let cool completely. If desired, sift over a little powdered sugar, but go easy — the cake’s plenty sweet. Or, serve with vanilla ice cream or softly whipped cream sweetened with sugar and vanilla.
5. Cutting it with a metal bench scraper makes better squares. After 24 hours, store any leftover cake in the refrigerator.
6. CRUMB TOPPING: In a medium bowl, stir together both sugars, the salt, and cinnamon. Add the melted butter and whisk until combined. Fold in the flour until it is absorbed and set the mixture aside. (Freeze what remains and use on any other kind of fruit-based cake or cobbler.) Makes about 3 1/2 cups.
Per Serving (inaccurate because it includes all of the topping and you only use 1 cup of it): 405 Calories; 17g Fat (37.7% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 60g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 46mg Cholesterol; 302mg Sodium.

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  1. Melynda@OurSundayCafe

    said on February 4th, 2014:

    We ate that cake (without the topping, although I won’t anymore!) often in my childhood household. Mom called it “Raw Apple Cake” and it had a simple sprinkle on top of cinnamon sugar. I still make that same cake today, the recipe is a true classic and delicious, the topping can only make it company worthy.

    Yes, I have a recipe for a raw apple cake too. This one has more apples, I think. Loved the cinnamon in it. Altogether delicious, I thought . . . carolyn t

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