Sometimes we need reminding

apple cake

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!”)

Lu beansI 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.

chop chop

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.

apple cake

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.

J and cake

Marie-Hélène’s Apple Cake
Adapted variously from David Lebovitz and The Wednesday Chef and Dorie Greenspan’s warm and wonderful book, Around My French Table

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.)

13 thoughts on “Sometimes we need reminding

  1. Yum! This looks great. And quick and easy enough to qualify for the corner I’ve backed myself into which has come to be called “Home Baked Wednesdays” in which I bake a treat for the kids to eat on the way to piano lessons. It started as a kind of penance for making them scramble directly out of school and over to piano with no break at all. It gives us one blessed day when we get home before dark this time of year, and makes my life feel easier. But I felt bad making them hurry so much, so I baked them a treat. Of course, I’ve become so addicted to the look of happy anticipation on my daughter’s face when I pick her up at school, “What did you bring for me, Mama?!?” and to my son saying with a sigh, “Mom, you’re the best.” I can’t stop. But I do have to amass a collection of super quick recipes. This seems like a keeper.

    • Tara this one is definitely a weekday winner. If your kids like apples, they will love this, no matter that they are being rushed around and hurried. Everyone’s needs must be balanced: apple cake can help! (Hope your writing is as prolific as your baking! Press on, lady.)

      • This cake was great! Loved it. My 11 year-old son gobbled it up and asked for seconds. My 8 year-old daughter was less certain. But, in all her life there are only a few food items she’s been completely certain of : pasta, chocolate chip cookies, and mint chocolate chip ice cream. Everything else is somewhat suspect. She did not reject it outright, which is a kind of success.

        Really, I’m so glad to have this recipe because it reminds me of Far Breton, this lovely dessert/brunch dish I used to make ages ago, but which requires a level of planning (chilling batter, cooling fruit, etc.) that I seldom seem manage these days. This apple cake was so quick and easy, but is so kind of elegant, too. Love it. I think it has inspired me to make the Far Breton ( again soon, although I suspect, over the long haul, the apple cake will always be in heavier rotation. It’s just too easy!

        (2600 words today. I’m up to 36,431 so far. On track to reach 50,000 by November 30… fingers crossed!)

        • Tara thanks for letting me know that you made the cake. It IS easy/elegant, and apparently inspiring as well (good luck with the Far Breton) – plus, no outright rejection. Trifecta! :)

          (And – 50,000 words in one month – now there is something inspiring! You go, mama.)

  2. oh, the heartache! Poor mama. Once I was angry at Nico in a way I swore never to be, and he just looked at me and said, “Mami be happy?” My heart broke a little. Next time, CAKE.

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