I asked the apple merchant for another,
jaunty as Cezanne’s still-life reds and yellows,
having more life than stillness, telling us, 
uncut, unpeeled, they are not for the feast
but for themselves, and building strength to fly
at any moment, leap from a skewed bowl,
whirl in the air and roll off a tilted table. 
-Grace Shulman (“Apples“)

After weeks of teasing us, fall has finally announced itself: the air has turned crisp, the days have grown shorter and, at night, I now find myself reaching for pink wooly socks. If I ever have any doubts about nature’s signals, all I have to do is look at the contents of my CSA box–squash, grapes and apples–and I encounter tangible proof of the season.

This is the calmest fall I’ve experienced in some time, and although I do long for busier and fuller days, I also relish the opportunity to take everything slowly for a change. Why, after all, hurtle into a season when you can mosey along with your nose in a book (for those interested in such things, The Cuckoo’s Calling is as fun as it gets)? 

To me, fall has always been about savoring things, whether a cup of spiced tea on a chilly afternoon or the first bite of an apple that finally, after months of feeling like apples had mutated and taken on the texture and flavor of cardboard, tastes like an apple should: sweet, crunchy and tart.

I love that moment when you know you can get good apples again; there’s such pleasure in choosing the kind, too. I’m convinced there’s an apple for every mood–sweet and staid Galas, refreshingly tart Pink Ladies or shiny red and green McIntoshes that speak to an easy elegance? Although I try to buy different varieties, I usually gravitate towards the Pink Ladies, enjoying their bite.

While my favorite way to eat an apple has always been to get out the jar of peanut butter and a tablespoon (the dog, in fact, is so accustomed to this afternoon ritual that she comes running when she hears me preparing my our snack) and to combine two of my ultimate snack foods, this fall there’s something strange in the air. After a lifetime of craving rich things like peanut butter and chocolate and cake and finding any way to make them a part of my daily routine, this fall I’m suddenly finding myself in a strange position: all I seem to want is fruity desserts. I don’t know why or when this happened, but ever since we bought some pears and roasted them with brown butter and maple syrup (Melissa Clark’s Cook this Now was our guide; if you have this book, really, make these now), I’ve been craving sweets that showcase fruit. There’s been a raspberry, pear and apple crumble (made with the leftover topping from these muffins), a real stunner made of grapes and coconut that I never even imagined was a possibility (coming soon) and German apple cake (apfelkuchen)

Clearly, there’s something about October that makes me crave German baked goods (in a past life, I think I might have been a pink cheeked and rotund German baker who lived for the craft), but who can blame me? They’re often simple, buttery (or, I suppose, yeasted) confections that feature fruit and spices; in short, they’re ideal for fall. And I felt this more than ever when I stumbled upon an old post on Honey & Jam about a German Apple Cake (Hannah, the voice behind the blog, had adapted the recipe from the lovely Rustic Fruit Desserts). I was immediately drawn to both its simplicity and its afternoon snack potential: apples are nestled into a buttery batter speckled with lemon zest, sugar is sprinkled on top and the cake bakes in 40 minutes. In a way, it doesn’t get any easier than this. I should mention, however, that as much as I appreciated the sound and look of this pretty and elegant cake as it was presented on Honey & Jam, I wanted not only more spice, but also the taste of apples in each and every bite.
To achieve this, I diced the cored apples instead of thinly slicing or scoring them with fork; in the realm of spice, I also decided that, rather than go for the standard combination of apples and cinnamon, I wanted to rely more heavily on nutmeg with cinnamon playing only a supporting role. I also, rather than sprinkle the top of the cake with two tablespoons of turbinado sugar, used one tablespoon of natural cane sugar and used about two teaspoons of crystallized ginger that was cut into tiny bits and pieces. The result of all these changes: a beautifully golden and richly spiced cake that captured the season. Even better, this cake is neither too sweet, nor too moist; it’s reliably flavorful and hearty–just as its German roots promise.

German Apple Cake

Adapted from Honey & Jam
Serves 8-10

For the cake:
about 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, for greasing the pan
1 cup (5 ounces/120 grams) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 cup (4 ounces) unsalted butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
zest and juice of 1 Meyer Lemon (reserve juice to keep apples from turning brown)
2 eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the apples:
2 apples (preferably, Pink Lady or McIntosh or your own seasonal favorite), peeled, cored and diced
one to two shakes of a jar of cinnamon
1 teaspoon natural cane sugar

For the top of the cake
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 tablespoon natural cane sugar
2 teaspoons finely chopped crystallized ginger

-Preheat the oven to 350 F.
-Butter a 9-inch round cake pan.
-Peel the apples and core them. Then, dice them and set aside in a bowl. To prevent browning, pour the lemon juice over the apples and stir.  At this stage, I sprinkled a little cinnamon (one to two shakes of the spice jar) and 1 teaspoon natural cane sugar over the apples. Stir again and set aside (the spices will look clumped together, but don’t worry. Once baked, it won’t matter and will instead provide nice pockets of spice).
-Whisk flour, baking powder and sea salt in a bowl.
-Using a handheld mixer with beater or a standing mixer with a paddle attachment, cream the butter, sugar and lemon zest on medium-high until light and fluffy (3-5 minutes).
-Then, add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the dies of the bowl after each addition. Stir in the vanilla.
-Add the flour mixture and mix on low speed until just incorporated. Using a spatula, fold a few times to make sure no flour rests at the bottom of the bowl. Then, pour the batter into the prepared cake pan.
-Arrange the diced and lightly spiced and sugared apples around the cake in (rough) concentric circles.
-Then, sprinkle the grated nutmeg, chopped crystallized ginger and natural cane sugar over the top of the cake.
-Bake for 40 minutes or until the cake is lightly golden and a toothpick or cake tester comes out clean.
-Let cool on a rack for an hour before attempting to move the cake. The cake will keep at room temperature for up to 4 days. Enjoy as a snack, although I should tell you that the cake makes for an equally good breakfast, too.

6 thoughts on “Apples in October

  1. Oh, yum! I agree, there is an apple for every mood! We love Ambrosias and Auroras, and we have been lucky enough to find them here. However, I also love Honeycrisp and Pink Ladies, and I would not turn my nose up at a Gala either. I am an equal opportunity eater!

  2. Autumn is the best, just as its apples are. This is a beautiful post with photos so luscious my stomach is growling. Nutmeg is at the top of my list of favorite spices, and seeing the bottle from Oaktown Spice Shop has reminded me of yet another great place nearby. Thanks for this celebration of the season and all its scrumptious-ness!

  3. I am all about equal opportunity apple eating! 🙂 In fact, I'm super excited because this weekend we are finally going apple picking!!! We found an orchard that allows dogs, so this fantasy (3 years and going strong) is finally going to come true. I wonder what kind of local gems I'm going to find?

    P.S. I saw Steve at Ici this week!! 🙂

  4. Moriah, hello; it's so nice to hear your voice! And thank you for your kind words (I had fun baking this cake; it's a new fall favorite). They mean a lot, especially coming from a Baking Queen and maker/photographer of scrumptious treats such as yourself. 🙂

    I need to go back to the Oaktown Spice Shop soon; I'm running low on a few essentials and I'm hoping to add a few new things to my collection. But there's no fear of running out of nutmeg in the near future, even though I've been adding a liberal amount to all kinds of things these days.

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