The poorly written recipe. You know the one. It looks simple. It says it's "easy" or "quick." But every other ingredient or step, you realize, it's not so easy. But the problem is not you. It's the recipe. The very poorly written one.
I'm not blaming my failed gateau de pommes this week on said poorly written recipe. Nor do I blame the failed gateau (bad case of underbaking) on the fact that for some reason I have not a single measuring cup to be found at my house -- or any measuring spoons. (I fortunately have a 1 cup measure. That was handy, as I had to measure 2 cups of flour.)
This recipe for "French Apple Cake" looked "easy" - and it is. But only if we had a little clarity and help with the "simple" recipe.
Probem and Pet Peeve No. 1: "3 to 4 apples"
Sounds simple enough. Well, not when the chopped-into-quarters pieces must be poured into the batter. If one has purchased 4 large apples (like I did...the more the better my motto), for example, this just will not work. Too many apples spilling out over the pan and overwhelming and taking over the batter completely. So it would have been nice to know if the author meant 3 small or medium apples or 4 large apples. The "easy" recipe says nothing about this. I ended up with lots of leftover chopped apples. It seemed ludicrous to pour them all in there. The batter was already right up to the top of the cake pan.
Problem and Pet Peeve No. 2 : "one-half cup melted butter"
I knew this was a trick, or mistake rather, as soon as I read it. I had this problem for the son's last-minute late-night Mexican cookie making marathon with my mom for his Spanish class. The author does not mean what he or she has said. They do not really want you to melt enough butter such that you will end up with one-half cup of melted butter. What they mean is what they did not say: one-half cup butter, melted. So that's when I went with. And based on the resulting texture and consistency of the batter, I was right. Annoyed, but right.
Set the iPhone time, went back to work at the (home) office, and before I knew it the timer went off. It was a robust brown, and I took it out immediately, pleased that I caught it just in the nick of time before I ruined my efforts to bring a nice French dessert to a Sister Cities Holiday Reception down at City Hall (Austin's sister city is lovely Angers, France).
It was not overdone. It was not even done. I would learn this when, after the recommended 10 minutes of cooling, I went to unmold it. A large wet mass stayed in the cake pan. Operation back-up plan went into effect. Central Market. They only had one pear frangipane tart left. Fearing that this one tart would not be enough, I grabbed one of the perenially-pleasing-to-the-eye fruit tarts as well. This was overkill. Down at City Hall, I set them out on my platter, and they disappeared amidst the United Nations of food sprawled out on a very large conference table.
I thought to myself. David would never do this. David would near leave me in the lurch like this. David would have said something in the recipe like: "Don't worry if the cake looks dark--it may be dark golden brown yet not quite ready on the inside. Go by what the toothpick test proves, not the color of the cake." And David for sure would have said: "1/2 cup butter, melted."
This David is of course Paris-based David Lebovitz.
I now appreciate a good recipe -- the well-written one. Which all of his are--to date at least. He includes charming narratives to ensure what you are doing is the right thing. He includes details about what the batter/icing/whatever should look like at a certain time. And recognizing one's human nature to be concerned at a certain point in the recipe, he preempts that and writes down to, in effect, keep calm and carry on.
Best desserts I have ever made. Rave reviews every single time for every single dessert.
So thank you, David, again. I will no longer be so easily wooed by the results of a search for "easy French desserts."
But the French apple cake I will make again. Just not that recipe. Now I find that, sigh, Dorie Greenspan, another lovely cookbook scrivener, has this very recipe (in the cookbook I already own!), and David Lebovitz likes that recipe so much he wrote about it here. And let the record show: Dorie's recipe is properly written: "8 tablespoons (115g) butter, salted or unsalted, melted and cooled to room temperature."
(This contribution to the Sister Cities Holiday Reception was a conversation piece. "Russian Salad" - to represent our sister city of Lima, Peru. Yes. The "Russian" part of it comes from beet juice, which has turned the hard-boiled eggs hot pink.")