Sunday, January 2, 2011

Apple Cake


The apple cake is a popular item with my family on the East Coast. My mother routinely makes it for my brother-in-law and nephew, collectively known as the Seths. Last year, she gave me the recipe she adapted from Betty Crocker’s Cookbook. She made a few changes—added nutmeg (brilliant!) and more walnuts—but she stuck pretty close to the original, which is one of the variations of Betty’s carrot cake.

In my West Coast home, however, apple cake is not nearly as popular. Max doesn’t eat cake, and Dan doesn’t eat hot fruit. I love both cake and hot fruit, and when I came back to Los Angeles from New York a few weeks ago I had apple cake on the brain. I dug out my mother’s handwritten recipe and got to work.

I altered her recipe mostly by cutting it in half. I knew I was going to be the only one eating this cake, so eating an 8x8 cake is far more tenable than eating a 9x13 cake. Her recipe didn’t specify whether to peel the apples, so I didn’t. (She later told me that this was assumed. I told her if it isn’t written it isn’t assumed.) I futzed with the spices a bit and used Honeycrisp apples instead of Granny Smith. I forgot that there were walnuts in the freezer, so I just left them out. I didn’t really forget the walnuts. I just don’t like walnuts. There. I’ve said it.

The apple cake that I pulled out of the oven was the best apple cake I’ve ever eaten. I don’t make this statement lightly. To make sure I wasn’t being too single minded, I made several other versions of the apple cake—one with walnuts, one with butter and almond extract—and each attempt brought me back to the first apple cake with the unpeeled apples.

Just to make sure I wasn’t getting goofy, I made the first version again. It was just as fine as I had remembered. The Seths enjoy their apple cake with whipped cream; I like a scoop or two of vanilla ice cream. That is, of course, if the apple cake is being eaten as a dessert and not a breakfast food. At breakfast, it’s fine all by itself. You don’t really even need a fork.

Apple Cake
Makes 9 servings
Adapted from Betty Crocker’s Cookbook

I recently baked with raw sugar, and I fell in love with it. If you just have regular granulated sugar, go ahead and use it. I like just a hint of spice here, but if you like more boldy flavored baked goods, please feel free to add more cinnamon or nutmeg. I think a little ground ginger might be nice here, too.

Canola oil spray
¾ cup raw sugar
½ cup canola oil
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 medium, sweet apples (Fuji, Honeycrisp, whatever’s in season), cored and chopped
Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray 8x8 baking pan with canola oil.
2. Beat sugar, oil and eggs with electric mixer on low until blended, about 30 seconds.  Beat in flour, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, nutmeg and vanilla. Fold in chopped apples and cover them with the batter as best as you can. Batter will be very thick—kinda like peanut butter.
3. Scrape batter into prepared pan and bake until golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 30 to 35 minutes.
4. Cool on rack and serve warm or at room temperature. (I like this warm with vanilla ice cream. No, I lurve it warm with vanilla ice cream.) Store remainder of cake in the baking pan, covered, for 2 days. I put this in the fridge, but you don’t have to roll that way if you don’t want to.

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