Posted by Stephanie Simpson on
Apple history reads a bit like a soap opera. Or maybe science fiction, crossed with a war drama.
At supermarkets and produce stands around the world, apple varieties native to Australia, New Zealand, America and Japan jockey for a bigger slice of the proverbial pie, for market share, for the title of Such and Such Country’s Favourite Eating Apple or Best Ever Baking Apple.
New varieties, bred by universities and agricultural departments for dominance and stamped with trademarks, take on the old guard, beating out their parent varieties in popularity. Apples with names like Lady Hamilton and Barnack Beauty fall to the Pink Ladies and Galas, descendants of the great Golden Delicious. It’s all very dramatic.
This weekend, I got it in my head that I would experiment.
I found a recipe that was almost all fruit: a behemoth six-apple cake made with just enough of a vanilla-custardy batter to hold the pieces of fruit together (fruit disguised as dessert, really). I gathered up six sturdy varieties, and plopped each one into its own little section of the pan, cousins and competitors side by side.
The idea was to conduct a very official taste test to determine which varieties won out. But shortly after I took the cake out of the pan, I forgot what was where and the experiment died. So, now, all I can say is that the apples were different. Some were soft and mellow, others more firm and tart, others somewhere in between.
But the best bites, they were at the borders where varieties mixed. The contrast between kinds made the cake more interesting, bringing out the qualities of each apple that much more.
Whether you have access to one variety of apple or a dozen, the cake is worth making for its simplicity and tastiness – it’s a bit like bread pudding, only easier. But if you can, get your hands on a few crisp varieties and mix them up before you drop them in the pan, in the name of deliciousness and reconciliation.
Six-variety Apple Cake
Adapted from smittenkitchen.com
Note: If you can’t get your hands on a variety of apples, opt for the Granny Smith – a bright green variety discovered in Australia over 150 years ago by a woman who was indeed named Smith. It’s tartness and sturdiness are a perfect match for a long turn in the oven.
6 large, crisp apples of different varieties (Granny Smiths, Cripps Pink, Braeburn, etc.)
3 eggs, preferably organic
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/8-1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tbsp icing (confectioner’s) sugar
1. Position your oven rack in the centre of the oven, and preheat to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line the base of a 9-inch springform pan with parchment, then grease the pan and the parchment.
2. Peel and core your apples, then cut them into 1/2-inch cubes. (Cut your apples in half, cut the halves into 4-6 slices, then cut the slices into your cubes. Easy!). Drop your apples into the springform pan and pat them down until they’re roughly even.
3. In a medium bowl, whisk (or beat) together your eggs and sugar until the mixture is thick and creamy, 3-4 minutes. Whisk in the vanilla. Stir in the flour with a wooden spoon just until the batter is smooth (don’t overmix!).
4. Pour the batter evenly overtop the apples, smoothing the batter with a spatula. Gently shake the pan to help the batter sink into the spaces between the apples. When you’re done, the batter should be about even with the apples.
5. Bake the cake for 50-60 minutes, or until the top of the cake is brown and a knife/toothpick inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. (Update 02/18/2014: I heard from a friend that in her cool-running oven, the cake took quite a bit longer than 60 minutes to bake through. If your oven runs cool too, prepare to tack on some extra baking time!)
6. Run a knife gently around the edge of the cake, then let it rest in the pan on a cooling rack for 10 minutes. Remove the sides of the pan, and carefully transfer the cake off of the base and parchment and onto the rack to rest for 10 minutes more (a spatula will help here). (Alternatively, you can flip the cake onto a plate to remove the base and parchment, then flip it back onto the rack.)
7. Dust the top of the cake with cinnamon and the icing sugar and serve. The cake is quite sticky, so it’s best eaten day-of. Leftover cake can be stored, covered, for a couple of days.