Lucas’s friend Kazumi has reintroduced him to edamame. Having been reminded, he now loves it almost as much as he loves her; his hand moves so fast from table to mouth to bowl that I feel dizzy trying to photograph him. He is fully focused, intent on eating every last bean pod on the table in front of him, apparently with the world record for speed eating soy in his sights. He pauses only twice, once to wave me away when my camera comes to close (“Stop it Mommy!”) and once to reaffirm that these edamame are his, and his alone. (“I eat ALL the beans, Mommy. I eat them ALL. You don’t eat any my beans!”)
I give up trying to take a picture of his rapid-progress de-beaning of the pods, and grab my own lunch so I can join him at the table. Please don’t judge me when I tell you that my lunch was cake. Actually, it was mostly apples. But, you know. In a cake.
Jacob and I made this cake together, and if I can admit to cake for lunch I guess I can also tell you that it started out as an apology of sorts, an attempt by me to make things right after I had pretty much ruined his cookie making the day before. I won’t go into gory details, other than to say I really needed him to listen to me, so much so that I myself stopped listening all together. When I tucked him in that night, he said “I love you Mommy, no matter what. Even when you do things I don’t like, like make me so sad about the cookies, I still love you more than anything.” This actually, physically made my heart hurt. Heartache. Yes.
So. We were trying again together, a recipe that was much less finicky and had many more parts for him to do himself. Actually, he did all the parts himself. If you are trying to bake with a five year old, I’d like to remind you: try and find a recipe where they can do all the things. I promise it will save you on cleanup, since it will necessarily be a simple recipe. I can’t promise that it will also save you on heartache.
But I can tell you that it just might.
It seems that once again, Luisa has led me to a genius cake recipe right in my own backyard. I actually made this cake when David Lebovitz posted about it. That was before I owned Dorie’s book. Today I do own her book, but until yesterday I had forgotten about this cake. Having been reminded, I can’t believe I ever forgot. I’ll blame my forgetfulness on the baby I had a couple months after David told me about the cake. (That baby is now 2.5, and a big fan.)
As Luisa points out, this cake is actually hardly a recipe, really – but in that, it is genius. You can make the batter in a bowl with a whisk (or have your newly-minted five year old do it) and it feels so easy that you barely notice it – like pancake batter, or crepes. But then, as you start to smell it baking, you pause in surprise and think ah, something wonderful is happening here. It is.
The cake is far more apple than crumb, and the apples are perfect – juicy-tender and smooth, some almost custardy, but all with their definite and essential apple-ness still intact. This is an APPLE cake; it is mostly apples (so many!) but also it is not transforming them into something other. It is definitely not making them wholly into cake. It is something like apple surrounded by cake, actually, but I don’t want to give the impression that there is a huge divide between the parts, because part of the magic is the way that all of it goes “supple” (perfect word, Luisa) and almost custardy – the apples and the crumb, both, together. But also separate. (Can’t you just see why Jacob got frustrated with me?)
The smell (and ensuing flavor) of this cake is delicate and almost ethereal; this is not a down-home cinnamon-fired apple-dessert smell, it is something both more straightforward (it smells like apple) and more nuanced (there is the lacy sweetness of caramelized edges, the wisp of vanilla, the sugar-butter-baking smell that always makes Lucas perk up and ask, “Cake?”).
I think I can admit here that immediately after we made this, we all had it for afternoon snack. I had another sliver after the boys were in bed. There may have been another bit shared for breakfast, and we all had it for snack again this afternoon. When Kyle got home tonight he called the last quarter-plus of the cake “a piece” and that was the end of it. For now. But I’ve got my sights set on apples.
Two notes: the original recipe calls for rum, Luisa used bourbon, and I went with an extra helping of vanilla and milk. We also cut the sugar down, to a generous 1/2 cup from the original 3/4 cup.
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
4 large apples (we used five medium, a mix of Sundowners and Pink Ladies)
2 large eggs
Generous 1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons whole milk
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
8 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
Center a rack in the oven and preheat it to 350 F. Butter very well and flour, or line with parchment paper, an 8-inch cake pan.
Core the apples, and cut them into 1- to 2-inch chunks. (Per the recipe, you can peel the apples; per me, you can leave the peels on and get some lovely delicate pink tones and an added helping of vitamins in your cake.)
Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in small bowl. In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs until they are foamy. Add the sugar and whisk for another minute or two, until well blended. Whisk the milk and vanilla in to the egg-sugar mixture, then add half the flour mixture to the bowl. Whisk gently until incorporated, then add half the melted butter (whisk) followed by the rest of the flour (whisk) and then the remaining butter (whisk). Continue whisking gently until you have a very smooth batter.
Carefully fold in the apples with a rubber spatula, so that each apple piece is coated with batter. Scrape everything into your prepared pan, and even the top.
Bake for 50 to 60 minutes. The top of the cake should be golden brown and a knife inserted deep into the center should come out clean. The cake may pull away from the sides of the pan, especially if you aren’t using the parchment.
Transfer to a cooling rack and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes, then carefully remove from the pan. Let the cake cool completely on the rack; this is by far best served at room temperature. This cake is really perfectly creamy on its own, but if you’re going dinner party style instead of after school snacking it, crème fraîche will make you look like a boss.
This cake will keep for about two days (ha!) at room temperature. Don’t wrap it (it’s too moist); just put it on a plate or cakestand once it’s cool, and cover it with an overturned mixing bowl. (Or per Luisa, keep a bit of cling wrap pressed only to the cut edges to keep them from drying out.)