Food & Drink

Ditch the spices and try this simple apple cake recipe

Soft notes of butter and vanilla let apple flavors shine through in this cake. Serve with a dollop of rich creme fraiche
Soft notes of butter and vanilla let apple flavors shine through in this cake. Serve with a dollop of rich creme fraiche. (Lisa Williams photos)
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Baking apple desserts is one of my annual traditions. It began when I lived in the fruit belt of southwest Michigan and continued here in Iowa where we are so lucky to have really good apple orchards.

I’m sorry that some of our local apple trees were destroyed by the derecho. You can plant a new crop of vegetables next spring, but it takes years of watering, pruning and loving care to bring forth fruit.

There’s so much emotion wrapped up in apples. The season coincides with all the warm fuzzies of autumn: back to school, cooler weather and family gatherings.

Most of my apple baking shows up in the form of cakes, generally well spiced with the usual suspects of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves and allspice in varying combinations.

It’s hard to find an apple dessert that doesn’t use a warm spice or two. I don’t know if we suppose apples are too bland and therefore need spicy assistance, or what. But if you travel to France, you’ll find desserts where apples stand alone.

A number of years ago, as I was exploring new recipes, I discovered some recipes that didn’t call for spices. My internal monologue thought I should add a little something, but I refrained, and it was a revelation. Unmasked by spices, the apple’s subtle but complex flavors can be appreciated.

With that in mind, I want to share a very simple and homey apple cake from France. It comes via author Dorie Greenspan, who featured this buttery vanilla-scented cake in her 2010 cookbook, Around My French Table.

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The second recipe is for apple molasses, one of my annual traditions. You slowly cook down a half gallon of apple cider until it’s the consistency of syrup. Drizzle on toast, add to hot tea or muddle in a cocktail. It’s tart and sweet and 100 percent homemade apple goodness.

Simple Apple Cake

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

Pinch of salt

4 large apples (if you can, choose 4 different kinds)

2 large eggs

3/4 cup sugar

1 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

4 ounces (1 stick) butter, melted and cooled

Position rack in the middle of oven. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Generously butter an 8 or 9-inch springform pan and place it on a baking sheet.

Peel, core and chop apples into small, 1-inch pieces.

Whisk flour, baking powder and salt in a small bowl.

In a medium bowl, whisk eggs until they are foamy. Add sugar, vanilla and almond extracts and mix together.

Stir in half the flour mixture and then half the melted butter, stirring between each addition. Then incorporate the rest of the flour, then the butter, until combined. Gently stir in the apple chunks.

With a spatula, scrape batter into springform pan and smooth top. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until lightly golden on top and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

Source: Adapted from Dorie Greenspan, “Around My French Table,” 2010

Apple Molasses

One half-gallon jug of apple cider

Put cider in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Bring to boil over medium high heat, then reduce to a good simmer. Let simmer until reduced. Stir occasionally, being careful not to let it burn. It will gradually thicken. When there’s about one cup left, remove from heat and pour into a jar. Place in refrigerator. It will thicken to the consistency of molasses upon refrigeration. Yield: about one cup.

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