Tag Archives: dessert

Lemon Pie Bars

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Lemons are a staple in our household. Every few weeks a bag of organic lemons finds its way into our shopping cart and they never last long. Lemons are so versatile. We squeeze the juice on chicken, fish, or even just a simple pasta with a little butter and Parmesan. We stuff lemons in whole chickens before roasting. Most often, however, we combine lemon juice, olive oil, sea salt, and fresh ground black pepper and toss it with spinach – a light, flavorful dressing that’s easy to whip up and much better than store bought salad dressing.

Once in awhile, we have a few lemons to use up before they go bad. When we do, this lemon pie bar recipe does the trick. It’s the perfect combination of creamy lemon custard paired with crumbly, buttery crust. The best part is that it’s made from scratch – with ingredients typically on hand – and it beats the lemon bar box mixes by a mile. To get the most juice from your lemons, slice them in half and microwave for 10 seconds before juicing.

Lemon Pie Bars

Crust:
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup confectioners sugar

Topping:
2 eggs
1/4 cup lemon juice
1Tbsp lemon zest
2Tbsp all purpose flour
3/4 cup white sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix 1 cup flour with confectioners sugar in a medium bowl. Using a pastry blender, incorporate butter into mixture until it resembles pie dough. Press into a 8 x 8 square baking dish. Bake for 20 minutes, or until crust begins to slightly brown. Remove from oven.

In another medium bowl, beat eggs for 1 minute. Add lemon juice, lemon zest, flour, and sugar. Mix for another minute. Pour mixture over crust and bake for another 20 minutes. Remove from oven when topping is set. Cool.

Sprinkle powdered sugar on top of bars. Store at room temperature.

The Cake Slice: Black Forest Cherry Torte

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There are two desserts I could eat every single day: tiramisu and black forest cherry torte. Whenever I find them on a menu, I just can’t resist…and I lick the plate. Every time.

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Both are equally intimidating to make at home with ingredients that take some work to seek out (ladyfingers for the former; morello cherries and kirschwasser for the latter).

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I spent a semester in college studying in Germany, and that’s where I first discovered both desserts. Every little café throughout Bavaria had Schwarzwaldkirsch Torte (i.e. black forest cherry torte) on the menu. After class, we’d head over to the nearest café and indulge in a cappuccino and a thick slice of this decedent torte. On the weekends, we’d head south with our Eurail passes to explore Italy, stuffing ourselves with pizza and tiramisu along the way. I don’t know how we didn’t gain a bazillion pounds back then…but adapting to the European mode of walking everywhere coupled with frequent hiking in the mountains helped offset all our indulgences.

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By the way, the reward for hiking up a mountain in Germany is typically a quaint little chalet perched atop the peak, serving, you guessed it…schwarzwaldkirsch torte.

Back in my college days, I had just begun to take interest in baking, as well as cooking in general. During my semester in Germany, I spent numerous hours in my German host mother’s kitchen learning her recipes and techniques for preparing classic Bavarian dishes, while at the same time introducing her to some of my favorite American picnic recipes, like shrimp pasta salad and layered taco dip.

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When I wrapped up my semester in Germany, my German host mother gave me a German cookbook and a glass measuring cup as a parting gift, and we made one last recipe together – black forest cherry torte.

My 1st Black Forest Cherry Torte - Rosenheim, Germany

My 1st Black Forest Cherry Torte – Rosenheim, Germany

Needless to say, I was thrilled to see that black forest cherry torte was one of the four options to pick from for our July cake club selection. At the same time, I was apprehensive, as this cake is no small task. It consists of many steps – providing ample opportunity for things to go wrong.

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The first obstacle was locating morello cherries – a tart, almost sour cherry that’s packed in juice and goes well with the chocolate cake and whipped cream in this recipe. Fortunately, I was able to find them available at Trader Joe’s, which is a German-owned grocery store. Trader Joe’s imports these from Germany, so they are the real deal. If you can’t find morellos, the next best alternative would be canned bing cherries.

Kirschwasser can also be a challenge to find in the U.S. It’s often quite expensive. I used a bottle that I had brought back from my last trip to Germany, and a few tablespoons are all that’s required.

The cake portion of this torte is a chocolate gateau recipe that’s heavy on eggs with less than a cup of flour. The eggs are beaten in a bowl suspended over a pan of simmering water. Then the flour, cocoa powder, and other ingredients are folded into the batter. I have to admit, this was a clunky, time-consuming process that I would not repeat. In the future, I’d just make a simple chocolate sponge cake and then proceed with the rest of the recipe.

