Last Friday, we received a record snowfall. Our poisson d’avril. And by April 2nd, Bangor had welcomed 14.4 inches of snow onto the ground, on my roof, and in trees that couldn’t stand the weight. It was wet, wet snow.
We had been away in Vermont for the week, and chose to prolong our time away to avoid the snow. It worked – by the time we came back to town, much of this wet, wet snow had melt, melted away. And following yesterday’s substantial rainfall, the lawn is once again down to the grass. The crocuses, snowdrops, and Scilla siberica that were crushed by the snow have been newly exposed to light and are again growing upright. The first leaves of tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and other such creatures have begun to venture above the soil. And every day, watching these changes, I am filled with delight.
I don’t mind if it snows, rains or suns, because with each type of weather comes a fresh wave of inspiration that I appropriate for baking. This past weekend found me in a post-snowfall mood, looking to use up some apples.
These weren’t just any apples. They were apples that I scored a sweet deal on, thanks to the nearby grocery store’s dedication to maintaining a discounted produce section. Unblemished tomatoes, near-rotting strawberries, an unripened pear, perfect looking tomatillos – all of these, and much more, have found their way into my shopping bag, and nothing has cost over $1.50. The apples were another such find: 6 for $1.30, or some such nonsense. And while they had a few bruises, they looked just right for a spiced apple bundt cake.
I considered a few recipes. My cake pan selection is limited, and I therefore like to gauge my recipe choice based on what pan I can fit my batter into (without much left over). My choices are: two 9″ round pans, one 10″ round with removable bottom pan, one 8″ convertible pan that leaks, one Bûche de Noël pan, or my lovely 10-cup Nordic Ware Platinum Cathedral Bundt Pan.
I was about to abandon existing recipes in favor of making up my own, when I stumbled across David Lebovitz’s reprint of Maria Helm Sinskey’s recipe for spiced apple cake. Originally created for a 12-cup bundt pan, David found success despite his meager 10-cup pan. This sounded right up my alley, so Maria’s recipe it was.
As with my previous tea cake, this one tasted better a day or two after baking. The cake was really nicely spiced, with a hefty amount of fresh-grated nutmeg, as well as a generous portion of cinnamon, and lesser doses of cloves, and allspice (my addition). I used less nutmeg than the recipe originally called for, because 1/2 of a teaspoon of fresh nutmeg is a heck of a lot of flavor. I didn’t measure the amount that I used, as I grated straight into my flour bowl, but it was likely closer to 1/4 of a teaspoon.
To get back on track with the recipe, I stuck with the (optional) ingredient addition of chopped dates. I had an aging tub of Deglet Noors that were looking for some love, so they got the heave-ho into the batter. I’m not a huge fan of Deglet Noor dates. I suppose they are okay, but I know that there are much better varieties out there. If only I had thought to go looking for them while I was most recently in Boston.
David’s tasting notes were that the cake was not very sweet, but I would disagree with that. I can only think that the apples I used were not as tart as his. He suggested a glaze or cream cheese frosting for those feeling the need for MORE SUGAR!, but I was as content as he was with a dusting of powdered sugar.
I thought this was a really excellent cake. If a mixed-media, fun-shaped, enticingly-pleasant-smelling treasure trove of flavor is something that calls your name (shortly after record-breaking snowfalls, perhaps?), then this cake is for you.
Makes 1 bundt cake
*Note:* This recipe calls for a 12-cup bundt pan. I successfully used a 10-c. pan without any overflow, but I did place a sheet pan underneath the bundt pan in the chance that it would, indeed, grow too tall for its bundt-based britches.
2 tbsp. butter
4 firm (or not) medium-size baking apples, peeled, cored, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
2 tbsp. sugar
12 tbsp. unsalted butter, room temperature
1 3/4 c. sugar
4 eggs, room temperature
2 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 c. pitted, chopped dates
3 c. flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. fresh-grated nutmeg
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. ground allspice
1 c. buttermilk (or plain yogurt)
Powdered sugar, for dusting
Melt 2 tbsp. of butter in a large skillet and sauté the apples over medium-high heat until the turn golden brown, stirring them as little as possible as they cook.
Once cooked through, add the 2 tbsp. of sugar and cook until the apples cubes are nicely glazed. (In the original recipe, Maria mentioned to cook them until all the liquid had evaporated. I didn’t have any liquid to speak of, so it depends on your apples. Listen to your apples.) When glazed to perfection, transfer apples to a plate and cool to room temperature.
Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter+flour a 12-c. or 10-c. bundt pan, tapping out any excess flour.
Beat the 12 tbsp. of unsalted butter with the sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, then the vanilla.
In a small bowl, toss the dates, if using, with about a tablespoon of the flour to separate them.
In a medium bowl, sift together the remaining flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves.
Stir half of the dry ingredients into the creamed butter mixture, then mix in the buttermilk (or yogurt). Stir in the remaining dry ingredients until almost completely mixed.
Fold in the cooked apples, and dates. Scrape the batter into the prepared bundt pan and bake for 45 minutes (or 60 minutes at 10 degrees higher than suggested if your oven is as offbeat as mine), or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out mostly clean (keeping in mind that you may come across some apple or date chunks).
Let the cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn the cake out onto a cooling rack. Once cool, dust with powdered sugar.