Alliteration at it’s finest, ladies & gentlemen. My 7th & 8th grade English teacher Mrs. Clarey would be proud. Shamefully ‘apple cake’ doesn’t start with an ‘s.’ Anyway, even though I’ve shown you the cake… first let’s tackle the easiest of the four: Spode.
Like, right now.
See? Those plates. They’re Spode “Cowslip” pattern bread & butter dishes, or appetizer dishes. I got them for less than $2.00 a piece (actually closer to a buck a piece) in a thrift store, and according to Replacements.com that’s quite a good deal. I should’ve bought the whole dinnerware set, but they were asking a bit much considering there was quite a lot of it missing. Regardless, I’m happy with my four little plates- dating from December 1950, according to the marks on the bottom (D50). Since the pattern was only started in the 1940’s and discontinued by 1972 that’s pretty cool.
I just love me some cute little plates for serving desserts or snacks. Or cake.
Cake! Apple cake!
It’s officially autumn now. Crazy, right? I just posted about nectarines a few days ago & today I’m getting all “hey it’s fall” on your ass with some apples. But see, let me explain (which will bring me to the second two: sadness & sickness).
When I’m filled with overwhelming despair, general sadness or lack of faith or hope or whatever, I find I want to channel that feeling into something. If I wallow around, mopey & sad, without doing anything then I’m just wasting time feeling sorry for myself. Instead I could be chopping, sautéing, dicing, mixing, baking, canning. Sometimes you do need to crawl under the covers for awhile, but then you have to come out. Eventually. When my mother was sick, that’s when I started cooking & baking (& blogging). When my grandmother died a few years later, I made just about every type of pickle you can make. Then I moved on to jams. Then jellies. Then I started on the baking. It’s just how I handle things; when I was younger, I’d throw myself into drawing, painting or sketching something (with music playing at a very high decibel). But times have changed. My drafting table sits in storage & all my art supplies are boxed up in a gigantic Rubbermaid bin waiting to be set free when I have a spare minute & a spare room to set them up them in. Nowadays, graphic design using a mouse & various Adobe programs is the most art I do, outside the kitchen of course. So yes, when I’m upset, I like to keep my hands & mind busy creating something.
I tend to do it in the kitchen.
And so, one cool September day I was feeling particularly low; the shank split on my engagement ring so I couldn’t wear it & my jeweler wasn’t open, we were in the middle of a home renovation & boxes were piled everywhere, Jay wasn’t feeling well & neither was I (I had a slight fever myself)… & I was generally feeling like death warmed up- both emotionally and physically. I decided to just bake something. Something simple. Old fashioned. Easy. But pretty.
I was going to make an apple pie, since I had a variety of beautiful fresh apples. Then I thought maybe I’d make some fried apple mini-pies. But I had no pie crust dough in my fridge ready to go & I was feeling too lousy/depressed/pick an adjective to make some. Pie crust isn’t really soothing to make, as opposed to beating eggs with sugar & adding vanilla. It’s far too stressful to make a decent pie crust as opposed to a simple coffee cake. So I decided on the next best thing to apple pie: apple cake.
Apple cake is a popular German/Dutch dessert. I’ve also seen Norwegian & French versions, however the versions I’m familiar with are either German or Dutch. This is a bastardized version, however; just a simple vanilla flavored coffee cake with apples & hazelnuts on top. Voilà. Ach du Lieber. De rekening, alstublieft. All of that. And it’s very, very easy. And pretty to look at. Even better… it’s delicious. Especially with a dollop of homemade whipped cream or vanilla ice cream (with or without the beans).
The hazelnuts toast in the oven as the cake cooks, and the apples soften & leak moisture into the dense “coffee cake”-type batter. And that middle apple layer? It almost disappears right into the cake. This also makes a good breakfast cake, if you’re into that kinda thing. And why wouldn’t you be?
APPLE CAKE WITH HAZELNUTS
- 4 apples (I used a mix of four different apples, all good for baking: Jonathan, Granny Smith, Fuji & Gala)
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) plus two tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
- 3/4 cup plus granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
- 2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup whole milk
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 1/2 – 2 cups chopped hazelnuts (or almonds, or walnuts)
- Line an 8″ x 8″ x 2″-inch baking pan with a piece of parchment. You want a bit of overhang so it’s easy to remove your cake later. Get your apples washed & ready. You won’t be peeling all of them yet, because you don’t want them to brown. Set them aside for now.
- Preheat the oven to 325° degrees F. In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, cinnamon & salt.
- In a larger bowl, cream butter and sugars together until fluffy. Add egg, and beat until combined.
- Add vanilla extract to the milk in a glass measuring cup and alternate adding the flour mixture and the milk mixture to the creamed butter mixture three times, starting with and ending with the flour. Set aside.
- Pour HALF of the cake batter into the pan, spreading it evenly & tapping the pan lightly on the counter. It’s a thick batter so you’ll have to give it some help.
- Peel, core & coarsely chop ONE apple. Make the pieces on the larger side; not too small. Add the chopped apple on top of the batter in the pan. Don’t stir it, just sprinkle it on top. Then pour the other half of the batter over the apple. Smooth it & tap it again- it’ll be difficult, but it’s okay if some apples peek through.
- Peel the remaining apples & cut them into halves or thirds (depending how big/small they are), removing the cores. Slice each piece into half-slices, from the outside where the peel would be down towards the core- but DO NOT CUT ALL THE WAY THROUGH. You want a “butterfly” or “fan” effect (see photos).* Place the apples on top of the batter in any way you like, and then sprinkle the hazelnuts around them.
- Bake until the cake springs back when touched, about 45-55 minutes or until a toothpick poked into an area with NO APPLES comes out clean (depends on the type of pan- glass or metal, & your oven; keep testing with a toothpick every 5 minutes after 35). Cool for about 10 minutes, then gently lift out to cool on a wire rack. Serve while still slightly warm with homemade whipped cream… or vanilla ice cream.
* If you see the apples beginning to brown, toss them with a tablespoon of lemon juice in a bowl
So I baked. I took pictures to prove it (just in case it “disappeared”).
Then I went back to bed, got under the covers with a cup of hot tea with milk & honey, cried, felt sorry for myself & lamented the fact that I was sad/I didn’t feel well. Because yes, sometimes you do have to just feel sorry for yourself. And yes, okay… baking doesn’t fix the issue at hand. It can’t make your problems go away, it can’t cure an illness, heal wounds or stop time. It can’t bring back the dead. It can’t perform magic. It can’t prevent tomorrow from bringing bad news nor can it make tomorrow bring good news. And it can’t stop your 80-year old antique platinum ring from splitting… nor can it fix it when it does.
But it helps. It helps to make something with all that negative or sad energy.
And then when you’re feeling better? There’s something comforting to eat.
To me, thats win-win.