Apple Snacking Cake

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

It’s the little things.

The other day while video-chatting, a musician friend played me a little tune from Disney’s SOUL; inspired by Music Man’s performance, I snuggled up that evening with the cat and a mug of cocoa to mooch off my roommate’s Disney+ account.

I was not disappointed.

Without spoiling this charming movie, I can say that it makes the every day feel special again, celebrating little things for the little wonders they are. A slice of pizza on a street corner, a musician in the subway, leaves falling against a clear, blue sky.

While the credits rolled, I made a mental list of some of my favorite everyday little wonders:

  • a cat sleeping in your lap,
  • the sound of rain on the window,
  • that first sip of coffee in the morning,
  • fresh sheets,
  • late-night snacks (bonus points for eating over the sink),
  • fuzzy socks,
  • the names of paint colors (“Ooh La La” is a lovely rosy pink),

…and one of my all-time favorite indulgences — eating on the couch.

I suppose to some this may not seem so extravagant — rather the opposite, I’m sure. Growing up, though, my siblings and I weren’t generally encouraged to eat downstairs (though we eventually wore my parents down), so the couch was a strict no-snacking zone.

But occasionally — even before her submission to our popcorn-loving tyranny — my mom would let us have “indoor picnics”: we’d swing by McDonald’s (another treat), spread blankets down on the floor in front of the TV, and settle in to watch a movie.

While I can’t recall a single movie title, I vividly remember how cozy it felt to sit there cross-legged, eating chicken nuggets and dipping fries into a chocolate shake. To this day, that same coziness flickers warmly every time I nestle myself on the couch to eat dinner, or enjoy a slice of a cake, or even just drink a mug of hot tea.

So today, we have a cake for the couch: a moist, tender, gently spiced sponge studded with richly toasted walnuts and bites of tart green apple. The whiskey and espresso powder — though absolutely optional — lend complexity to this otherwise humble cake while removing none of its one-bowl charms.

It also takes almost no time to whip up, so while you debate about which movie to watch (SOUL, anyone?), you can pop this sweetheart in the oven and have delicious, downstairs-friendly dessert before the title sequence has even finished playing.

Mostly Apples Cake (from the brilliant and powerful Yossy Arefi’s Snacking Cakes)

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup (150 grams) dark brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/3 cup (80 milliliters) neutral oil, like canola or grapeseed
  • 1 tablespoon whiskey (optional, but highly recommended)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 generous teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Scant 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg (or 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg)
  • 1/2 teaspoon instant espresso powder (optional, but wonderful)
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (scant if using a saltier brand, like Morton)
  • 1 cup (128 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 small apples, peeled, cored, and chopped into 1/4- to 1/2-inch pieces (about 2 cups; I used 1 + 1/2 peeled Granny Smith apples to get 2 cups diced, but Yossy Arefi suggests any tart baking apple, like Mutsu, Jonathan, or McIntosh, would be delicious and hold up well in the oven)
  • 1/2 cup (50 grams) toasted walnuts, chopped (feel free to sub pecans or hazelnuts, too!)

Protocol:

  1. Position a rack in the center of your oven and preheat the oven to 350 F.
  2. Butter a 9-inch round baking pan and line the bottom with a round of parchment; butter the parchment and lightly flour the whole pan, knocking out any excess. Trust me, taking a few minutes for pan prep is worth it to get your beautiful baked goods out stress-free! Broken bundts make me cry.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk the brown sugar and eggs until pale and foamy, about 1 minute.
  4. Add the oil, whiskey (if using), vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, espresso powder (if using), and salt. Whisk until smooth and emulsified.
  5. Add the flour, baking powder, and baking soda and whisk until well-combined and smooth.
  6. Use a rubber spatula to fold in the apples and 1/4 cup (25 grams, or roughly half) of the nuts.
  7. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and gently smooth the top, making sure the apples are well dispersed and go all the way to the edges of the pan. Tap the pan gently on the counter to release any air bubbles. Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup (25 grams) nuts over the cake.
  8. Bake until puffed and golden and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 30–40 minutes. There may be a bit of moisture on the tester from the apples.
  9. Set the pan on a rack to cool for 15 minutes, then gently turn the cake out of the pan and flip back right-side-up to cool on the rack completely.
  10. Store cake, wrapped tightly, at room temperature, or in the fridge for a couple of days. Best eaten on the couch or sitting cross-legged on a picnic blanket on the floor. (Trust me on this one.)

Happy snacking!

Oh, and one final plug — if you also find it pleasing or comforting to consider little everyday wonders, I’d recommend this heartwarming podcast: Wonderful! An enthusiast podcast featuring Rachel and Griffin McElroy. In each episode, this married duo talks about things they love, giving a quick shout-out to some small wonders before diving into Big Wonders like “movies, television, sports, books, drinks, eats, animals, methods of transportation, cooking implements, types of clothing, places in the world, imaginary places, fictional characters, and fonts, to name a few.”

I particularly liked the episodes featuring pumpernickel bread and the smell of candles when it’s just been blown out.

Happy listening!

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