In 1988, Top Chefs Clark Frasier and Mark Gaier moved across the country fromStarsin San Francisco to open the now widely-renowned Arrows Restaurant in Maine. Their recipes, like those of Chez Panisse, are all timeless classics that, despite being 10 or 20 years old, always feel fresh, inspired, and original.
The plethora of healthy salads and simple meat and fish preparations caught my eye; recipes like Asparagus with Mizuna, Blood Orange Vinaigrette, and Proscuitto; Grilled Tuna with Tomatoes and Gremolata Aioli; and Lemongrass Roasted Chicken. I hadn’t yet come to terms with my extreme squeamishness, and had decided to try cooking proteins beyond just bean and cheese burritos. (The book’s idyllic gardening instructions also helped convince me to try my hand and growing produce, which didn’t work out so well, either.)
Of course, once I got the book home all I could think about in my carb-deprived state was the Super-Moist Apple Cake, rustic and craggy beneath a blanket of cinnamon sugar. The cake earned its title due to the scant cup of heavy cream which got poured over the pre-baked, apple-topped batter.
So I made some sad, diet-appropriate attempt at this cake. I don’t recall what modifications I made beyond using soymilk instead of heavy cream, but the results were neither super nor moist.
When my friend Kelly brought me another bushel of home-grown pink pearl apples last week (thanks, Kelly!), my thoughts returned to the super-moist apple cake, and I gave it another go. I couldn’t resist cutting down the sugar a bit (it called for an awful lot, even for a non-dieting pastry chef immune to the butteriest of recipes), subbing in maple sugar, and swapping in whole spelt flour for some of the white stuff.
The first attempt was tasty, but still needed some tweaking. The recipe called for a 10″ round cake pan, an odd size, so I baked it in my 10″ cast-iron skillet, and it was still so full that it trickled juices onto the oven floor. I got 16 pieces of cake out of it, which is way more cake than most people (even non-dieting butter-philes) generally wish to have around.
So for trial 2, I cut the recipe down by a third, and baked it in a 9″ pan. Since the soft apples and custardy pockets were the best part of the cake, I left those measurements the same, the extra moisture compensating for the reduced sugar in the cake. I also omitted the cinnamon sugar topping to leave the pretty-in-pink apples exposed and their bright flavor intact.
This turned out a much more civilized quantity of cake with ample apples, plenty of moisture from the cream, and bits of custardy goo throughout. Whole spelt flour adds a nubby wheaty-ness that makes this coffee-cake-esque, fitting for a brunch or tea-time snack. The maple sugar adds warmth and earthy sweetness which contrasts beautifully with the lemony-tart apples.
It is indeed a superb, moist apple cake, with bright flavors that are just right for ushering in fall.And, hey, it’s even a little bit healthy.
In the pink:
One year ago:
Two years ago:
Smoky Baba Ganouj (we just polished off a batch of this – so good!)
Super-Moist Pink Pearl Apple Coffee Cake
Adapted quite a bit from The Arrows Cookbook
If you lack pink pearls, substitute any apple you like in its place; gravensteins or pink ladies would be my first choices. I find a T-shaped vegetable peeler the easiest way to peel apples: peel off the upper-and bottom-most ring of skin, then move around the apple removing the peel in downward strips. If you like a bit of spice, add 1/2-1 teaspoon of cinnamon to the sugar in the topping. Maple sugar is a luxury; feel free to use brown or unrefined cane sugar in its place. All ounce measurements are by weight.
Makes one 9″ cake, about 10 servings
4 ounces (1 stick/8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (4 1/2 ounces) maple sugar
2 large eggs at room temperature
1 cup (5 ounces) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (2 1/2 ounces) whole spelt (or whole wheat pastry) flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup whole milk
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
3-4 medium pink pearl apples, peeled, cut off the core, and sliced 1/4″ thick
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream
1/4 cup granulated (organic turbinado) sugar
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350º. Butter a 9″ round cake pan and line the bottom with a circle of parchment paper.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and maple sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3-5 minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time until incorporated.
Meanwhile, sift together the flours, baking powder and salt into a medium bowl. Stir the milk and vanilla together in a small measuring cup.
With the mixer on low, add 1/3 of the dry ingredients, and mix until just combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, and with the mixer on low, add 1/2 of the milk mixture, stirring until just combined. Continue like this until all the ingredients are added, then remove the bowl from the mixer, and give the batter a final turn with a rubber spatula to make sure the batter is homogeneous.
Spread the batter in the prepared pan.Arrange the apple slices in concentric circles over the batter, pressing them into the batter slightly. Pour the cream all over the top, then sprinkle evenly with the sugar.
Bake the cake until a toothpick inserted comes out mostly clean with a few moist crumbs, and the cake is pulling away from the sides of the pan, about 45 minutes. Let cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.
The cake is best the day it has been made, but will keep for a day or two at room temperature in an airtight container. (The high moisture content makes it prone to molding, so store it in the fridge after that.)