Monday, October 29, 2012

Fall in Love...with a cake!


It’s that glorious time of year again! The flannel sheets are on, the moccasin slippers are out, the teakettle is on heavy rotation, and squashes are all over our house. 


As the temperature drops, our kitchen heats up. I’ve slowcooked chickpeasroasted butternut squash, baked sweet potatoes, pureed potato soup, baked a beet tart with from-scratch pâte brisée, and—finally!—it was time for a cake. I’ve been dancing around Seattle for a couple of weeks, drunk with love for leaves on wet pavement, boots with tights, and a fresh coat of snow on the Cascades. I wanted the cake to fit right in with my giddy autumnal lovefest.


This is our zoo! 
Oh look, Lee laughs at hippos!
Lovely houseguests Justin and Amanda gave me a great book that is right up my alley: All Cakes Considered—a cake cookbook from NPR producer Melissa Gray. I happen to think her writing style is similar to mine, which is to say I think she is hilarious. I spent the better part of my Saturday caffeine buzz reading this book—and I really do mean reading it. She includes anecdotes of cake history, personal family stories, and insight into familiar NPR personalities’ preferences for cake. (Michele Norris won’t eat coconut but loves the bittersweet chocolate frosted layer cake. Steve Inskeep loves butterscotch!) When I saw the list of ingredients for a fresh apple cake, I knew this cake would fit right in among the pomegranates and sugar pie pumpkins in the kitchen.
The fresh apple cake reminds me of my favorite chilly-weather dessert—the oatmeal cake. They both have a substantial dose of cinnamon, and—my favorite component—a buttermilk glaze barely boiled on the stovetop and then poured over the still-hot cake. This cake is heartier than the oatmeal cake, thanks to all-purpose flour, coconut, and pecans. Now, I know a few of you just made your dubious face and said, “SARA? COCONUT? That Seattle weather must be cultivating moss in her brain. She doesn’t eat coconut!” and you’re right. I don’t eat coconut…usually. It is, in fact, on a very short list of Foods I Do Not Eat documented on our kitchen chalkboard. But I put on my big girl pants, and I threw the shredded coconut in the food processor and until it was in teeny tiny pieces, and then I threw in the pecans and ground it all a little more. Now, I know those same people are saying, “PECANS! Sara only eats pure, unadulterated cake! There is no room for nuts in her cake!” and you’re right. I don’t eat nuts in cake…usually. But what can I say? Things change, people mature, amazing cakes come along and knock your boots (and tights) right off.



Fresh Apple Cake with Buttermilk Glaze
Adapted from All Cakes Considered, from a Paula Deen recipe
Cake: 
Butter, for greasing pan, or cooking spray with flour
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
1/4 cup orange juice
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3 cups peeled and finely chopped apples (I used Fuji and was really happy with them)
1 cup shredded coconut
1 cup pecans

Sauce:
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Generously grease two 9 x 2 round pans. Do not use a Bundt pan! Yes, they are beautiful, but you want this cake to be flat to soak up the glaze.

If you’re scared of coconuts and pecans in your cake like I used to be, process the coconut in a food processor until finely chopped. Add pecans, and process until well chopped, depending on your taste.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, use a fork to whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and sugar. Add the eggs, oil, orange juice, and vanilla extract all together! Starting your mixer on low (That’s important. Ask my cake-batter shirt.), mix well, gradually increasing the speed to medium. Turn off the mixer. Fold apples, coconut, and pecans into batter.
Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake until a tester comes out clean, about 45 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through baking.

Shortly before the cake is done, begin melting the butter in a saucepan. As soon as the cake is done, gently poke a lot of slits through the cake with a serrated knife. (Gently! This is not the time to get out your aggression, or you will tear your beautiful cake apart into an ugly, sad mess.) By this time, your butter should be melted, so stir in the sugar, buttermilk, and baking soda. Bring it all to a rolling boil, stirring constantly, and boil for 1 minute. Pour the sauce over the hot cake in the pan. Let the stand 1 hour, then turn out onto a rack to cool completely. Then cuddle up in your fluffiest socks, light your favorite candle, and eat this cake and fall in love with fall a little more.