>> Thursday, January 29
This cake inspired quite a rant about Swiss food culture, which you can find here. It's a magnificent example of how thought-provoking a simple, light taste can be.
Every week at the market in Basel, I visit the apple stall and smile contentedly. "phew, there are still Elstars." I dread the day when for some reason, my tangy, crisp friends are done for the season or the supply is exhausted. The Elstar is absolutely my favorite apple, with the most flavor of any I have ever tasted, a slight sour bite, and a rich sweet aftertaste. Oh yes, they're divine. As this recipe was inspired by a traditional Swiss recipe (with lots of butter and eggs, so we've modified a few things), it seems only fitting to use a local apple.
The cake itself is beautifully gluten-free because of the polenta used instead of flour. With the addition of soy yogurt instead of milk, it is so moist and tender, I couldn't resist eating the firs tpiece before I took a picture. It is an excellent dessert or breakfast choice, and has much less sugar than most cakes, so it won't throw you into a coma 30 minutes after eating it. Most important, it is yummy yummy yummy, and it's nice ot think that you're eating something that people here have eaten for hundreds of years. I can almost imagine I am eating the first apple-polenta cake if I close my eyes and savor a bite with the air blowing in the window straight off the Rhine...
Tender Elstar Apple Cake
(Timeframe: 3-4 days. For a quick recipe, see the “Notes” section)
- 1/2 cup corn flour
- 1 1/2 cups polenta
- ½ cup brown rice flour
- 1 tsp guar gum (opt.)
- 2 tbsp fresh flax meal (opt.)
- 2-3 cups water kefir, milk kefir, or yogurt
- ¼ cup sunflower oil
- 6 crisp Elstar apples, or your favorite local variety
- ½ cup cashews, walnuts, or pecans
- 1/3 cup elderberry blossom syrup* (or sweetener to taste)
- ¼ cup raw sugar
- ½ tsp grated nutmeg
- 2 tsp cinnamon
- 2 tsp baking powder (opt.)
- 1 lemon
Directions: (always have all ingredients at room temperature to assist yeast development)
- Mix corn flour, ½ tsp guar gum, and 1 cup of kefir/yogurt in a clean glass container until it is moist and gooooshy. Cover loosely with a cloth and set in a warm place for 1-3 days, until bubbly and fluffy, stirring at least once daily.
- When the starter is ready, mix together the polenta, rice flour, sugar, and 1-2 cups kefir (at least 1 cup, and the rest can be water), or as much as you need to make a stirrable mix
- Add starter, mix well, and cover in a warm place for at least 12 hours.
- 2-4 hours before baking, activate your nuts by soaking them in water. Drain water when finished and grind the nuts into coarse pieces.
- Add 1/3 cup water to the flax meal in a sauce pan, and bring to a simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally. Let simmer for a few minutes, remove from heat, and let cool, continuing to stir occasionally.
- Slice the apples into medium-thin slices, squeezing juice of half a lemon on them and tossing to prevent browning as you go.
- Preheat oven to 350 F (175 C)
- Mix brown rice flour, guar gum, and baking powder together, then add to the batter.
- Stir in the nuts, ¼ cup elderberry blossom syrup (save the rest for garnish), the flax meal mixture, cinnamon, nutmeg, oil, and all but 10 or so slices of apple.
- Pour batter into an oiled, floured casserole or cake pan, and arrange the leftover apple slices on top.
- Dust with cinnamon and nutmeg.
- Bake for 10 minutes and turn the heat down to 325 F (162 C).
- Bake for 30 minutes, or until firm. Serve with yogurt and drizzle with elderberry blossom syrup mixed with the juice of half a lemon**.
This is a fermented version of the recipe, which is not necessary, but aids in digestibility of grains and adds a wonderful zing to the flavor. If you would rather make this spur-of-the-moment, cook the polenta in milk or water until done, and treat it as your starter. Begin from step 3 under batter. Leave out the cornflour (it is used in the fermented version as a good sourdough starter flour, but it isn’t necessary to make the cake itself.)
*This is a delicate Swiss specialty which I get from my boyfriend’s mom, and I never saw it in the states or anywhere else. If you can’t find it, use a different sweetener with a light taste, like agave nectar or sugar
**Instead of this mixture, you can do the classic powdered sugar and lemon juice icing and drizzle it on top. Mmmm!