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Oh, I miss this cake.

I distinctly remember the moment when I discovered this recipe. I was thumbing through (devouring, really) my just-arrived copy of Everyday Food magazine. There are a lot of delicious-looking recipes in that issue (November 2011), but when I came to this one, I just stopped and stared.

Maple cake. A layer cake made with lots of maple syrup. Okay. First of all, I love me some layer cakes. I prefer cake over all other desserts, and I prefer layer cakes with frosting over unfrosted cakes. Second: maple syrup is one of my favorite flavors. It’s so good, it’s so… maple-y. It’s a unique flavor, isn’t it? There’s really nothing else like it. And then this divine confection of maple-y goodness is topped not just with frosting, but with brown sugar frosting?!

So I handed the magazine to my husband and pretty much demanded that I make it as soon as possible. As you can imagine, he wasn’t about to hold me back. He knows a good thing when he sees it. His wife is hell-bent on baking a cake? He definitely can’t complain about that!

I made it that weekend, and while the recipe does take a good amount of maple syrup (1 1/2 cups! yowza), I knew that it would be worth it, even though pure maple syrup is rather pricey. While the cake was baking, the house was filled with the most luscious maple aroma ever.

This cake is dense and  moist with a nice tight crumb a lot like a pound cake. The flavor is divine. The maple really shines through – the flavor is right out in front, not like some maple recipes that you kind of have to search for the taste of maple. The brown sugar frosting is the perfect complement. I actually forgot to add the walnuts to the cake batter (I remembered after the cake had been baking for 10 minutes, oops!) and I think it turned out wonderfully, so I’m going to say that the walnuts are optional. I topped mine with maple sprinkles that we bought at a sugaring-off festival in New Hampshire this past spring. If you use walnuts in the batter, you can make a ring of whole walnuts around the top edge.

Maple Layer Cake with Brown Sugar Frosting

Adapted slightly from Everyday Food, November 2011

Yield: 10 Servings Prep time: 45 minutes Total time: 1 hour 15 minute, plus cooling

For the cake:

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled), plus more for pans

4 teaspoons baking powder

3/4 teaspoon fine salt

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

1/2 cup packed dark-brown sugar

2 large eggs

1 1/2 cups pure maple syrup

3/4 cup whole milk

1 cup chopped walnut halves, toasted (optional)

For the frosting:

8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

3/4 cup packed dark-brown sugar

4 cups confectioners’ sugar

  1. Make the cake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease two 9-inch round cake pans. Line bottoms with parchment paper; lightly grease parchment. Flour parchment and sides (tapping out excess); set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat butter and brown sugar on high until light and fluffy, 5 minutes. Beat in eggs, one at a time, scraping down bowl as needed. With mixer on medium-high, add maple syrup in a slow, steady stream. Add flour mixture in two additions, alternating with milk, beating well after each addition and scraping down bowl as needed. Fold in walnuts, if using.
  3. Divide batter between pans; firmly tap pans on a flat surface several times to remove air bubbles. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center of a cake comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes. Let cakes cool in pans on wire racks, 15 minutes, then invert onto racks; peel off parchment. Invert cakes again and let cool completely on racks.
  4. Make frosting: In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat cream cheese, butter, and brown sugar on high until light and fluffy, 5 minutes. Gradually add confectioners’ sugar, 1/2 cup at a time, beating well after each addition.
  5. Assemble cake: Place one layer, top side up, on a cake stand or serving plate. Spread top evenly with 1 1/2 cups frosting. Top with second layer, top side down. Spread remaining frosting over top and around sides of cake.

I love cranberry sauce. It might be my favorite part of Thanksgiving. That and the turkey. And the stuffing. And the pie. And pumpkin bread! Okay, it’s really hard to pick just one, but cranberry sauce is definitely up there.

My parents practically have to have a can of cranberry sauce just for me. When I was little, I only liked the jellied kind. When I got a little older, I grew to appreciate whole berry cranberry sauce. I became a bit of a cranberry sauce snob – only Ocean Spray brand, please! The store brand stuff is not up to snuff.

Then I ventured into the realm of making my own cranberry sauce. First I went the traditional route, the recipe on the bag of Ocean Spray cranberries. And that’s good, but I guess I’m not too crazy about the cranberry-orange combination in my sauce. No matter how much I love cranberry sauce, I just can’t get into my dad’s cranberry-orange relish, made with raw cranberries. It’s just too.. tart. And overwhelmingly orange-y. A cranberry-orange sauce is too close to a cranberry-orange relish for my tastes… I like it, but I won’t go crazy for it.