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The cherry filling for the torte was easy to make and will be something I’ll definitely incorporate into other future dessert recipes. To make the filling, cherry juice is mixed with cornstarch and is brought to a slow boil until it thickens. Then the cherries are carefully folded in to the glossy, thick syrup.

The whipped cream recipe is the standard heavy cream, vanilla, and powdered sugar mixture.

To finish the torte, I poked holes in the two layers and drizzled a few tablespoons of kirschwasser on them which was quickly absorbed. Then, I piped a wide ring of whipped cream around the edge of the first layer and filled the middle with cherries. Next, I added the second layer, frosted the edges, piped a ring of whipped cream on the top and filled the middle with the remaining cherries. I used the remaining whipped cream to decorate the cake, finishing with a sprinkle of chocolate shavings and some stemmed maraschino cherries.

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Whew…just writing this all up took a lot of work. So, you can imagine how time-consuming it can be to make the whole torte.

So, how did it taste? Well, I have to say, I thought it was tasty for a first attempt at this highly intimidating recipe, but there are definitely things I would change. Swapping out the gateau for a chocolate sponge would cut down on the time it takes to make this and would most likely make it more comparable to the tortes I recall from my days in Germany. Perhaps it’s just my lack of gateau skills.

My boys were on the fence with this cake. My cherry loving boy is more in the sweet cherry camp. He could eat a jar of maraschino cherries in a flash. My other boy doesn’t care for cherries, but he still tried the cake and seemed to like it. All in all, they’d be fine if their mom just stuck to making good old fashioned chocolate cake with chocolate frosting! But for me, it brought back memories of young and carefree times experiencing the world and proved that I’m ready for my next cake challenge….maybe tiramisu???

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If you’d like to see what the other bakers in our cake club made for July, check out their links here.

The Cake Slice: Strawberry Shortcake Layer Cake

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We’re well over half way through our baking year, and we’ve decided to change things up with the Cake Slice Bakers club starting this month. Rather than voting on a single recipe for all members to bake, club members will now have 4 selections each month from which they may choose.

Why the change? Well, some club members have struggled with the selections in this year’s cookbook – myself included – and this switch will allow us to be more creative and to select a cake that not only challenges us but also fits our own personal tastes…no point in baking something that you know ahead of time nobody in your household will eat. And, if my family doesn’t help me eat the cake, then I’m compelled to eat it, because you just can’t let cake go to waste, right?

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So, for May, I let my family vote on the four choices we were given for the month, which included: a cheesecake, a chocolate cake, a pistachio cake, and a white cake with strawberries and whipped cream.

The results were unanimous.

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Carole Walter, author of Great Cakes, calls this recipe Strawberry Gateau. As written, the recipe consists of three separate recipes put together – the first of which is an eggy (5 large eggs!) single layer white genoise cake that is thinly sliced to produce three layers. The layers are then drizzled with a sugar syrup (recipe #2), and then topped with an orange liqueur whipped cream (recipe #3) and sliced strawberries.

To make the genoise batter, eggs and granulated sugar are beaten with a hand mixer in a bowl on top of a simmering saucepan of water. Air is beaten into the batter to add volume without the use of leavening. I tried to get a few photos of this step, but it was no short of an acrobatic event to manage the hand mixer in the bowl suspended above the saucepan let alone juggle – and focus – the camera. After this step, lemon zest and vanilla extract are added to the batter, followed by flour and clarified butter.

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I made the genoise according to the recipe, but divided the batter into two 9” rounds rather than the single 10” round called for in the gateau recipe. Then I simplified things by skipping the syrup and making plain old “whipping cream-vanilla extract-powdered sugar” whipped cream.

Rather than piping the whipped cream, as suggested in the recipe, I just plopped it on and smoothed it with a spatula. Simple.

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Truth be told, I’m not sure how a genoise is supposed to turn out, but mine was a slightly dense sponge that tasted similar to shortcake, so our family dubbed it a strawberry shortcake layer cake.

And in less than 24 hours, the whole cake was devoured…by the whole family!

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Want to see what my fellow Cake Slice Bakers made this month? Check out their links here:

The Cake Slice: Coconut Layer Cake

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After several months of mishaps and mayhem baking with the Cake Slice club, I’ve learned a lot and have finally hit my stride. This month’s cake came together just as the recipe promised it would and drew rave reviews. I have to admit, if it weren’t for this club, I probably never would have picked a coconut layer cake recipe out of a cookbook, but now that I’ve made one, I’m really glad that I did. It was moist, light…just sweet enough…and very tasty.

