Posts tagged #apple cake

Waste not, want not: a late harvest cake (apples, pears and grapes)

I wanted a plum cake. A plum and almond cake to be exact. But alas, plums are no more. At least, not until next year. What I love about plums in a cake is how juicy and tart and gleefully pink they become when they are baked. Their incarnation as fresh specimens never really measures up to the soft, puckery deliciousness of baked plums. But as the song goes, if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.

So I turned to apples. I needed to bake a birthday cake for a friend, but it was to be for a breakfast celebration, and gobs of frosting did not call out to me. Anyway, I have veered away from sweet desserts. Maybe it is because of all those past years eating pecan pie or crème caramel for breakfast as an early morning pastry chef, but my hankering for sweets has dwindled over time.

I had a mystery jar of finely chopped almonds with sugar and cinnamon in my cupboard. I had pears that were perfectly ripe and wouldn’t last another day. I had grapes. I had too many apples. That sounded like a cake to me. This was definitely a by-the-seat-of-your-pants affair. I threw it together and crossed my fingers. Success. Then I baked it again for you, just for you. This time I measured everything so you can make it too.

In the end, it is not too sweet. Have it for breakfast even if it’s not your birthday. Or eat it in the afternoon for tea. With whipped cream, it will even suffice for the end of dinner with friends. Who gets to eat homemade cake these days, anyway? It will keep for a day, snugly wrapped in foil. I suggest re-warming it in the oven (300 degrees) for about ten minutes. Oh, and for next time, I have this recipe ready when plums come back to visit. In the meantime, waste not, want not.

Late harvest almond and apple cake

Makes 1 nine-inch cake

1 large apple, peeled and thickly sliced

1 large or 2 small pears, thickly sliced (no need to peel)

1 cup grapes

1 cup all purpose flour

1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup whole, unblanched almonds

3/4 cup organic cane or granulated sugar, divided

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 stick (4 ounces, 8 tablespoons) unsalted butter

3 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees F, and arrange a rack in the middle position. Line a 9-inch cake pan with a removable rim with parchment. (No need butter the sides of the pan.) Prepare the fruit.

2. Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a bowl.

3. Combine the almonds, 1/4 cup of the cane sugar, and the cinnamon in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Process until finely ground.

4. Stir 1/2 cup of the ground almonds into the flour. Reserve the rest for the top of the cake.

5. Beat the butter and the remaining 1/2 cup sugar together in a mixing bowl (with beaters or in a stand mixer on medium speed) for 3 minutes, or until fluffy. On medium speed, beat in the eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl between each addition. Stir in the vanilla and almond extracts.

6. Add the dry ingredients to the bowl and mix on low speed until combined. Beat for a few seconds on medium speed until the batter is smooth. Spread evenly in the prepared pan with the back of a spoon. The batter will be thick.

7. Arrange the apples and pears alternately in a circular pattern over the top of the cake. Distribute the grapes over the top. Squeeze the lemon juice over the fruit. Sprinkle with 4 tablespoons of the cinnamon almond mixture. (If you have some leftover, save it for sprinkling on your morning toast.)

8. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until a toothpick poked into the center of the cake emerges with clean and the top is golden. Let the cake cool on a rack for about 10 minutes. Slide a knife around the edge of the pan. Release the sides and cool for another 10 minutes or so if you want to serve the cake right away. It will keep for at least one more day covered with foil. 

Cooking Lesson: How to make a parchment circle

1. Cut a piece of parchment that will fit over the bottom of the pan (it will probably be a rectangle.)

2. Fold the lower right hand corner up to meet the top edge of the rectangle. Cut along the edge to make a square.

3. Fold the triangle a few times to make a cone shape.

4. Hold the cone over the pan with the point centered in the middle.

5. Cut strait across the cone and open it up. Voila!

Posted on October 28, 2012 and filed under Breakfast, Cakes, Fall recipes, Sweets, Winter food, How To.

Gingerbread upside down cake with apples and bourbon cream

I don’t like letting go of summer. The light closes in too early, and I’m pre-mourning the cold, raw days ahead. Somebody please slap me.

