Fall is for baking.
When the chill starts to settle in at night, and mornings are crisp enough for a warm fleece jacket, I head indoors and crank up the oven to 350 F. This is when I get in the mood to pull out the electric mixer, cake pans, cookie sheets, baking dishes and cast-iron skillet, and let the flour and sugar fly. Cookies, bars, brownies, cakes, pies and candy … I love baking things for my family, friends and co-workers to enjoy.
For years, I’ve collected recipes — mostly for baked goods, treats and candies (hey, that’s just me!) — from the Courier’s Flavor section and favorite magazines like Southern Living and Midwest Living, or printed out from various foodie websites. A huge pile of recipes is stuffed between the pages of a well-worn holiday cookie cookbook that I keep handy on my cookbook shelf. It’s not the most organized system, but they’re right at my finger tips. These are my go-to favorites or, the “I’m really going to make these one day” recipes.
Once upon a time, I kept a recipe file, carefully copying each recipe onto a pretty card and filing it alphabetically in the box. It’s an old-fashioned idea in the age of tablets and smart phones. We don’t even have to go to the grocery store to shop for ingredients — just order them online and have them delivered to our door.
Feeling a certain sense of nostalgia, I recently found my two old recipe boxes and spent an evening thumbing through. Most of them I’ve never made, and I discovered a dozen or so cards my mom had penned for such desserts as bread pudding, Mississippi mud cake, cookies and chess and pecan pies — keepsakes now that she’s gone.
I’ve set aside the recipes — old and new — I plan to bake this fall and winter, and I’ll be sharing the results and recipes on the Flavor page and as a food blog. I’m not a from-scratch-only snob, either. I love my cake flour and butter, but I’m not above using a cake or brownie mix as a hack.
So, my baking pantry is fully stocked, and I’m ready to rock (and roll out shaped cookies). Naturally, I’m calling the column/blog “Recipe Box” in homage to my collection.
Since Friday is autumn’s big debut, I’m starting with one of my all-time classics, Toffee Apple Crunch Cake. I adapted it from a recipe found on a pie filling label and first sampled years ago at a fall gathering. It’s so easy to make and so delicious, it will make you weep tears of joy. And yes, it uses shortcuts.Toffee Apple Crunch Cake
1 package yellow cake mix
1 21-ounce can apple pie filling
1 cup chopped pecans
½ cup Heath toffee bits
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, cold and cut into small pieces
Vanilla ice cream
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Spread pie filling in a 9- x 9-inch baking pan (I used a 3.6 quart Pioneer Woman baking dish, and it worked fine.) Break up lumps in dry cake mix and pour evenly over top of fruit filling; swirl with a knife until cake mix is just moistened. Sprinkle with pecans and toffee bits. Dot with butter, covering as evenly as possible. Bake for about 45 minutes or until toothpick comes out fairly clean. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack for about 1 hour. The cake will still be slightly warm, perfect for serving with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Makes 12 servings.
Variations: Use peach pie filling in place of apple pie filling.
For a Black Forest Crunch Cake version, use cherry pie filling, devil’s food chocolate cake mix, chopped walnuts and white-chocolate chips. Prepare and serve in the same manner as above.