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Shredded coconut is added to scalded milk and set aside to soften and soak while the dry ingredients, a flour/baking powder/salt combo are sifted together. Then, they are alternately added in shifts to a softened butter, sugar, and egg mixture. Offers of assistance with sifting are always plentiful in our kitchen…taking turns is a must.

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Once the batter is incorporated, it is divided into two 9” round pans, each lined with a circle of parchment paper and a mist of non-stick baking spray (admittedly overdone a bit to compensate for last month’s stuck-on fiasco), and baked in a 350 degree oven for 25 minutes until golden brown.

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I let the layers cool a bit in the pans, and then popped them out to finish cooling, while I contemplated, second guessed, and eventually googled the “correct way to layer a layer cake”…i.e. which layer goes up and which layer goes down. What I found was that there is no correct way to do it, but rather several techniques that ranged from simple to complex.

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Martha recommends trimming the dome off the top of each layer and then layering with the bottom layer right side up and the top layer upside down.

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Annalise from Completely Delicious suggests increasing the baking time while baking at a lower temperature and offers a step by step tutorial on building the perfect layer cake.

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Amanda Rettke, a local Minnesota baker (better known as blogger I Am Baker) who just published her new cookbook Surprise Inside Cakes, recommends leveling your cake to ensure all levels are the same height. You can even use a clean towel to cover the layers while they are still warm and push down on the domed portion to flatten it out.

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Upon further research, I found many bakers depend upon “cake strips” to ensure level heights without having to trim the cake. Cake strips are fastened around the outside of the pan to insulate it so that the outer ring of the cake bakes evenly with the center of the cake resulting in an even top, rather than a dome. You can buy them online or make your own by cutting an old terry cloth towel into strips, soaking them in water, and then pinning around the pan before baking. Needless to say, these little beauties are now on my mother’s day wishlist…

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The frosting is a quick buttercream version that starts off by heating flour and milk to form a custard. Who knew that flour went into buttercream??? I didn’t. Maybe it’s just my novice pastry skills, but this was a new one for me.

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Anyway, you heat the milk and flour, whisking continuously, until it thickens and comes to a low boil. Then you remove it from the heat to cool for a few minutes before beating into the butter and sugar. The key is to let the custard cool just enough so as not to melt the butter when incorporating it.

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The frosting recipe called for superfine sugar. Most of the frosting recipes that I’ve made in the past called for powdered sugar. I had granulated sugar and powdered sugar but didn’t have a clue what superfine sugar was or where to find it, so I used granulated sugar, and that worked out just fine. The frosting was perfectly smooth with no granular texture.

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About the coconut: I chose an unsweetened, flaked variety from the natural foods section of our supermarket, and gave it a few pulses in my food processer to break it down a bit further. It provided a purer coconut flavor than the cloyingly sweet version and didn’t have all the added ingredients. After frosting the cake, I carefully pressed a layer of flaked coconut on the top and sides, just enough to secure it to the frosting.

Another successful cake and many more baking lessons learned.

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This cake recipe is from Carole Walter’s Great Cakes cookbook. Click the link below to see the other Cake Slice Bakers’ version of this month’s coconut layer cake.

The Cake Slice: Espresso Cake with Hot Kahlua Syrup and Milk Chocolate Ganache

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It’s a miracle that I survived this month’s cake challenge. And that the cake actually did get baked…just in the nick of time. And that I actually have pictures to show you.

The forces were definitely against me this month.

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Notice how the majority of my pictures depict the ingredients rather than the final creation?

When I first learned of the chosen cake for March, espresso cake with hot Kahlua syrup, I was really looking forward to baking it. Coffee and chocolate are some of my favorite things. Add to that a splash of Kahlua, and now we’re talking.

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The first indication of trouble was when I read through the ingredient list in preparation for my next shopping trip. Flour, eggs, cocoa powder….all typical cake stuff.

And then, espresso powder. Hmmm???

First, what is it? And second, can I just substitute coffee grounds?

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So, I began by googling “what is espresso powder“ and quickly learned that it’s finely ground espresso beans, basically instant espresso, that is sometimes used in recipes to intensify the flavor of chocolate.

Ok. That made sense.

So, then I googled “espresso powder substitute” and that’s where things got interesting. There is no good substitute. Nothing.

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Long story short: three weeks passed, my baking deadline was imminent, four grocery stores in two states had been searched, and no espresso powder was to be found. Fortunately, I made a stop at a high-end grocery store near my office as a last ditch effort, and there it was. Espresso powder. Two lovely ounces for $4.39.

