Fall Apple Cake

Fall Apple Cake

A few years ago, my sister gave me a subscription to the Canal House series. Released about 3 times a year, it is a softbound cookbook that arrives on my doorstep, full of beautiful photos and yummy rustic recipes.  Because the books arrive so infrequently, I tend to completely forget they might be coming, until one day I arrive home to a surprise. The way the authors cook is so ideal to me – simple foods, a deep appreciation of good Irish butter, and always a chapter devoted to classic cocktails. The authors, Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirsheimer, both worked at Saveur magazine and now spend their days near a river in Delaware and cook delicious food together. Dream. Job.

I also love the way the write their recipes, often folding ingredients and measurements into the narrative, making the dish seem more like an idea than a strict code to follow. Some of their stuff is almost too simple (smear good Irish butter on cracker, top with anchovy, eat) but I love their ideas and I love the simplicity.

One recipe I’ve always intended to make, and earmarked a good while ago, was an autumn apple cake that looked just so pretty. Sliced apples created a pinwheel pattern on the top, and the milky batter had filled in the gaps around them, puffing then crisping up between the fruit. The batter was simple but the effect is pretty show stopping. I brought the dessert over to my parent’s house for dinner and felt proud that it looked bakery worthy. While we didn’t eat apple cake specifically growing up, the cake itself felt very Italian.  It is the perfect thing to eat with a strong espresso in the afternoon, or breakfast even. It’s not dry per say (that sounds bad, and this is good), but it holds its shape well, had a wonderful crumb, and is very very delicious.

Apple Cake
From The Canal House Cooking Volume No. 7 by Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirsheimer

Couple of notes: The original recipe calls for Golden Delicious apples. And while who am I to defy the former editor of Saveur, I felt that they would be a little too sweet and flat here. So I went to Bi Rite, asked for their finest baking apple, took them home and promptly forgot the name. But I think anything would work here, as long as it will hold its shape. Secondly, I worried when my cake did not have the deep golden hue the picture promised, so I cautiously turned up the broiler just until the apples and cake top had gotten that caramel color.

  • 6 tablespoons butter, at room temperature, plus more for the pan
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups flour, plus more for the pan
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1/2 cup milk, preferably whole
  • Grated zest of 2 small lemons, preferably organic
  • 2 to 3 Golden Delicious apples, peeled, cored, and thickly sliced
  • Confectioners’ sugar (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour a 9-inch springform pan.

Beat the butter in a large bowl with an electric mixer until creamy. Gradually add 3/4 cup granulated sugar and beat until fluffy. Beat in the egg. Add the vanilla and mix to combine.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Gradually add the flour to the butter mixture in 3 additions, alternating with the milk, beating well after each addition. Stir in the zest. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the surface with a spatula.

Arrange the apple slices in a circle on top of the batter, starting at the edge of the pan and standing them on end with the narrow point in the batter, then fill in the center with as many slices as you can fit. The apples should be quite close together and cover most of the batter. Sprinkle the remaining 2 tablespoons granulated sugar over the apples.

Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the cake (not the apples) comes out clean. (If your cake is done, but is still a bit pale, this is when to turn on the broiler – but be very careful here not to burn!).  Place the pan on a wire rack, remove the outer ring, and allow the cake to cool.