Editor's note: Living in the Colorado high country is pure joy. Baking in it isn't. High altitude makes cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall, and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column presents recipes and tips to make baking in the mountains successful.
What's my perfect vacation? Beautiful scenery, great hiking trails and delicious food. I found it all in the Italian Dolomites this September. Well-marked trails yield breathtaking views at every turn. And, little huts (huttes), offering food and shelter, appear out of nowhere, miles from any sign of civilization. Their presence in the wilderness amazed me. But, even more astonishing were their offerings; we had some of the trip's best meals in these remote cabins - homemade pasta, local sausage and freshly-baked desserts. This Tyrolean apple kuchen is reminiscent of their fare ... simple, straightforward and utterly delicious.
The word kuchen actually means "cake." But, in Italy and Austria, we found it used to describe many baked desserts so, this one, which is more like a free-form pie, carries the title. Tender pastry dough encases a filling of apples, nuts and dried fruit, which are sweetened with brown sugar and flavored with cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger. Served warm, with a topping of ice cream or hard sauce (our favorite), it's a lovely ending to the evening meal.
Tyrolean apple kuchen
11⁄2 cups unbleached flour, (spoon and level)
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1⁄4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (one stick) unsalted butter, cold
1⁄4 cup whole milk or cream
1⁄3 cup of a mixture dried cranberries, raisins and dried cherries
1⁄4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1⁄4 cup chopped walnuts
1⁄4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1⁄8 teaspoon each ground nutmeg and ground ginger
2 tablespoons ground gingersnaps or fresh white bread crumbs
2 teaspoons flour
2 cups peeled, thinly-sliced Golden Delicious apples
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons dark rum or apple cider
2 tablespoons cream or milk
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, with a rack in the center position. Line a baking sheet with parchment or grease it lightly.
Make the pastry: Combine the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine them well. Cut the cold butter into sixteen pieces, add them to the bowl, and pulse until the mixture looks like fine crumbs. Add the milk and pulse until a rough dough forms. Turn out onto a sheet of waxed paper, knead gently, form into a rectangle, wrap and chill.
Make the filling: Combine the first seven ingredients in a large bowl and stir/toss to combine well. Add the apples, making certain that they are thinly sliced or they won't be baked when everything else is. If your apples are large, cut each slice in half horizontally to assure that they get done. Then, add the lemon juice, cider or rum, and stir/toss until everything is well combined.
Between two sheets of waxed paper, roll out the dough to an 8-by-14-inch rectangle. Remove the top piece of waxed paper. Trim the edges and use the trimmed dough to fill in where needed, and then, if necessary, re-shape the rectangle. Use the bottom sheet of waxed paper to flip the dough onto the prepared baking pan, and then remove the waxed paper. Place the filling down the center of the dough, leaving about two inches of dough on each side. Use a bench knife or metal spatula to lift the short ends of the dough up over the filling. Do the same with the long ends. Gently pat the dough so it adheres to itself and forms a pretty envelope over the filling. Brush cream or milk over the dough and sprinkle with sugar.
Bake until the dough is golden brown and the apples are soft and tender. This takes from 40-45 minutes in my oven. If the dough colors before the apples are done, tent the kuchen with aluminum foil. If the apples seem to be drying out as they bake, dot them with small pieces of unsalted butter. Remove the kuchen from the oven and cool it before cutting and serving. We like it warm, with hard sauce or ice cream. It can be re-warmed in the oven or microwave.
This recipe is a variation of one from "The Baking Sheet."
Vera Dawson, a chef instructor with CMC's Culinary Institute, lives in Summit County, where she bakes almost every day. Her recipes have been tested in her home kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact her at email@example.com.