Espresso powder in hand, I made my way home, ready to bake. It was Friday night. The plan was to whip up a batch of homemade mac and cheese, watch a little TV with the family, and then get baking as soon as I put the kids to bed. That’s not exactly how it went.

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You see, this recipe requires a good amount of prep time even before it goes into the oven. First, you have to dissolve the espresso powder into boiling water and set it aside to cool. Then, you have to triple sift the dry ingredients – I cheated and only single-sifted. After more mixing, whipping, and sugar adding…one tablespoon at a time over the course of 6 to 8 minutes, per the recipe, the cake is finally ready for the oven.

The cake bakes for an hour. After that, you let it cool for 15 minutes in the pan, while you prepare the hot Kahlua syrup, and then the cake has to sit at least another hour while it drinks in the flavorful syrup until absorbed, and then, THEN…you can finally invert the cake onto a cake plate to remove it from the pan. Did I mention the ganache? Well, that’s the next step once the cake is finally out of the pan. You have to prepare the ganache, let it cool to thicken slightly, then drizzle it over the cake. At that point, you’re FINALLY done.

It’s a good thing I read through the recipe in its entirety before getting started with it on Friday night…or I would have been up all night. Just reading through it was exhausting enough, and convincing enough to reserve the project for Saturday.

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And so, Saturday was spent prepping, mixing, whipping, stirring, baking, syruping, and glazing, all for the love of coffee and chocolate, with the prospect of expanding my baking skills. Until…I grated my thumb along with the lemon and turned the lovely, fragrant lemon zest an unlovely shade of crimson. After all the yelping and cursing and throbbing, all I could find was a Spongebob band-aid, that lasted no more than a few minutes before soaking through…it was a very deep cut. Still, I persevered.

When the cake came out of the oven, I poked some holes in it to help the syrup tunnel through, which in the end weren’t very necessary because the syrup (a mix of Kahlua, water, and honey boiled until thickened) never got syrup-y. So, I poured the runny liquid over the cake and watched as it pooled on top and prayed that it would eventually soak in without creating a soggy mess.

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Five hours later (after errands and dinner out), I returned home to finish the project. I ran a knife around the edges of the bundt pan hoping it would slide right out easily. WRONG.

It shattered into several pieces, with some remaining pieces left to be coaxed out of grooves of the pan. SERIOUSLY. Again, I persevered.

I grabbed a plate, fit the pieces back together like an edible jigsaw puzzle, then made a double batch of milk chocolate ganache to drizzle over all the imperfections. The ganache was a mix of equal parts heavy cream and chocolate chips with a few splashes of Kahlua mixed in. Of course, the Kahlua caused the ganache to be a bit thin, so it ran down the cake more than I had hoped – honestly, would you expect any less at this point?

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When it was finally time for the first bite, I was so upset with this cake and this recipe and this whole ordeal that I wanted throw it at the wall. The cake, the espresso powder, all of it.

And yet.

I decided that if it was worth all this effort, than at least it was worth a taste. So, taste it I did.

And it tasted…heavenly.
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If you’d like to try your luck at baking this cake (good luck – you’ll need it), check out Carole Walter’s cookbook Great Cakes. Also, click the link below to see how my fellow cake club members’ cakes turned out.

The Cake Slice: Streusel Squares

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It’s finally time to reveal our December cake…hooray! This is my second month in the Cake Slice Baking Club, a group of bakers who all bake the same cake each month as a way to learn from one another and share in eachother’s baking successes and flops. This month, we baked our second selection from Carole Walter’s Great Cakes cookbook, and it feels like I’ve been waiting an eternity to reveal this month’s selection to all of you. Continue reading

Candy Corn Fudge

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On a recent cold and drizzly fall day, I was digging through my recipe box searching for my mom’s chili recipe – the perfect comfort food to curl up with while watching the leaves flutter down outside – when, instead, I happened upon her fudge recipe. Continue reading

Slow Cooked Whole Chicken and Blueberry Buckle

In early August, we spent a weekend at the family cabin to celebrate Grandma’s 65th birthday.

As chief chef, a title I’ve happily bestowed upon myself, I was in charge of the birthday meal and thought it would be nice to roast a chicken for the Saturday night birthday feast. The only problem was that summer Saturdays at the lake are primarily spent boating, tubing, canoeing, and 4-wheeling…activities away from the cabin that make supervising a roasting chicken a bit of a challenge.

