Forget all those other apple recipes you’ve been thinking about trying. I’m sharing with you the best apple recipe that ever was. It’s the perfect amount of caramel-y, brown sugar-y, fall sweetness, cushioning bite-sized pieces of apple in a light spice cake. I make it every year to put a small dent in my apple hoard. And even though it seems like this cake will be too much to eat, we consume every bite, lick our plates, and run our fingers around the edges of the cake pan to capture every last crumb.
I think the best chefs create recipes that showcase the essence of a flavor. Maria Hines at Tilth in Seattle comes to mind with a carrot soup that tastes more carrot than any carrot you’ve chomped. Likewise Scott Peacock, formerly of Watershed, in Atlanta develops recipes that capture the flavor pure and simple of the south. I worked under Scott for one formative summer at Watershed. He is a larger than life personality, spending every day doing 3 hours of meticulous prep listening to Ricky Martin’s La Vida Loca on repeat at full volume while downing pitchers of iced tea. His recipes pack all the flavor of the South into simple recipes that turn out well every time you make them. And I value every lesson I’ve learned from him.
Some lessons I’ve learned from Scott Peacock:
- Use vegetable oil instead of butter to make cakes lighter with a nice moist crumb (exhibit A this cake. Exhibit B his Very Good Chocolate Cake which lives up to its name)
- Make whipped cream by hand; that way you can control how much air to whip into it and stop before it starts to get too stiff. The ratio of 1 cup cream to 2 tablespoons sugar and 2 teaspoons vanilla is a standby.
- For heavier cakes (i.e. not an angel food cake), once the batter is poured into the pan, drop it from a few inches above the counter onto the counter a few times to knock out air bubbles
- Always freshly grate nutmeg; it’s a versatile spice that can enhance the flavor not only of baked goods but also savory foods including soup, best to get the freshest flavor profile.
- Make your own baking powder to avoid the metallic flavor you often find in baked goods; sift together ¼ cup cream of tartar and 2 tablespoons baking soda and keep in a tight sealing jar for up to 6 weeks.
- Life is better when you turn the music up loud and enjoy cooking.
I’m excited to share this recipe from Scott Peacock’s Southern Cooking. Scott is one of the best chefs I know, and this recipe is no exception. It wraps bite-sized pieces of sweet apple, in a delicate spicy crumb and tops it all off with a dangerously delicious caramel sauce. You’ll eat every last bite, I promise you. This cake is easy to prepare and can be stirred by hand.
Quantity: One 9 x 13 sheet cake
Time to Prepare: 1.5 hours (1 hour and 15 minutes baking, 15 minutes prep)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup light brown sugar
1 ½ cups vegetable oil
3 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg freshly ground
½ teaspoon salt
5 fresh apples (I would use a softer kind that will melt a little say Granny Smith or Jonagold) peeled, cored, and diced into ½ inch pieces
1 ¼ cups not-too-finely chopped pecans
2 ¼ teaspoons vanilla extract.
4 tablespoons unsalted butter (½ a stick)
¼ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup light brown sugar
pinch of salt
½ cup heavy cream
Butter and flour a 9 by 13 inch baking pan. Preheat the over to 325° F.
Sift together the dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt) into a bowl. Peel and dice the apples and set aside.
Mix the sugars and vegetable oil in a mixing bowl until well blended. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition and scrapping down the sides of the bowl. Gradually add the flour mix and stir just until well blended. Make sure to scoop up from the bottom of the bowl to capture any pockets of dry ingredients. Stir in the vanilla, apples, and pecans. Pour into the prepared pan.
Bake in the middle of the preheated over until a skewer or toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean (about 1 hour and 15 minutes). Start checking at 50 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool in the pan while you prepare the glaze. DO NOT try to take this cake out of the pan too early or it will break into pieces.
To make the glaze, melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium low heat. Add both the sugars and salt and stir until blended. Cook over medium low heat for 2 minutes. Stir in the heavy cream and boil for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat.
Use a toothpick to poke holes at intervals on the top of the cake. Pour the warm glaze over the surface. Serve warm or at room temperature.
- I’ve had problems with this portion of the recipe before and recommend you cook for a little longer or remove the glaze from heat and see if it’s thickening up properly. If not, return and cook for a little bit longer. The glaze should be slightly thickened and a nice, dark caramel color.
- For easier clean up, place the cake on a rack in a cookie sheet to pour the glaze. That way you can capture and lick up all the extra glaze too.