Following in Bach's Footsteps
Hevreh Ensemble had a busy spring and next season will be filled with concerts & workshops in the US and with two tours: China in March and Argentina in July! This month we took a break from rehearsing and performing and went off in many different directions including California and Israel.
Under the auspices of a professional development grant from Hofstra University, I embarked on a wonderful journey to Germany accompanied by my daughter Alicia, an intrepid and indefatigable travel companion. You can see Alicia in a picture atop the Wartburg Castle in Eisenach where Martin Luther took refuge in 1521!
The title of my grant was “Following in Bach’s Footsteps” and although we did not walk 250 miles to Lubeck as Bach did, we filled a week with as much as we could, often walking over 7 or 8 miles a day.
In Eisenach, Kothen and Leipzig, we visited churches and places where Bach composed music and worked, among them the Schloss Castle in Kothen where Bach was employed by Prince Leopold. It is here that Bach composed much of his chamber and keyboard music including The Well Tempered Klavier and the Brandenberg Concerti.
The trip included so many special moments that it would be difficult to include them all in one blog posting. This special moment stands out: both Alicia and I experienced a deeply spiritual connection- our journey started in Eisenach where we visited the Georgen Kirche that still has the baptismal font where Bach was baptized in 1685.
In the Leipzig, the altar of the Thomas Kirche has a simple memorial where Bach’s remains were moved after the Second World War in 1950.
As we sat in the pews of these two magnificent churches, we both experienced a feeling of deep and profound spirituality and peace: to be in the presence of a composer whose music still inspires performers and audiences alike was a gift that we will never forget!
After visiting a number of Bach Museums and also fitting in a visit to the Mendelsohn Haus and Stadt Geschichte Museum in Leipzig, we found plenty of time to visit wonderful cafes and embarked upon Apel Kuchen research! We also sampled other delicious pastries including Mohn Kuchen (Poppy Seed Cake and my personal favorite), and Apricot and Berry Tarts made from local berries. At the Zucker and Zimmt Cafe in Eisnach, we enjoyed Mango Iced Tea and in the background you can see the Georgen Kirche!
I have been back from our journey for a few weeks and am busy practicing, making oboe reeds and arranging details for our concerts and tours for next season, including a special program with our Native American Flute maker Danny Bigay. We are looking forward to a collaborative concert for Hofstra University’s Cultural Arts Center in November. I decided to bake an Apfel Kuchen and found a recipe from Deb Perlman’s wonderful Smitten Kitchen blog. As the rich aromas of butter, apples and cinnamon filled the house, I reflected on how what we had experienced during our Bach journey added many layers of depth and richness to our lives, both personally and professionally.
Here is a recipe for Apfel Kuchen- Enjoy!!
4 tiny-to-small apples, halved, peeled and cored
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon (125 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (6 tablespoons) granulated sugar
1/4 cup honey (any variety you like to eat)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 large eggs, separated
2 good pinches of salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup honey
A good pinch of sea salt
Heat oven: To 350°F. Coat a 9-inch springform with butter or a nonstick spray. Line the bottom of the pan with a round of parchment paper.
Prepare apples: Place peeled, halved and cored apples cut-side-down on a cutting board. Use a knife to create parallel thin slices, but only cut halfway through each apple so that the apples stay intact. Don’t fret if you cut through, however; you can just reassemble the halves on the cake in a few minutes.
In a bowl, toss apples with lemon juice and 2 tablespoon granulated sugar.
Prepare cake base: Beat butter and 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar together in a bowl with electric beaters until fluffy. Add honey and beat until combined. Add vanilla and egg yolks, beating until just combined. Sprinkle salt and baking powder over cake batter, and mix for just 5 seconds, until they disappear. Add flour, half at a time, mixing only until just combined.
In a separate bowl with cleaned beaters, beat egg whites until stiff. Stir 1/4 of them into the cake batter, to lighten it a little. Fold in the rest in three additions. It will seem impossible to fold in at first because the batter is so stiff, but it will loosen with careful folding. Only fold the last addition of egg whites until it has mostly disappeared (a couple faint streaks of egg white are fine).
Spread cake batter in prepared cake pan, smoothing the top. Arrange apple halves facedown over the cake batter. To warn, 4 tiny/small apples will definitely fit over the cake batter. When I made it with 4 small-almost-medium apples, I could only fit 3 1/2 of them. No need to press the apples into the batter. You can pour any extra lemon juice and sugar in the bowl over the apples.
Bake cake: 35 to 40 minutes, until a toothpick or skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Let rest on a cooling rack for 5 minutes, then cut around the cake to make sure it’s not sticking to the pan at all, and unhinge the sides. Let cake cool completely. You can store it at room temperature at this point, or after you add the honey, for up to 5 days 3 days at room temperature. After that, a fridge is best for longevity. The cake is lovelier on day 2 than day 1.
Before serving, if you’d like the glaze to look glossy, or whenever the cake is cool, if you don’t mind if the honey sinks into the cake: Warm 1/4 cup honey and a good pinch of sea salt until it liquefies to the point where it makes a thin glaze — this will take less than 30 seconds. Brush honey-salt mixture over cooled cake.
I added a sprinkle of cinnamon on the top of the cake before baking.