Because I am a cook and a food lover, I tend to gravitate towards books, movies, and television shows that somehow factor in (what else??) food. On my TiVo, you'll see titles like Top Chef, Good Eats, and Food Network Challenge. On my nightstand lie current issues of Saveur, Bon Appetit, and the latest Ruth Reichl book. And it's very easy to spot the DVDs from our collection that belong to me (hint: Kill Bill: Volume 2 is not one of them.)
There are many great films that revolve around a culinary theme. Big Night is the first movie that I remember watching that actually made me hungry. The film is about two Italian brothers who struggle to run an authentic Italian restaurant in 1950s New Jersey. There is one scene in particular involving a great feast (and if you've seen this movie, you know which scene I am referring to), which should not be watched on an empty stomach.
Another favorite film of mine is Chocolat. This movie is a must-see for anyone who is a foodie, a Francophile, a romantic, or who just likes to look at Johnny Depp on occasion (I fall into all four categories.) The story involves a drifting French chocolatier, played by Juliette Binoche, who moves to a tranquil village and uses her special intoxicating spiced cocoa to revive the villagers' passions. This movie introduced me to the idea of adding chile to chocolate and sweets.
If you haven't had the opportunity to try this seemingly odd pairing, derived from Aztec cuisine, I encourage you to do so. Almost all well-known chocolatiers (Vosges, Dagoba, Godiva, etc.) now carry some sort of chile-chocolate truffle or chocolate bar for you to taste. The element of heat is added in small enough doses so that it becomes more of a background flavor, intensifying the chocolate, but mellowing out the sweetness. While this apple cake recipe does not contain chocolate, it applies the cayenne in a similar format, again detracting from the intense sweetness of the glaze with that extra bit of heat. The bonus? Cayenne is said to raise your metabolism, so you're burning extra calories as you eat. Now that's a great dessert! Here are a few extra tips for making this cake with a cayenne kick:
- The spiced pecans can be prepared up to 3 days in advance. Keep them at room temperature, tightly covered. These pecans would also make a good party snack if you add ½ teaspoon salt when you are mixing the ingredients, before baking.
- The cake cam be made 1 day in advance. Keep covered at room temperature. The chile glaze can also be prepared 1 day in advance. Rewarm prior to serving.
- I tend to keep my apples unpeeled in recipes. I don't know if it is because I've never enjoyed the tedium of peeling apples, or because I've never really noticed the difference between peeled and unpeeled apples in baked goods. Use whichever format you prefer.
- Feel free to experiment with the amount of spice in this recipe (although I wouldn't add too much cayenne....). You can also add raisins, chopped pecans, or dried cranberries to the batter, if desired.
Caramel-Chile Glazed Apple Cake with Spiced Pecans
For the pecans
1 cup pecan halves
1 large egg white, beaten until foamy
2 tablespoons brown sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon cayenne
For the cake
1 ½ cups flour
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
¾ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
¾ cup canola or safflower oil
¾ cup brown sugar
¼ cup sour cream
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups ⅓-inch cubed Granny Smith apples
For the glaze
⅔ cup brown sugar
6 tablespoons half and half
5 tablespoons butter
4 egg yolks
½ teaspoon cayenne
For the spiced pecans: Preheat the oven to 350F degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil and spray the foil with nonstick spray. Toss the ingredients for the pecans in a medium bowl to coat. Spread the pecans in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet. Bake until dry, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes; cool.
Prepare the cake: Preheat the oven to 375F degrees. Spray a 10-cup Bundt pan with nonstick spray. Whisk the flour, cinnamon, baking soda, nutmeg, salt, ginger, and cayenne in a medium bowl. Whisk together the canola oil, brown sugar, sour cream, eggs, and vanilla extract in a large bowl to blend. Add the dry ingredients; fold together until just blended. Fold in the apple cubes. Transfer the batter to the prepared baking pan and smooth the top. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center emerges clean, 40-45 minutes. Cool the cake in the pan for 10 minutes and then invert the cake onto a serving plate.
Prepare the glaze: Stir all of the glaze ingredients together in a medium saucepan over medium heat until the mixture coats the back of a spoon, about 4 minutes (do not boil). Spoon ½ cup of the warm glaze over the warm cake. Transfer the remaining glaze to a pitcher and cool the cake completely.
Cut the cake into slices and place on plates. Drizzle the extra glaze over the slices and sprinkle with the spiced pecans. Top with vanilla ice cream and serve.