painting shows apple cake and ingredients

Apple Cake with Fennel 8″ x 8″ gouache and watercolor pencil. Sharyn DImmick

I am not a big cake person — I would rather eat pie or yeast-risen breads like cinnamon rolls — but when I saw “Grandmothers of Sils’ Apple-Yogurt Cake” on Smitten Kitchen I knew I had to try a variation on it. Deb’s picture enticed me and I like fennel/anise/licorice flavors. I have been cruising apple cake recipes for awhile (some of my friends like cake) and this one called to me.

I was patient: I waited a month. I kept hoping to get fennel in my vegetable box. No such luck. Yesterday I went out and bought some at the Farmers’ Market.

Smitten Kitchen’s recipe doesn’t have any fennel — what was I doing? I don’t have any anisette liqueur: I was plotting to use what I had with some gentle assistance from roasted fennel to bump  up the anise flavor.

First step, prepare the fennel. While it roasted I peeled and chopped the apples — I used some of my beloved Gravensteins and a couple of miscellaneous apples from a bulk buy I made at the market. It took me four apples to get the required three cups of diced apples.

Next I made “lemon yogurt” by mincing homemade candied lemon peel  into plain yogurt and adding half a capful of lemon extract (All of the lemons on the tree are greenish this week)

I turned the well-roasted fennel into a puree by adding the dregs of a bottle of dark rum — maybe an eighth of a cup — and a little olive oil and putting it in the blender. It took quite awhile to get a puree, even after I added a capful of anise flavoring to it, but I ended up with the quarter cup of liquid that I needed. I bumped up the flavor with a little star anise ground in a mortar.

These preparations done I almost followed the recipe as written, Almost. I swapped in unbleached flour and whisked the baking powder into it rather than sifting them together — I avoid sifting things together whenever possible because the flour sifter is not fun to clean and dry. Oh, yeah, and I made the cake in a bundt pan because I don’t have a spring form pan and it seemed like a bundt pan would work just fine. The batter smelled amazing, deeply perfumed with rum and citrus.

The cake came out a little less brown than I would have liked and I baked it for some extra minutes. It was showing good color near the bottom edges, but when I unmolded it, most of it was pale. After letting it cool for awhile I gunked up my sifter with powdered sugar. The cake looks nice with the sugar sifting: although this is the kind of step I often skip, I’m glad I bothered.

We ate our first slices slightly warm with tea, which we drink British style with milk. We brew our tea from tea leaves in a pre-warmed pot with water at a rolling boil, but don’t let me get started on that rant here. Mom said she could really taste the apples. I tasted predominately citrus. We are waiting to see if the flavor changes over the next few days.*

In short, it is a pretty cake. It is an autumn cake. It might even be a quick and easy cake to make if one wasn’t caramelizing fennel and grinding star anise. Some other person might have just gone out and bought a bottle of anisette liqueur, but that is not my style.

Apple Cake with Caramelized Fennel and Dark Rum

Prepare a bundt pan by rubbing it with butter.

For the fennel:

Preheat oven to 350. The cake bakes at 350, too, so this is convenient.

Wash and trim 1 fennel bulb

Remove core and slice thinly. Place in Pyrex pan with a little butter and olive oil to keep it from sticking. Roast until done, showing some brown color and soft. Let cool. While it is roasting and cooling, you can prepare your apples:

Peel 4 cooking apples, core and dice them. Set aside

Puree fennel in blender with 1/8 cup dark rum (or other liquor to taste. Add a little olive oil if fennel resists the blender. Taste and add 1-2 tsp anise extract if desired. If you want more anise flavor still, crush some star anise in a mortar and add to fennel puree.

For lemon yogurt:

Do it the easy way and just buy 8 oz of good quality lemon yogurt, or add lemon zest, candied lemon peel or lemon juice to plain yogurt.

