Four-Piece Apple Cake

Every Friday, the staff and students at YWAM Turner Valley get together at 10:30am for what has been dubbed “Friday Base Snack” (wow, we need a catchier title!). The three departments take turns putting together the snack, and a couple of Fridays ago was our turn as the School of Biblical Studies department. I have to confess that I already have all of SBS’s base snacks planned out until the end of December, and I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t have ideas for into January! I love planning what I’m going to bake next. It may or may not also be an excuse to scour Pinterest for recipes.

I got the recipe for what is known as “Apple Cake,” “Jewish Apple Cake,” or “German Apple Cake” from Smitten Kitchen, a fabulous food blog with several years’ worth of recipes. I’ve had my eye on multiple recipes from Smitten Kitchen, but this is the first I’ve tried, and based on the deliciousness of this cake, I’m eager to try some more! I’m not the only one who thought this cake was delicious; I dubbed it “Four-Piece Apple Cake” because Michael ate four pieces in one sitting, and asked me to make him a whole one for himself! While that won’t be happening, I would really like to make this cake again (that’s unusual for me – I don’t often make something twice as I like to try new things), maybe for the Christmas season, possibly gluten-free as my sister is somewhat gluten-intolerant (but in denial – just kidding, Jill!). I’ve read that this cake tastes even better the next day, when the apples’ juices have permeated the cake, but this cake didn’t last long enough to test that theory!

This cake feeds a crowd; I doubled it and it fed at least two-dozen people, with many people having seconds (or thirds…or fourths…). The original recipe calls for it to be baked in a tube pan (which is different from a bundt pan – it has a removable bottom), but I baked it in glass pan. Below, I’ve written out my version of the recipe (I used a bit less sugar than Smitten Kitchen), but double if it if you want the same yield as I had.

Four-Piece Apple Cake

Four Piece Apple Cake

  • 6 McIntosh apples
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 5 tablespoons sugar
  • 2-3/4 cups flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1-3/4 cups white sugar
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 2-1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 4 eggs
  • icing sugar (optional)
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a tube pan or a glass baking dish (9 x 13″ works well). Peel core and chop your apples into chunks – not too small – chunks are what you want, not applesauce. Toss the apple chunks in a bowl with 1 tablespoon of cinnamon and 5 tablespoons of sugar and put them somewhere where you won’t eat them or accidentally pour the other ingredients on top of them. (I, for one, have never done that…)
  2. Stir together flour, baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl. If you’re feeling ambitious, sift the flour. I’m far too lazy for such things. In a separate bowl, whisk together your oil, orange juice, sugar, and vanilla. Mix the wet ingredients into the dry ones. Warning: the consistency is going to be really weird, and you’re going to think you made a mistake and frantically reread this recipe. You haven’t made any mistakes – the consistency of the batter will kind of remind you of streusel, but it won’t be as crumbly.
  3. Add eggs, one at a time, and mix to incorporate. I’m well aware that this is a weird order for mixing ingredients, but just do it! Once you’ve added the eggs, you’ll feel better about the consistency of the batter, I promise.
  4. Pour half of the batter into your glass pan or tube pan. Spread half of those delicious cinnamony apples over it. Pour the rest of the batter over the apples, and then arrange the rest of the apples on top. If you’re really committed to layers in this cake, I think a tube pan is the best bet, as the big glass pan will make for thin layers and apples peeking out from under the second layer of batter. Don’t worry too much about that. It’s all going the same place, after all.
  5. Bake until a tester comes out clean. I baked this cake for about an hour and fifteen minutes, but if you’re using a tube pan, it may take closer to an hour and a half.
  6. Let cool for ten minutes or so, then dust with icing sugar.

Makes 16-18 delicious pieces of apple cake, which will serve four ravenous husbands at four pieces each (we do not advocate polygamy). Adapted from recipe at Smitten Kitchen.

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Book Review: The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, by Charles Duhigg

 

When I was in high school I had long hair, and when I would get bored I would repeatedly pull it back from my face. Due to genetics and aging I can no longer do that, but the introduction of a solid beard has given me a new play thing. I highlight these things because they are both actions I do without thinking; they are habits. So much of our day’s actions are just a collection of habits. When was the last time you thought about how to brush your teeth, or the order in which you washed your different body parts in the shower in the morning? These are the habits that allow our brains to focus on other things while still accomplishing the necessary tasks to fulfill our basic needs. Not all habits, however, are so life-giving. Some habits are the reason we have nails chewed down so far they bleed, or are responsible for our getting into fights with our loved ones over the same issue over and over again. These are the habits we wish we could change. I have been on a reading adventure of late into books that I guess you could say report on popular science – taking heavily researched topics and making them accessible to the layperson. I felt The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg would fit well into this little adventure I am on.

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business

Duhigg’s book is described on his website as such: “In The Power of Habit, award-winning New York Times business reporter Charles Duhigg takes us to the thrilling edge of scientific discoveries that explain why habits exist and how they can be changed. With penetrating intelligence and an ability to distill vast amounts of information into engrossing narratives, Duhigg brings to life a whole new understanding of human nature and its potential for transformation.” That is really what it is all about – looking into a variety of sources to show how habits are formed, how habits are changed, and the influence habits have over everything from individuals to social revolutions.

