Tartine's Apple-Walnut Tea Cake

Apples are popping up at the farmers market so it seemed like a good time to post the Apple-Walnut Tea Cake from Tartine Book 3. I have made this bread several times and would say it's practically foolproof. Though the tea cake can be wrapped in plastic and stored at room temperature for up to three days, I challenge you to keep it that long. The spices are nicely balanced and it's 100% whole grain spelt which is one of the best flours to bake with. For those who are interested, I wrote a longer section about spelt flour and gluten in my Sugar-free Banana Bread Post. There are always useless facts in the banana stand.

If you're a fan of Tartine Bakery, you might also like Tartine's Pumpkin Tea Cake and Tartine's Morning Buns.

Things I Googled

How do you pronounce kefir?

You say kuh-fear, I say kee-fur. I'm wrong and kuh-fear is correct. Turns out the aforementioned cultured dairy and Kiefer Sutherland aren't related.

What is kefir?

Kefir is fermented milk and the culture (or starter) is kefir grains. When I asked The Google how to make kefir grains from scratch, the answer seemed to be that it's very hard. You'll need to buy some kefir grains if you want to make kefir at home.

History

Aside from eating Tartine's Apple-Walnut Tea Cake, learning about kefir's legendary origin story was my favorite part of writing this post. Since everyone likes a food-based fairytale, here's the abbreviated version.

In the 1st century CE, Mohammed gave kefir grains to some Orthodox folks who used them to make kefir. The "Grains of the Prophet" came to be valued like gold, spices, and such, but were ultimately forgotten outside of the Caucasus. Fast-forward to the early 20th century when a group of Russian physicians decided that they wanted to treat their patients with the "magical healing properties" of kefir. They did what any reasonable group of doctors would do and sent their beautiful employee to seduce a prince who happened to have the grains. Said prince kidnapped the beautiful woman in order to make her his wife, Tsar Nicholas II ordered the prince to give her 10 pounds of kefir grains as punishment for the kidnapping, and the All Russian Physician's Society landed their prize. The successful acquisition brings us to 1908 when the first bottles of kefir were sold in Russia. To this day, kefir is a hugely popular drink in the country. The end.

What is a kefir substitute?

Kefir is thicker than milk but runnier than yogurt. The articles I found regarding substitution suggested the following:

  • Use buttermilk in lieu of kefir. This is the suggestion I found most frequently and it's the easiest with a 1:1 ratio.
  • For 1 cup of kefir, use 3/4 cup yogurt diluted with 1/4 cup milk. Yogurt varies quite a bit in thickness/water content so this one is tricky. Maybe try it out with pancakes or some other recipe that allows for wiggle room in the texture.

Original vs. Adapted

Walnuts

  • The recipe in the book calls for 375 grams of walnuts. That’s a lot of walnuts. I reduced the amount to 200 grams on my first bake but felt like all I was tasting was nuts. I reduced again to 175, then 150. It came to my attention while writing this post that 375 grams was a typo and is supposed to read 37.5 grams (1/3 cup). Pesky punctuation. This would explain why I couldn't quite get the walnut ratio right. That being said, I plan to use 70-90 grams of walnuts in my next try since 38 grams doesn't feel like quite enough. Chef's discretion.
  • I added a step that involves rubbing the walnuts in a towel or with your hands to knock off some of the tannic skins.

Mixing Order

The recipe suggests "cutting" the olive oil into the spelt flour which results in a mixture that looks like brown sugar. When I added the oil/flour mixture to the wet ingredients, it felt like too much mixing was required to incorporate everything. Since it's important to not overwork the batter, I took a cue from Mozza's Rosemary Olive Oil Tea Cakes and now include the oil with the wet ingredients and then fold the flour mixture into the wet ingredients in four additions. As soon as the dry bits are incorporated, I stop folding and just poke around a little with the rubber spatula to make sure there aren't any remaining pockets of flour. Works great.

Farmers | Artisans

I make an effort to source my food from local California artisans with a special focus on the Santa Monica Farmers Market. Below is a list of the talented folks who contributed to this dish.

Walnuts in the shell at the Santa Monica Farmers Market.

Walnuts from Peacock Family Farms - Santa Monica Farmers Market

Tools

  • Scale Note: A scale is one of the best investments you can make in your baking and cooking endeavors. Measure all the things.
  • Grater (Large Holes) - I prefer this grater over the box version since the former is easier to clean and use.
  • 9 x 5 Loaf Pan

Ingredients

  • 70-90 grams shelled walnuts Note: See "Original vs. Adapted" above.
  • 102 grams (1/2 cup) 100% hydration ripe Sourdough Starter
  • 1 large egg (50 grams), room temperature
  • 111 grams (1/2 cup) kefir Note: I've used kefir from both Organic Pastures (Santa Monica Farmers Market) and Wallaby (Whole Foods).
  • 129 grams (1 cup) grated apple, about 2 small/medium Note: I use a grater with large holes.
  • 171 grams (1 1/4 cups) whole grain spelt flour
  • 146 grams (3/4 cup) granulated sugar
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon flake-style salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 89 grams quality olive oil

Instructions

  • Combine ripe sourdough starter, egg, kefir, grated apple, olive oil, and whisk until just combined. Note: Since my kefir is always cold, I mix the wet ingredients right away and let them sit for about 30 minutes to warm up.
  • Pre-heat oven to 350, move rack to the middle position.
  • Grease a 9x5 pan with butter and then place and cut-to-fit piece of parchment on the bottom. Set aside.
  • In a small non-stick pan, toast the walnuts until fragrant. Set aside.
  • Combine flour, salt, spices, baking soda, baking powder, then whisk until combined.
  • When the walnuts are cool enough to handle, rub them in a dish towel, paper towel, or with your hands to remove some of the skins. Note: You don’t need to get every last bit. I remove the walnut skins since they’re tannic and can be a nuisance in terms of texture.
  • Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients in 4 additions, scraping and folding with a rubber spatula until just incorporated. Add nuts on the fourth addition.
  • Scrape the batter into the pan, smooth the top, and bake for 50-70 minutes until the center of the cake reads 200 degrees. Turn pan 180 degrees halfway through baking. Note: My bread reaches 200 in the center and 214 on the edges between 50-58 minutes so it helps to start checking at 50.
  • When the bread has reached the correct internal temperature, remove it from the oven, carefully run a paring knife around the edge to ensure that the bread isn't sticking, invert the pan to remove the tea cake, peel off the parchment, and cool completely on a wire rack.

Storage

  • Once fully cooled, the apple-walnut tea cake can be wrapped snuggly in plastic and left at room temperature for up to 3 days. You may be pushing the texture at 4 days but it's definitely still good enough to eat.
  • I cut a thin slice of the end off and set it aside before cutting a piece to eat. When wrapping the bread, I put the heel or end of the bread back in place to "seal" it up. No idea if I'm helping the freshness but that's what I do so there you go.

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