Fortunately, I’ve had this recipe bookmarked on my recipes to try list for awhile, and this was the perfect occasion to do so: Best Whole Chicken in a Crock Pot

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For the chicken, I used a 4 lb all natural bird from Trader Joe’s. I switched up the spices to what we had on hand but otherwise followed the recipe as written, and it worked perfectly. While we were enjoying our day on the lake, the chicken was slow-cooking away, and when I transferred it to a serving plate, it did indeed fall right off the bone. We served it with a batch of garlic mashed baby reds and gravy made with the slow cooker juices. Delish!

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For dessert, I made blueberry buckle using this recipe I found online: Allrecipes Blueberry Buckle

The boys definitely preferred this version to the Gerber Blueberry Buckle they used to eat when they were babies.

The Oldest: Circa 2005

The Oldest: Circa 2005

After our feast, we lounged in the gazebo, and while we watched the sun set over the lake, we were greeted by this little visitor. His name is Fred.

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Two new recipes that got thumbs up by the fam to file away for the future, and we had plenty of chicken left over for chicken quesadillas the next day. Success!

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Warm Apple Pear Crisp with a Scoop of Vanilla

We made one last trip to our favorite apple orchard this weekend before they closed for the season. In the crisp, early November air, we greeted the chickens, petted the goats, and then headed inside the toasty, warm barn to scarf down a bag of sugary, apple donuts and load up on apples. Our fridge is now fully stocked with about 15 pounds of the most adorable, little round “lunchbox” size Haralson apples…all for the incredibly reasonable price of $10. That should keep us eating fresh, local apples hopefully through Christmas.

I say hopefully because…well, let’s just say if you could catch just one brief whiff of the apple crisp we just made, then you’d understand.

Pears and apples make the perfect pair. Sorry, had to say it. And, since we had a few ripe pears on hand, I modified my usual crisp recipe to incorporate them. One word of caution, though. Don’t try peeling and coring a ripe pair on an apple machine. Yep…turned to mush before my eyes.

Haralson apples are native to Minnesota. They are crisp, tart, and perfect for baking. That is…if you don’t eat them all first.

The best part about this recipe is that you can throw everything together in a few minutes time while you’re preparing dinner, and then set it in the oven to bake while you linger over family dinner. If your family doesn’t typically linger, believe me, this dessert is worth it.

Warm Apple Pear Crisp

1 pear
3 small apples (I used Haralson – lunchbox size)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1 1/2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 Tbsp honey
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup butter, softened

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Prepare an 8 inch square baking dish by spraying with cooking spray.

Peel, core, and slice the pear and apples, and put them in the baking dish. Sprinkle 1 Tbsp flour, lemon juice, and honey over the sliced fruit, and stir slightly to coat evenly.

In a bowl, mix 1/2 cup flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, rolled oats, and butter until the butter is incorporated. Sprinkle over the fruit in the baking dish.

Bake for 40 minutes or until fruit is bubbling and top is golden brown. Serve warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top.

Harvest Apple Honey Bundt Cake

The leaves are turning, and fall is definitely upon us. Despite the warm mid-day weather, there’s a hint of crispness in the air that you feel as soon as the sun begins to set. This is the perfect time of the year to open up the windows, take in the cool autumn breeze, and bake up some lovely, aromatic apple cake.

We enjoyed our traditional annual family visit to the apple orchard last weekend. It’s about a half hour drive out of town for us, and we literally drool all the way there as we envision the pillowy, sugary apple doughnuts that await us at the orchard.

There are horseback rides, goats and chickens, a corn maze, and a thrilling apple cannon. The boys never want to leave.

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But when we do eventually leave, stuffed to the gills with luscious apple pull-aparts, apple bratwurst, and apple doughnuts…oh and let me not forget to mention adorable little jugs of homemade apple cider…we always bring home a peck or two of crunchy, sweet honeycrisp apples and a loaf of apple fritter bread.

I still haven’t perfected a version of the apple fritter bread that can stand up to the orchard’s version yet; however, I do have a great harvest-inspired bundt cake recipe that I’m sharing with you today. Make it. Trust me. It’s THAT good.

Harvest Apple Honey Bundt Cake

5 small apples
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup honey
1 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon apple pie spice

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Spray a large bundt pan with cooking spray. Peel and shred apples (I like to use my food processor, as it shreds in a flash). Combine the sugar, honey, and eggs. Add the remaining ingredients, saving the apples to add last. Pour batter into bundt pan and bake for 60 minutes or until toothpick tests done. Let cake cool in bundt pan for 30 minutes, then transfer to a cake platter. Slice and serve warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.