This is literally the first cake in the book, and you could do worse than choose it to be the first one you make. Everyone likes apple, right? Apples are tasty and all-American, even if this is cake instead of pie. And it's easy, too--#1 on the Quick-and-Easy list. I'm afraid I'm going to work my way through the quick-and-easies and end up where I have five cakes left to bake and they're all killers. But this isn't a killer at all.
It was apple season even in the grocery store; although I didn't get to an apple orchard, there were lots of local apples at Lunds. I was pretty sure I'd end up choosing Honey Crisp, and indeed I did. The Macouns that people from the east coast are so fond of aren't available here. When I was at Martha's Vineyard, I was briefly excited when our host pointed out a big bowl of apples and said that some were Macouns. At last, I thought! I'll be able to see what the fuss is all about. But when I asked her which ones were Macouns, she said she didn't know. I ate an apple, which may or may not have been a Macoun.
Rose even gives instructions on how to most efficiently cut apple slices. She recommends using a melon baller on a halved apple, cutting each half in half, and cutting each quarter into three slices. I couldn't find my melon baller, which is not surprising. What's surprising is that I have a melon baller. Slices or square pieces of melon are just fine with me. So I did it the way my mom taught me.
This recipe requires toasting walnuts, but not rubbing the skins off. I don't know why some recipes demand skinless walnuts and others don't, but that's one of my least favorite steps, so I'm glad that this cake is less fussy than some others I could name.
The apples are sliced and sugared before the batter is made--you can do this up to one and one half hours before making the rest of the cake, and at least a half-hour before, but it doesn't get a "Plan Ahead" label. So you can just try to fill in a few words in the Saturday crossword while the apples are giving up their juices.
The Saturday crossword always makes me feel stupid. I go through the entire puzzle and I'm lucky if I know three or four words. Somehow I almost always end up completing it, but usually not until the afternoon. I hear that there are people who can do even the Saturday crossword in fifteen minutes. I'm glad I don't know any of them.
My nerve failed me a little bit in the next part, where you boil a mixture of the apple juices, brown sugar, and butter until the mixture is "bubbling thickly and deep amber in color."
I was afraid it would burn, and it looked deep amber to me, but if I'd let it boil for just 30 more seconds, I think I would have gotten a deeper caramel flavor.
Are you thinking I should have put the walnuts on first? That's what I thought, but I read the recipe again, looking for the instructions to scatter the walnuts on the sugar mixture. It turns out you don't do that until the cake is done, probably so the walnuts, which have already been toasted, don't get too brown. Jim is on red alert when he sees a bowl of some ingredient that's not been used. Ever since I forgot to add some key ingredient and then blamed Jim for not telling me about it, he's been on the lookout. But he's too polite to say, "You idiot! You forgot to add a key ingredient again!" So he said, "Umm, just wondering....do the walnuts go in the batter or on top?" I said they went on top but not until the cake was done. "You just think I forgot them, don't you?" I said in an accusatory tone. He admitted that was sort of true. But even I realize I can't yell at him for failing to remind him and then yell at him for reminding me. So I didn't yell, or even snarl.
Batter gets plopped on the apples. This is satisfying for some reason.
The cake was done after 35 minutes. When I use the convection setting, I can almost always count on the least recommended time. If I don't use convection, it takes longer. I know I should have a thermometer, but I don't.
The hold-your-breath moment comes when you have to turn the cake upside down and then carefully lift the pan off the cake. You know it's not going to be good when Rose tells you what to do if the apple slices stick to the pan. In fact, a few of them did, but it was nothing to ease them back into place.
When you start breathing again, you can scatter the walnuts on top.
Serving is easy, because it looks pretty either without whipped cream:
or with (mine is just plain whipped cream, not the bourbon whipped cream in the recipe, because I don't like bourbon):
There's a peach upside-down cake variation, which replaces walnuts and vanilla with almonds and almond extract, but peach season is over. I'd like to try it sometime--maybe when I finish this project and can bake something just because I feel like it. I can't really complain about being forced to bake this cake, however; it's a reach, moist sour cream cake with a good appley taste. A lovely dessert for a fall evening.
Doug: "Much better than my mother used to make, but then she wasn't a very good cook." (Talk about damning with faint praise).
Laurel: "The walnuts are critical."
Mary: "I love the apples--what kind are they? The cake is so moist too."
Jan: "I liked it both ways, [with and without whipped cream], but "with" was best."
Jim: "It smelled really good when it was cooking, and it tastes great."
Karen: "I taste a kind of toffeeish flavor. It's really good."