And then I came across this recipe. Cranberry sauce with maple syrup and brown sugar. I think my brain exploded a little bit. I knew this would be cranberry sauce nirvana.

And it is. Oh boy is it ever. I’m nuts about this sauce. It is deliciously tart with just the right amount of sweetness. The maple syrup, brown sugar and vanilla combine to give it a great richness and depth of flavor. You definitely can taste the maple-y goodness of the syrup through the bright tartness of the cranberries. I never would have thought to combine maple syrup and cranberries, and it turns out they’re divine together. And with a recipe so simple (it takes less than 10 minutes from start to finish! No chopping, zesting, or juicing anything!), there’s really no reason for me to ever go back to canned sauce.

My hunt for the perfect cranberry sauce is over. This is it.

Maple Brown Sugar Cranberry Sauce

From Baking Bites

12-oz fresh or frozen cranberries
1/2 cup maple syrup
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup water
1/2 tsp vanilla extract (optional)

Combine cranberries, maple syrup, brown sugar and water in a large saucepan and cook over high heat until cranberries start to pop. Reduce heat to medium and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until cranberries finish popping and mixture comes to a simmer. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla extract (if using).
Sauce can be served immediately or stored in an airtight container in the fridge for about a week.

All my life, my dad made his own granola about every couple of months. He and my mom make an annual trip out to Lancaster county (remember those trips to Amish country?) to buy his ingredients in bulk on the cheap. He makes a massive batch in a huge roasting pan. I mean huge; the recipe he sent me calls for 18 cups of oats. He eats it every day and stores it in these giant glass jars that I think my mom acquired from the cafeteria ladies way back in the day when she was a school nurse.

The point being, I’ve always had an appreciation for homemade granola (particularly the dried fruit, which I would always pick out of the jar for my bowl of cereal, despite my mom’s scolding!) but I never attempted to make it myself. And someday (soon) I’ll have to scale my dad’s recipe down so I can make it. Without access to cheap bulk ingredients and the giant jars to store all that cereal, I need a smaller recipe.

When I saw this recipe in Everyday Food, I knew I had to make it. Maple syrup + nuts + granola = love. And it’s fantastic. Nutty, with a hint of maple-y goodness (which is boosted by the fact that I like it served on plain yogurt drizzled with maple syrup), hearty and delicious. But of course I had to improve upon it. The original recipe doesn’t call for dried fruit! Or cashews, even, which are my second favorite part of my dad’s granola behind the dried fruit. And my dad sneaks some good-for-you things into his granola like flax seed meal and wheat germ, so of course I needed that in my granola as well.

So I mix up the dry ingredients with some oil, maple syrup, vanilla, and a pinch of salt, then lay it out in a rimmed baking sheet to get nicely toasted and yummy in the oven.

Halfway through the cooking time, you give the cereal a stir (Martha says just to turn the baking sheet, but I think stirring is a better way to prevent burning), and when it comes out, it’s all toasty and brown and smells amazing. I tend to pull it out a minute or two early, because the cereal at the edges or in places where it’s in a thin layer starts getting too brown.

Next, I throw the granola into a bowl with the dried fruit. Now, you can skip this step if you don’t care for dried fruit, but I sure wouldn’t. I used dried cherries, cranberries and raisins because that’s what I have on hand, but I imagine other fruits would be good too.

Once it’s all mixed up, I guess you could just eat it like that, in a bowl with some milk. But I don’t roll that way.

And once you’ve had it on plain yogurt with a drizzle of maple syrup, neither will you.

Seriously, this will take the edge off of waking up for work. It might even make you glad to wake up. Maybe.

All I know is, it’s awfully hard to go back to a bowl of Cheerios after this.

Maple Nut Granola

From Everyday Food, January 2010

1. Preheat oven to 325. In a large bowl toss together 3 1/2 cups old fashioned rolled oats, 1/4 cup chopped pecans, 1/4 cup chopped almonds (and 1/4 cup cashews, 1/4 cup raw sunflower seeds, 1/4 cup flax seed meal, 1/4 cup wheat bran or wheat germ if you want to be like me), 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt, 5 teaspoons vegetable oil, 5 tablespoons pure maple syrup (not the fake stuff!) and 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract. (I add a splash more vegetable oil and maple syrup when I add all my extras.)

2. Spread oat mixture on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake until golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes, rotating sheet halfway through. Let cool completely. (I add about 1/4 cup each of dried cranberries, raisins, and cherries. I cut the cherries into smaller pieces because they’re pretty big nuggets of fruity goodness.)

3. Store in an airtight container at room temperature. It will keep for two weeks – if it lasts that long!


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