After having success with a Dulce de Leche Flan in my slow cooker, I venture a little further and try a moist apple upside down cake drenched in a cinnamon coffee syrup called a cafe de olla syrup. While my cake wasn’t as pretty as the one photographed in the cookbook I used- The Mexican Slow Cooker, the flavor of apples, walnuts and cheese (yes, cheese!) in a moist cake drizzled with a piloncillo sweetened cinnamon coffee syrup was incredible. To top the cake, I sautéed apples in butter and crushed piloncillo sugar, then added some of the cafe de olla syrup to make a caramel sauce of sorts. For a variety, pears, peaches, pineapple, ripe persimmons or quince can be substituted for the apples.
This cake can also be baked in a conventional oven. When using the slow cooker for this cake, not only is the insert greased, but also a generous piece of aluminum foil is buttered and fitted into the slow cooker insert. To keep the moisture from making the cake soggy, lay a clean kitchen cloth across the top of the cooker and hold in place with the lid.The cake bakes in about two hours, but I suggest you check it after about 1-1/2 hours.
From the sugar cane plant, piloncillo sugar is a dark brown unrefined sugar with a subtle molasses taste, mildly sweet with caramel overtones. It is made from boiling down sugar cane juice which results in a solid block of sugar. Fashioned into a conical shape, the sugar was easily transported. I’ve always been fascinated with the little pylon shaped cones, but have found them unavailable in a standard grocery store. Now more stores are carrying ethnic and exotic ingredients so was thrilled when I found them in one of our newly remodeled grocery stores.
To crush the rock solid cones, place the sugar in a plastic bag, wrap in a kitchen towel and pound with a mallet or another heavy object. Dark brown sugar can be substituted, but has a slightly different flavor. If your recipe calls for1 cup crushed piloncillo, substitute 1 cup dark brown sugar and a little molasses. Piloncillo can be stored indefinitely, tightly wrapped and stored in a cool spot in your pantry.
For the Cake-Serves 6-8
2 tablespoons vegetable shortening
9 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup walnut pieces
2 apples, preferably one that will hold its shape like a Granny Smith
1 tablespoon freshly lemon juice
2 tablespoons water
1/2 cup crushed piloncillo sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs,beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 tablespoons sour cream
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup firm white cheese (Monterey Jack, Munster, a mild Gouda or a Chihuahua cheese), cut into small cubes
For the Piloncillo Cinnamon Coffee Syrup (Cafe de Olla)
3/4 cup strong hot coffee
1 cinnamon stick
1 whole clove
For the Caramel Apples
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon crushed piloncillo sugar
1 apple, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons piloncillo cinnamon coffee syrup, above recipe
Use half the shortening to grease the bottom, corners and halfway up the side of the slow cooker insert. Line the slow cooker insert with an 18-piece of aluminum foil, smoothing it into the corners and against the sides. With the remaining shortening, thoroughly grease the aluminum foil.
With 3 tablespoons of the softened butter, grease the aluminum foil, then scatter the walnuts over the butter.
Peel and core the apples and cut into thin slices. Arrange overlapping on top of the butter and walnuts. Combine lemon juice and water and pour over the apples. Sprinkle lightly with 2 tablespoons of the piloncillo sugar.
In a mixing bowl with an electric hand mixer, cream the remaining 6 tablespoons of the butter until creamy. Add the granulated sugar a little at a time, beating well after each addition. In a separate bowl, combine eggs, vanilla and sour cream. Add the egg mixture to the butter mixture and beat until smooth.
In another bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture in two parts, stirring to combine after each addition. Fold in the cheese. Spoon the batter evenly over the apples and smooth into an even layer. Sprinkle 3 tablespoons of the piloncillo over the top of the batter.
Set the insert into the cooker and turn on high. Lay a clean kitchen towel tightly across the top of the cooker and hold snugly in place with the lid. Cook for 2-1/2 to 3 hours, checking after an 1-1/2 hours, or until the cake is firm. Meanwhile make the syrup. When the cake is done, uncover and let cool for 10 minutes. Grabbing the ends of the foil, carefully lift the cake out of the cooker. Set a serving plate upside down over the cake. Slide your hand under the cake, hold the plate with the other hand and flip the cake upside down so that the apples are on top. Spoon the coffee syrup over and around the cake
For the Syrup
In a bowl stir together the coffee, remaining 3 tablespoons piloncillo, the cinnamon stick and the clove. Set aside.
For the Caramel Apples
Melt the butter and add the piloncillo sugar. Stir until dissolved. Add the sliced apples and sauté for a few minutes, keeping the apple slices somewhat firm. Add the coffee syrup and cook about 2 minutes more. Remove from heat.
To serve the cake-top with caramel apples and a dollop of whipped cream or Greek yogurt.
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