There are way too many things we can do nothing about, and the longer I live, the longer the list. The weather is one of them. I’m a spring and summer girl—maybe because I was born in June, just as the promise of light and warm days ahead peaks. Or maybe it’s because I’m a morning person. I love the feeling of the day stretching out ahead, not yet squandered. That’s what early summer feels like to me. So I grumble a little more than I should when the air turns chilly, and I leave you fall and winter people to revel in the change of season.

Letting go is hard, and it’s a daily process that doesn’t quit. You’ve got to take out the trash every single day, and I’m not talking about the kitchen garbage. But there are consolations: taking what today brings and leaving yesterday behind has its rewards. And if you struggle to appreciate them, there are consolations to help you get over the hump. 


Like cake.

Any cake would do, but this one sweetens the deal with its dark, warm spices and sugary brown apples on top. It should be served warm, preferably with bourbon whipped cream, an idea I borrowed from Molly O’Neill. Molly made her cake with grated fresh ginger, apple butter, and warm apples on top. The recipe here is an old favorite of mine. I’ll be serving it with Molly’s bourbon cream, while I wait for her to share her recipe. And no, I am not going to sit around and wait for spring. That would be a particularly futile kind of torture. I’m vowing to inhale each day as it comes. Wish me luck.

You can turn the oven on now.

Upside-down gingerbread with apples

Make 1 9-inch square cake


2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for the pan

4 tablespoons brown sugar

2 Granny Smith apples or other firm cooking apples, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch thick slices

1. Heat the oven to 350° degrees. Butter a 9-inch square pan and line the bottom with parchment paper. Butter the paper and sprinkle 2 tablespoons brown sugar over the bottom.

2. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat,. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons brown sugar and stir until the mixture bubbles. Add the apples to the pan, and turn the heat to medium-high. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 4 minutes, or until the apples are lightly caramelized but still hold their shape. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside to cool.

3. Arrange the apple slices in one layer in the bottom of the pan, with the darkest side down.


1 1/4 cups flour

2 teaspoons ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/2 cup light or dark brown sugar

2 eggs

1/3 cup molasses

1/4 cup coffee, at room temperature

1. Whisk the flour, ginger, cloves, cinnamon, baking powder, salt, and baking soda in a bowl until blended.

2. Beat the butter and brown sugar in an electric mixer on medium speed,  until smooth. Beat in the eggs one at a time.

3. With the mixer on low speed, beat in the molasses and coffee and mix to blend.

Add the flour mixture, and continue to beat on low speed, until the batter is smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl often with a rubber spatula.

4. Distribute large spoonfuls of batter over the apples. Use the back of the spoon to spread the batter evenly in the pan, taking care not to disturb the apples. Bake for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Remove the pan from the oven and let rest for 2 minutes.

5. Run a knife around the edge of the pan. Invert a plate on top of the cake. Use oven mitts to grasp both the plate and the pan with two hands. Flip the cake over and allow it to drop onto the plate. Peel off the parchment paper.

6. When cooled slightly, cut the cake into squares and serve with Bourbon whipped cream if you like.


Be careful not to overwhip the cream. The best way to do this is to beat it just until soft, floppy peaks form, then finish beating by hand with a wire whisk. The cream should be soft, not too thick or stiff.

1 cup heavy cream

1 tablespoon sugar, or to taste

1 tablespoon Bourbon, or to taste

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Beat the cream and sugar together until soft peaks form (do not whip all the way.) Add the bourbon and vanilla, and whisk briefly by hand with a wire whisk until blended.

Posted on October 6, 2012 and filed under Cakes, Fall recipes, Sweets, Winter food.

The apple doesn't fall (too) far from the tree: Grandmother's apple cake

Grandmother’s apple cake was probably the only dessert my mother ever baked. I vaguely remember her cursing over piecrust, but can’t recall the pie. Probably because the cursing, from the lips of a woman who might threaten to wash your mouth out with soap for saying "sheesh," made such an impression that other details slipped away.

I used to tease my mom that the domestic gene skipped a generation. If slogan t-shirts had been invented when we were kids, Mom would have worn the one that said, “I’d rather be painting.” Let’s just say my mother was born too soon. She was a gifted painter and sculptor saddled with four children because that was what was expected of her. She wore her wifely and motherly duties, especially cooking, like a ball and chain. A very heavy ball and chain.

