[From Land's End, October 2013.]
Sun for days, sun for miles. My last Indian Summer in San Francisco for quite awhile and I am soaking it up. If I could run, oh, how I would, but need to give it a few weeks yet. Tonight is Sierra’s three-week birthday already; time, slow down. If there is anything sweeter than a sleeping baby cuddled against you while you drowse on the couch in the mid-day sun I don’t know what it is. It makes all the nights of little sleep so much more than worth it. I’d like to preserve this time in a jar, like so much blackberry jam, like these peaceful sunny moments, to make it last forever.
[Apple cake from Clare, October 2013.]
The urge to cook is still there, yes, underneath the urge to bake (a lemon yogurt cake and a wee recreation of our wedding cake just in the past week), and sometimes I give in to it with scrambled eggs and feta (and bacon for DW), pasta with lots of vegetables, roasted potatoes and cauliflower and baked salmon (baked beans for me), ‘creamed’ chard and caramelized onions, peanut butter buttercream to swipe atop a chocolate cake baked and stuck in the freezer before our girl arrived on the scene. Comfort foods at their best. But we have been blessed by the kindness of friends bringing us dinners in the form of vegetable soups, homemade bread, pesto-potato lasagna, macaroni and cheese, and pizza from Little Star so that even if I want to cook something mildly elaborate it feels a bit self indulgent to do so when the fridge is already stocked. Soon enough.
Last week our friend Clare dropped by bringing homemade dinner, her good company, and an apple cake that we speedily devoured the following mornings with our cups of coffee (these days the singular cup of coffee has become something to look forward to if not with desperation than with not a little greedy anticipation and it is fully savored). I asked her for the recipe because truly it was too good not to share, though when she did and I read through it I had to laugh. It is a very similar recipe to one I wrote up last month for a story I did for NPR about Gravenstein apples (see the apple and butter cake recipe included there) and which was inspired by a cake made on Maryland’s Smith Island and which I wrote about nearly five years ago on this site. October is the month for apples it seems.
In truth, the origins of this cake matter not; what matters is that it is simple, fragrant with apples and cinnamon, and absolutely perfect for the glut of fall fruit that currently is flooding the markets (I will confess it just occurred to me to make this cake with plums during the height of summer and now I will either have to splurge on the last of the season’s harvest or bide my time until next summer to attempt it). Apples in fall, apples in October, apples for love and promise. It is the quintessential just-before winter fruit, crisply delicious and ripe with portent.
As I ate yet another piece and re-read that post about the apple cake written a lifetime ago in 2008, I tumbled down into the rabbit hole of five years past and marveled anew at how life can change so utterly and inextricably– for the good, in this case, though I have a funny nostalgia for that time in my life. I was newly single after many years and spent my hours in rediscovering my solitary pursuits, long runs in the waning afternoon sun, and exploring recipes old and new (and then writing about them). I do not wish for that time again – no, not at all! – but it’s fall, you see, and fall always makes me reminisce. I would not trade that time, so full of alone-hours that were rarely lonely, for my present reality, but I do look back on it with a certain amount of fondness nonetheless. All things happen for a reason, perhaps, and I think a bit of time on one’s own is never a bad thing. At the very least it makes you appreciate the together-time all the more, whenever it comes.
Meanwhile: apple cake. We finished the last bit days ago and so perhaps it is time for another round (with plums? with ginger? though really it’s perfect as-is.). I have snatches of time in between the baby napping, and what better way to direct my efforts than into baking? ’tis apple season, after all, and I must take full advantage.
I’ve left Clare’s notes as she wrote them to me here; I’d trust her judgment as her cake as she gave it to use was utterly lovely. For a richer version, see the apple cake recipe in my NPR piece linked above; it’s made with butter and more vanilla and is quite delicious, too.
Makes 10 servings
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup oil (I use canola)
1/3 cup orange juice (I squeezed 1 large orange)
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 teaspoons rum or brandy (I used almond extract)
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons baking powder
2 or more apples
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
6 tablespoons sugar
chopped nuts, optional (I scattered sliced almonds on top)
Grease tube pan, heat oven to 350 F.
Mix batter (I put ingredients in the mixer bowl and mix until blended and then about another 30 seconds, not too long don’t want the cake to be tough) and let sit while you peel and cut up the apples. Mix apples with cinnamon & sugar. (I reduced the sugar by 1/2 but didn’t reduce the cinnamon but I think I should have).
Add batter and apples alternately, begin with batter and end with apples (batter-apples-batter-apples). Sprinkle nuts across the top of the final layer of apples if using.
Bake 1 1/4 – 1 1/2 hours, until a tester inserted comes out clean. Remove from oven and cool in pan 15 minutes, then turn out onto a rack to cool completely. May serve slightly warm or at room temperature.