Finally, finally, fall is truly here. We’ve turned on the heaters, we’ve put on our sweaters, and baked goods are emerging from the oven.
Without a doubt, this apple cake is not only the best thing I’ve baked so far this fall, but one of the best things I’ve ever baked: big chunks of flavorful apples in a dense, moist, lightly spiced cake, with a sweet and crunchy topping of nuts and brown sugar. It’s so good I made a second one within a week of finishing the first.
But I’ve gotten ahead of myself. I was talking about fall. Ours came late this year, with temperatures reaching into the mid-80s until October 15. (Historical average highs in the second week of October in Albuquerque are 70 to 73 degrees.) To be fair, there was a week in there where temps hovered in the low- to mid-70s, and fortunately the two days that our favorite orchard was open this year fell in that week.
Yeah, you read that right. Our beloved Manzano Mountain Retreat apple store was open for only two days this year. That’s better than no days, which seems to happen more often than not. If there’s a cold snap in the spring, no apples. A fire that gets too close and overheats the little buds? No apples. (Luckily their income comes from the retreat, not the apple store.) So we cheered and marked our calendars and zoomed up into the Manzanos, arriving within 15 minutes of the apple store’s season opening. (My mom got there before the doors opened.) The place was packed. The lines were long. The apples were small and hail-pocked. And everyone was so glad to be there.
We stuffed ourselves with sample apples before settling on a 10-pound bag of tiny, delicious Galas – so much better than the ones in the grocery store or even the Co-op – and almost 20 pounds of other apples: Liberties and Maxspurs and Gold Rushes and itsy-bitsy, hard, scrumptious little Granny Smiths. I had to stand in line for Idareds, which really are one of the best cooking apples imaginable. We stood in line, paid, loaded up the car, and then spent the rest of the gorgeous, cloudy morning at the Quarai mission ruins.
Home again, home again, with 30 pounds of apples. What do two people do with 30 pounds of apples?
I really wanted to make an apple cake, so I scoured the internet for recipes. Most of the ones I came up with that looked good included cream cheese. I didn’t have any cream cheese. But I did have some really top-notch sour cream. (Super Natural organic sour cream is incredible.) I also didn’t feel like softening any butter, so I wanted to make an oil cake. I searched and found a five-star recipe on Food.com that looked like what I wanted. I made it with a few minor changes, including taking the nuts out of the batter and changing the nuts in the topping from walnuts to pecans. (I don’t know why anyone uses walnuts for anything when there are pecans in the world, but that’s just me.)
The cake went together pretty quickly – the most labor was peeling and chopping apples – and came out of the oven dark brown and gorgeous. I managed to wait until it was cool (not easy, because it smelled like heaven). Then I drizzled it with a simple glaze – not much, though more than the original recipe called for – and dug in.
This cake is scrumptious: fine-grained, deliciously scented cake with plenty of apple. (Some of the recipes I looked at called for just one cup of apple! That’s barely an apple cake at all.) Wonderfully, it doesn’t dry out when stored – instead it just gets better and better, moister and spicier every day, for at least four days, which is how long it’s lasted in our two-person household. It’s as good for breakfast as for dessert. I think it would be amazing brushed with applejack or brandy – though that might make it less breakfast-worthy. In any case, it’s absolutely perfect for fall. I wouldn’t pass up a slice in any season, though.