Once you have your apples, fennel puree and lemon yogurt ready, make your cake batter:

Whisk together in a small bowl:

1 and 1/4 tsp baking powder

2 and 1/4 cups unbleached flour

Combine in large mixing bowl and beat until pale yellow:

4 large eggs

1 and 1/4 cups white sugar

Beat in 1 cup lemon yogurt and fennel-rum puree.

Add flour mixture and 1/2 cup+ olive oil,  alternating between flour and oil and beating briefly to incorporate each addition. When combined, fold in reserved apples.

Pour batter into prepared bundt pan. Bake on middle oven rack in your 350 0ven for 60 minutes, checking to see that a toothpick comes out clean.

Cool cake on a bottle — I use a vinegar bottle — until just warm. Upend bundt pan over dinner plate. Mine came out easily — no sticking. Dust with powered sugar.

Food notes: I had some blood orange olive oil, so that’s what I used, figuring it would boost the citrus notes in the recipe. It did. But you can use any mild-flavored olive oil — or if you have lemon olive oil that would be good, too. My first powdered sugar coating sunk in. Oh well. I’ll just add more because it looks pretty. * The second day the flavors are more complex and mellow: you can’t tell exactly what you are eating, but you know that it is good. The cake is still quite moist and might be good toasted. You could easily make this cake with pears as well.

Now, could it be that I made a cake because I am celebrating? It could be. Betsy over at bitsandbreadcrumbs kindly nominated me for a Liebster Blog Award.

The Liebster Award is given to blogs with fewer than 200 subscribers by a blogger who feels they deserve more recognition.

Rules are:

  1. Thank the giver and link back to the blogger who gave it to you.
  2. Reveal your top 5 bloggers and let them know by leaving a comment on their blog.
  3. Copy and paste the award on your blog.

I am honored to receive the nomination and would nominate Betsy right back if I could: Bits and Breadcrumbs is one of my favorites.

Now it is my priviIege to nominate five more deserving blogs. I have been searching for small blogs for four days, looking for those that haven’t yet received Liebster Awards. Finding them is harder than I thought: everyday my list of wonderful blogs grows, but usually only big blogs post their stats. So, I’ll post three now and I’ll take suggestions from my readers about other small, deserving blogs they love in the Comments section. Please, only list blogs with fewer than 200 subscribers — I want to play by the rules. Here, without further ado are three of my Liebster Award nominees:

1) Jane at ArtEpicurean. A woman after my own heart Jane combines recipes with paintings inspired by food and tips to keep your creativity flowing.

2) Kat at Sensible Lessons always has something intriguing going, whether it is her new take on huevos rancheros, ancho sweet potato fries with Sriracha ketchup  or brownies with both espresso and mint.

3 ) Stephanie at Recipe Renovator helps people on restricted diets reconfigure their recipes.  Not exciting at first description? Her photographs are beautiful and her range of recipes wide. And someone with dietary restrictions may thank you. I’m excited to introduce this site to my gluten-free friends.

Now, a list of some other blogs I would have nominated but they already got the prize. You should read them anyway — they can’t help it if they are popular.

Daisy’s World: Daisy is always cooking something good to eat. Beautiful photos, too.

Krista and Jess: These women always have something surprising (“Mushroom conk,” anyone?). They make me laugh and they were the conduit for my favorite new recipe, the David Lebovitz-inspired tomato tart.

Frugal Feeding: Good food, good photos, frugality. What’s not to like? He recently posted a Thai Carrot Soup with Lemongrass — I’ll be revamping my Thai Carrot Soup soon.

Cook Eat Live Vegetarian: Seasonal, mostly vegetarian food from Andalucia, Spain.

Around the World in Eighty Bakes: How can you not love a woman who is trying to bake her way around the world with refreshing honesty?

Chutney and Spice: I love the hand-drawn header. And I can’t wait to make the Green Tomato Chutney

The Cilantropist: The name is brilliant. The photos are enticing. The recipes are things you want to cook.

Savoring Every Bite She loves pumpkin. She probably loves other stuff, too, but it’s October.

Enjoy all of it. And thanks for reading, — Sharyn