As I promised in my review of the Malcolm Gladwell books, I was more intentional with my reading this time and had my notebook with me as I read, so I will try to put what I highlighted into one cohesive thought. Before I do that, however, one side note – did you know that when Febreeze was first created, it was odorless? The chemical compound in Febreeze was accidentally discovered by a P&G chemist and was able to absorb the chemicals that made things smell. When I read this I was so mad because I hate the scent of Febreeze. To find out why they add scent, you’ll have to read the book. Now back to my thoughts on The Power of Habit. I really can’t summarize all the ideas I highlighted, but what encouraged me the most was this: God created us to be transformable. It is clear that habits can be changed even at the neurological level. It is certainly not easy, but it can be done. Not only did God create us to be able to be transformed, we are best equipped to change when we believe we can change and are surrounded by a community that will encourage us to change. Alcoholics Anonymous has been studied intensely as a system that can cause people to change their habits and out of that, researchers discovered that both a belief in a higher power, and involvement in a community that was there to help make changes, is part of what makes AA so powerful. When I read that I was blown away. It made me realize that what I do here at YWAM Turner Valley has the potential to do so much more for a person than just teach them how to study inductively. I have the opportunity to be a part of seeing people transformed as they study the Bible for nine months in a community that will encourage change, and grow belief in the God who longs to transform us.

If you have read any of the books I have reviewed to this point, I would highly recommend you read this one also. I am so encouraged by seeing how amazingly we have been created. Maybe the book will even inspire you to change that habit you wish was different.

Two For One Book Reviews!

In 2005, I was listening to a sermon while at the gym (ah, the days of self-discipline and improvement) and the preacher giving the sermon mentioned a book and the name of its author, which would stick with me. The book was The Tipping Point and the author was Malcolm Gladwell. Since that first encounter, Gladwell has popped up again and again from being quoted, to interviews, to TED Talks, which built in me a desire to read the books that began all the fuss. With the accessibility to a digital library through my Kindle, I decided it was finally time. I wish that what follows in my review was a vivid recollection of the many things that impacted me from both books, but as I learned from reading Gladwell’s work, when approaching such information-rich books, I need a notebook and pencil present. Like being at a buffet where you quickly forget the flavor of one dish as you eat the next, I was quite overwhelmed by the continuous insights I was coming across. So instead of regurgitating the premise of the two books I read, I am going to attempt to sway you to consider not just the books, but the author himself. My hope is that you would give this amazing Canadian-raised and educated author a try (sorry, I was so amazed to find out he was from Canada – I couldn’t help but mention it).

The books I ended up reading were The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, and Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. In The Tipping Point, Gladwell attempts to explain the small things that can cause significant social change. His view is that there is often a “tipping point” that is set off by small influences that bring about social changes, whether that change is the popularity of commercial products or the decrease of crime rates in cities. He compares the tipping point to a virus, suggesting that these changes are the social equivalent of a viral epidemic. In Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, Gladwell offers a look behind the door of our subconscious and how something called our “adaptive unconscious” affects our decision- making. Both the positives and negatives of our snap judgments are explored and what can be done to influence this powerful form of decision-making.

The Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell
Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell

After going through both books, here is one thing from each that still stands out in my mind: from The Tipping Point, the idea that stuck with me is that our brains only have the capacity to handle social knowledge of about 150 people. This is the maximum number of people I can socially interact with and still manage to know basic relational information about. This was the research the pastor from seven years ago had quoted, which started my interest in reading this book. The reason this sticks with me is that it confirms something I have often experienced as I have been involved with churches and other ministries. At YWAM Montana last year, there were somewhere between 150-170 staff and if I am honest, if there were closer to 200 I don’t know if I would have had the same sense of family on staff. I certainly wouldn’t have been able to know who I could go to for things, as I wouldn’t have been able to remember that many people’s different roles. This principle also shows why churches often have trouble getting past 150 people under the leadership of one generalist pastor. Anymore than 150, and you really need to bring in additional people to shepherd the flock.

As for Blink, what stands out to me is how much our unconscious mind affects the way we treat people. If we have been conditioned over time with certain subconscious messages about certain types of people or things, there will be a certain level of effect from that conditioning with regards to how we respond to those people or things. If we make a conscious effort to change that conditioning, however, it is possible to make important decisions very quickly and accurately. As I look at being part of a missions organization long term, and as Helen and I start to go on outreach, I want to make sure that I am conditioning myself to make the right snap judgments, so as to not hinder my efforts to bring the message of the Gospel to people.

Both of the aforementioned thoughts are only small pieces of the beautiful work that Gladwell has done in both books. I really would recommend both to anyone interested in understanding how both the world around us and the world within us works. If you are too intimidated to pick up these books (as I was seven years ago), I would recommend looking for one of Gladwell’s many lectures that he has given – they are available online –  particularly the ones he has done for TED Talks. Once again, I want to thank you for taking the time to read my rambling thoughts on the books that are currently filling my time when I am not studying to teach on SBS. I have been greatly encouraged to read more through the opportunity to share what I’m reading, and I hope you will be encouraged to read more also.