This week I was swept up by the Zeitgeist. I did something I never thought I’d do: I bought an iPhone. And, let me tell you, this gadget just might change my life. It is awesome.
My purchase got me thinking about Apple, which in turn got me thinking about apples. In my mind, everything comes back to food.
As luck would have it, we are in peak apple season, and the farmer’s market is teeming with them: Honeycrisps, Galas, Cortlands, Cameos, each seemingly tastier than the next.
All of the varieties above are great for eating out of hand. For baking in cakes and muffins, my favorites are Rome, Cortland, Golden Delicious and Winesap. I will use Granny Smith too, but I find that Granny Smith are a little too tart these days. But they are perfectly suitable for baking.
McIntosh, Fuji and Gravenstein apples make wonderful applesauce, and Golden Delicious, Pink Lady and Northern Spy are great in pies. For pies, I try to use a variety to make the flavor more interesting. You can find more information on what apples to use for what purpose here.
In the fall, you will often find spice cakes and apples paired together, and the combination is one of my favorites — when it’s done right. I find that a lot of recipes out there use way too much spice, drowning the flavor of the apple.
That’s why I love the two recipes below. There’s enough spice to warm up the flavor and scream “Autumn!” but not so much that you feel like you’re eating a mouthful of cinnamon and cloves.
When you use the right amount, the aromatic compounds in spices like cinnamon and allspice actually enhance the sweetness of fruits like apples. If I had more time, I could explain why (it probably has something to do with the phenols in the spices and the esters in the apples), but alas, the day is only so long.
So even though these apple cakes probably won’t change your life like some other Apple products, I think you’ll find they will, nonetheless, make your life a little sweeter.
Applesauce Spice Bars
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking from My Home to Yours
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup light brown sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon brandy (you could also use applejack or rum)
1 baking apple, peeled, cored and diced
1/2 cup plump golden raisins
1/2 cup toasted, chopped pecans (optional)
For the glaze:
2 1/2 tablespoons heavy cream
1/3 cup light brown sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9 x 13 inch pan and line the bottom with parchment paper. Butter the paper, and dust the entire pan with a thin coating of flour.
In a small bowl, mix together the first six ingredients. Place the butter in a larger microwaveable bowl and microwave in 30 intervals until the butter is completely melted. Add the brown sugar to the butter, whisking vigorously until the mixture is smooth. Add the eggs, one at a time, whisking well after each addition. Add the applesauce, vanilla and brandy, stirring until the mixture is smooth. Fold in the dry ingredients until only a trace of flour is visible, then fold in the diced apple, raisins and pecans (if using).
Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 23-25 minutes, until the bars begin to pull away from the side of the pan and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow the cake to cool in the pan while you make the glaze.
Place the cream, brown sugar, butter and corn syrup in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat slightly and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla.
Turn the bars out of the pan onto a rack. Peel off the parchment paper, and then re-invert the bars so that they are right-side up. Place the parchment paper under the bars to catch any drips, then pour the glaze over top and spread with a spatula. Let bars cool completely before cutting into 32 pieces.
Yield: 32 bars
Spiced Apple and Sour Cream Cake
Adapted from Kate Zuckerman’s The Sweet Life
Note: Kate recommends serving this warm for brunch, and I couldn’t agree more. In fact, I probably wouldn’t recommend serving this for an after-dinner dessert, but its wonderfully light texture and irresistibly crunchy top make it perfect for brunch or tea. Also, Kate recommends sauteing the apples with butter and sugar, but I don’t think that made much of a difference and added an unnecessary step. I would just macerate them in the sugar, as I’ve written below.
2 baking apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1/4-inch dice
2 tablespoons sugar
1 3/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
12 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
1 cup packed light brown sugar
4 egg yolks, at room temperature
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sour cream
1/4 cup raw sugar (demerara, coarse or crystal), or granulated sugar, for the topping
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter or oil an 8-inch springform pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.
Toss the diced apples and sugar together in a bowl and set aside. In a separate bowl, mix together the dry ingredients (the flour through the nutmeg).
Place the butter in a large bowl and beat on medium speed for 1 minute. Add the sugar and beat on medium-high speed until the mixture is fluffy and almost beige in color, 6-8 minutes. Stop the mixer occasionally to scrape down the sides of bowl. Add the egg yolks one at a time, beating well after each addition. When the eggs are fully incorporated, the batter should look smooth and glossy.
Add half the flour mixture to the butter mixture, mixing on low speed until all the flour has disappeared. Add the sour cream all at once and mix until all the sour cream is incorporated. Using a rubber spatula, fold the remaining dry ingredients into the batter. Then mix on slow speed for about 1 minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix for a final 30 seconds. The batter will be thick.
Fold the apples into the batter, and scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Take a knife and run it around the batter in a circular motion, 1-inch from the edge of the pan (Kate says this will help the cake rise evenly). Sprinkle the coarse sugar over the top of the cake. Bake until a tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, about 60 minutes (you may want to start checking around the 50 minute mark). Allow the cake to cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then remove the sides and serve warm or at room temperature.