Monday, December 8, 2014

Pillsbury's "Simply From Scratch" Apple Cream Cheese coffeecake (1981)

My notes were very brief. 
quite a project
baking pamphlet, picked up in a thrift store
cardamom $14 a jar
Let me give you the recipe first, so that you may begin to judge what a project it was. You are going to make three things, a cake, a filling, and a topping, so you will need three good sized bowls just for a start. (What luck that we happen to be reading Bee Wilson's Consider the Fork (2012), whose first chapter, "Pots and Pans," delves into the history of why we have so much duplicate stuff in our kitchens). You will also need two cups of peeled and chopped apples, plus two sticks of butter and an 8 ounce package of cream cheese set out beforehand, to come to room temperature.

Pillsbury's "Simply From Scratch" [that's the baking pamphlet,1981] Apple Cream Cheese coffeecake  

First, grease and lightly flour a 13 x 9 inch baking pan. Then, for the cake, combine:
3 cups flour
1 cup sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 and 1/3 cups milk
2/3 cup butter, softened  (yes, you will work softened butter into an already thick and milk-moistened dough)
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 eggs
Spoon the batter into the prepared pan.

Next, make the filling. 
one 8 ounce package cream cheese, softened
2 cups chopped apples
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon cardamom (this is the delicacy that costs $13.99 a jar)
1 Tablespoon flour
2 Tablespoons butter, softened 
Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl, and spoon the mix over the cake batter. Use a rubber spatula to gently swirl the apples partly into the batter.

Now is a good time to preheat the oven to 375 F.

Finally, make the topping. Mix together:
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 Tablespoon sugar
1/2 cup chopped nuts
Sprinkle over the cake. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. "If desired, top with whipped cream."    

It is most scrumptious, but I must ask whether one teaspoonful out of the $14 purchase of cardamom made that much difference in the end. I am inclined to think not. The gunmetal gray powder once had a distinct lemon fragrance in the jar, a fragrance which seemed to lose itself amid the cream cheese, the apples, and the butter. Nutmeg might have been more to the point.

Besides, some time has passed since I made this cake. When I opened the jar again to smell whatever was left -- almost all of it -- the first words that came to my mind were model airplane paint. My brother used to make very nice model airplanes, painting and gluing with utmost care. I have not smelled that paint since I was maybe twelve years old. Not for nothing do we hear assurances that the sense of smell is the most evocative of all. I threw out the jar of cardamom.

Still, I'd like briefly to discuss its marvels, for apparently it has them. There is no better way to enjoy them vicariously than to quote the strong lovely prose of Sylvia Windle Humphrey, whose A Matter of Taste (1965) is our spice-and-herb bible. She says: 
Cardamom (Elettaria cardamom maton) ... a jewel of a spice, it is the second most expensive spice in the world (saffron comes first), so dear because every delicate little seed pod has to be snipped off the plant by hand with scissors. The yield is low, too, only about 250 pounds per acre. It is native to India, but most of our supply now comes from Guatemala. [Mrs. Humphrey seems to be still right about this last, even fifty years later.]

Cardamom, a clean flowery-spicy breath sweetener, is put up by nature in handy little-fingernail-sized, bleached-white capsules, each containing ten to twelve pungent black seeds, easy to fit into pocket or purse. As a member of the ginger family it has some of the properties, but not the taste, of that invaluable plant. It is sweeter than ginger, with less edge, yet has authority. Like ginger, it awakens the whole tongue, making it, in moderation, a good ingredient in a spice blend which is to be used to bring out the flavor of main dishes. Like ginger it belongs with fresh melon. Like ginger, it is good for the stomach.

Cardamom is most familiar in sweets. Fine Danish pastries and coffee cakes are frequently seasoned with cardamom, both in the dough and in the filling. In all the Scandinavian countries it has been both a favorite seasoning and flavor ever since Viking sailors first carried it home from the markets in Constantinople more than 1,500 years ago. In Norway, the Christmas season reeks of cardamom, and the Swedes consume fifty times more cardamom per capita than does the United States. 
She goes on to rhapsodize about its "clean warmth," "floral perfume," etc. I begin to think that perhaps there never was very much authentically going on in my jar of cardamom, even perhaps that I can't source the real thing because I don't know any Vikings. We will have to let our Apple Cream Cheese Coffeecake do the work of reeking-of-Christmas on its own.

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