Grandmother, on the other hand, took an interest in cooking. As I have mentioned from time to time on this blog, Grandmother (never Granny, Grandma, or Gran) had her shortcomings in the empathy department for her fellow humans, most notably her children, but she possessed powerful instincts when it came to food. With help from a cook and a nanny when her five children were young, Grandmother carried her motherly duties a lot more lightly than my mom did. Yet she, too, had her priorities. Her t-shirt would have said, “I’d rather be playing bridge.”

Perhaps a preoccupation with social life drove my grandmother’s interest in food. Or perhaps for her, as for me, food simply held a fascination. To glean some insights into what might have made her tick, I recently pulled a few of her cookbooks off the shelf. She had a habit of scrawling recipes and comments in the columns, on the back pages, on the book flaps, and just about anywhere there was space. Many of them were recipes from friends or from her sisters: Dolly D’Aloia’s thumbprint cookies, Twinnies’ chocolate fudge, Emma’s Icing. Somehow they all sounded familiar.

My Grandmother with admirers

Then I realized the same recipes appear in my mother’s recipe box, carefully copied. Though she took little pleasure in cooking, my mother occasionally relished recreating dishes from her childhood, particularly sweets. And she, too, took up the habit of writing in her cookbooks.

Grandmother inscribed one book, Lowney’s cookbook, produced by the makers of cocoa and chocolates, with her name, date, and the words “My first cookbook.” I imagine how pristine it once was, and how excited and grown up she must have felt to embark on her new cooking adventure.  After more than a lifetime of use, it has lost its binding and the pages crumble each time I open it. The stains, faded scribbles and notes tend to congregate in the dessert section. The once blank pages are filled with recipes jotted down with lists of ingredients, no instructions: Aunt Livia’s Cottage Pudding, Molasses Layer Cake, Hot Milk Sponge Cake, Lillian's Candy. A testament to the way food and cooking connect us.

One significant discovery I made in Grandmother’s books was an entry for ‘Mother’s Apple Cake’. My mom always referred to it as Grandmother’s apple cake, and I simply assumed that the grandmother in question was my mother’s mother, my grandmother. So after this revelation, I asked my mom about it. “Yes,” she said, “that was my grandmother’s cake. We kids used to sneak into the kitchen for a slice on Sundays when we visited. They expected it, so there were usually two or three cakes cooling on the table.”

Something came over my mother when she spoke of that cake, that kitchen, that time. She had just finished showing me a photo album that my grandmother had made for her. As we looked at the album she sighed and said, “I guess my mother did love me after all. She made me this album, with pictures of me.” My mother—who is now in the looking-back stage of life—never felt particularly loved by my grandmother. Yet she recalls her childhood with happiness, surrounded by family, filled with Sunday dinners, and the constant ebb and flow of cousins, aunts and uncles. And apple cake, always the warm, inviting apple cake.

My Aunt Mary, Mom, and Uncle Billy

Mom, age 12 or 13

The cake part of this cake is not very rich; it is just an excuse to pile on the apples and end up with slices of cinnamon apple goodness. It is quick and easy enough to make for breakfast on the weekend, or anytime you need a fast apple fix. Plums, peaches and pears are welcome here, too.

Grandmother’s apple cake

Make one 9-inch cake 

For the cake:

1 cup all purpose flour

1/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 /8 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, thinly sliced

1/4 cup milk

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 apples, peeled, cored and cut in 3/8-inch thick slices

For the topping:

3 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 tablespoon butter

1. Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Butter a 9 by 2-inch round cake pan. Dust the pan with flour and tap out the excess.

2. Whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt together in a bowl.

3. With your fingers, crumble the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles coarse meal.

4. Beat the milk, egg and vanilla together with a fork until combined. Add it to the flour mixture and stir just until combined. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Spread it evenly in the pan with the back of a spoon.

5. Starting at the outside edge, arrange the apples in a circular pattern over the cake, overlapping them slightly.

6. For the topping: Mix the sugar and cinnamon together in small bowl. Sprinkle it over the apples and dot with butter. Bake for 25 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean when withdrawn.

6. Cool the cake in the pan. Cut in wedges and serve warm.

Posted on September 24, 2011 and filed under Breakfast, Cakes, Sweets.