French Apple Cake

DSC01299It’s that moment when you turn onto a dimly lit, narrow street, with sidewalks barely wide enough for one person, the pre-Haussmann medieval buildings curving over you as you look up, and you know that you are experiencing Paris as it was, and will be, decades ago and decades in the future. It’s the cool autumn day, when you are having lunch, sitting by the window, and you watch the two elderly Parisian women, warm in their fur coats, carefully unwrapping their chocolate squares before delicately sipping their coffee.

It’s the knowledge that the cheese lady will wrap each piece of cheese you’ve chosen like a precious small gift, which it is, a gift of land and sky and love and hard work, which you will taste with each bite as the Parisian sun (so precious in itself) streams through the big windows of your apartment and you clink your wine glasses, knowing that this lunch, of cheese and meat and bread and wine, is one you really can’t have in any other city in the world. 
DSC01307It’s that sense of magic, as you sit outside on a restaurant terrace with your friends on a warm summer evening, finishing dinner at 10pm while the sun is still stubbornly refusing to set, and the waiter smiles as he pours the final bit of wine for all of you and you are happy, because the night isn’t over, there’s still the lazy walk back home as the sky furiously changes colors before it finally gives up and goes dark.

It’s the giddy feeling you get every time you end up at the Eiffel Tower, wanting to be blasé about the whole thing, but being unable to resist the overwhelming beauty around you and the shared joy of so many people for whom being there is a lifelong dream. It’s the moment you take as you cross one of the Seine bridges to stop and look and take in the unquestionable beauty of this city that is loved and loves back. When you know that no matter what happens, you will always have Paris in your heart.

French Apple Cake – Very slightly adpated from Cook’s Illustrated


1 1/2 lbs Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon Calvados or white rum
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 egg yolks
Confectioner’s sugar for dusting


Step 1: Adjust oven rack to lower third of the oven and preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Prepare a 9-inch springform pan with vegetable oil. Place prepared pan on baking sheet lined with aluminum foil.
Step 2: Place apple slices in a microwave-safe dish, cover and microwave until apples are pliable, about three minutes. Toss apples with lemon juice and rum and let cool whilst you prepare the cake batter.
Step 3: In a large mixing bowl whisk one cup flour, one cup sugar, baking powder, and salt together.
Step 4: In another bowl whisk together one egg, oil, milk, and vanilla. Add dry ingredients until just combined. Transfer 1 cup of batter to a small bowl.
Step 5: Whisk 2 egg yolks into remaining batter. Gently fold in cooled apples. Transfer batter to prepared pan and smooth surface.
Step 6: Whisk remaining 2 tablespoons of flour into the reserved batter then pour over the top of cake. Sprinkle the surface of the cake with 1 tablespoon granulated sugar.
Step 7: Bake for one hour and fifteen minutes, until golden brown and set. Transfer pan to a wire rack and cool, five minutes.
Step 8: Run a paring knife around the sides of the pan and remove from form. Let the cake cool completely on a wire rack, 2-3 hours. Dust with confectioner’s sugar.

Baked Pasta with Broccoli Rabe and Sausage


Substitutions don’t always work.

Years ago, when I was just learning French, I was in Paris and my carpal tunnel syndrome was acting up. I needed to get a wrist splint to help alleviate the pain. An online search for the French word for “splint” was fruitless, so I decided I would just describe it. I walked into the first pharmacy and approached the pharmacist. In my halting French, I started to speak.

“Hello. I need something – I don’t know the word in French – something to fix my wrist in place.”

The pharmacist looked at me funny. I continued, undaunted.

“You see, my wrist is inflamed and it hurts, so I need something to restrict it.”

I could see a smile starting to take place on the pharmacist’s lips. Actually, no, that wasn’t a smile. It was a suppressed laugh!

“There is an inflammation in my wrist,” I went on, “and I need this thing you use to stop it from moving.”

I could tell that the pharmacist could barely contain herself. I started to mimic a splint, encircling my wrist with the other hand, showing her how it works.

“Oh! No monsieur,” she immediately replied, looking relieved. “We don’t have any. I’m sorry.”


I walked out of the pharmacy confused. Why was she so close to breaking out in laughter? Was my French so bad? On a hunch, I pulled out my phone and did a couple of searchers on my online French-English dictionary. I immediately started laughing out loud.

The French word for wrist is poignet. Unfortunately, in my explanation to the pharmacist, I had substituted it with the word poitrine, a word that means bosom or breasts. I had just asked her for something to fix my breasts in place because they were inflamed.

Like I said, substitutions don’t always work.

The recipe below, however, can take just about any substitution. No broccoli rabe? Use regular broccoli (like I did here), or brussel sprouts, or squash, or any other vegetable you have. Just adjust its cooking time, or use it precooked in the case of squash. No mozzarella? Use any left over cheese in your refrigerator. The sausage used can be made from just about anything, beef, pork, chicken, or replaced with mushrooms if you’re a vegetarian.


Baked Pasta with Broccoli Rabe and Sausage – Slightly adapted from Smitten Kitchen


1 pound chunky pasta of your choice (such as penne or orecchiette)
1 bundle broccoli rabe, stems and leaves cut into 1-inch segments (or about 3-4 cups of chopped up broccoli)
1 pound Italian sausage (or your favorite uncooked sausage), casings removed
2/3 cup grated parmesan or pecorino romano cheese
6 ounces mozzarella, cut into small cubes
2 cups whole milk
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon table salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
Few gratings fresh nutmeg


Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Add pasta and five minutes before its cooking time is up, add the broccoli rabe (for regular broccoli, add it 3 minutes before it’s done). Drain the broccoli rabe and pasta together and place in a large bowl.

Meanwhile, heat 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large, wide saucepan (you will use this for the bechamel in a few minutes; you could also use your pasta pot, once it is drained) over medium heat. When hot, add the sausage, breaking it up with a wooden spoon until it starts to brown, about five minutes. Remove with slotted spoon or spatula, leaving any fat behind. Eyeball the drippings and use one tablespoon less butter next if it looks like there’s more than a tablespoon there. Any less, don’t worry about adjusting the butter.

Heat oven to 400º F.

Melt your butter in same saucepan that you cooked the sausage in over medium heat. Once melted, add your flour and stir it into the butter until smooth. Cook the mixture together for a minute, stirring constantly. Pour in a small drizzle of your milk, whisking constantly into the butter-flour mixture until smooth. Continue to drizzle a very small amount at a time, whisking constantly. Once you’ve added a little over half of your milk, you’ll find that you have more of a thick sauce or batter, and you can start adding the milk in larger splashes, being sure to keep mixing. Once all of the milk is added, add the salt, garlic, nutmeg, and few grinds of black pepper, and bring the mixture to a lower simmer and cook it, stirring frequently, for 10 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed.

Add the sausage and bechamel to the bowl with the pasta and broccoli rabe. Stir in mozzarella and half of grated parmesan or pecorino until combined. Pour into a lasagna pan, deep 9×13-inch baking dish or 3-quart casserole dish and coat with remaining parmesan or pecorino. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the edges and craggy points are nicely bronzed.