Sunday, January 9, 2011

Auntie Al's apple cake

This morning, I woke up thinking about apple cake.

It was one of those good wake-up moments, where various good things converged: I'd had a great night's sleep, after several restless ones.  I could tell that it was sunny outside, a welcome change from the recent gray skies. And third, I knew we had no plans for today.

I popped up, leaving the husband to sleep in, stepped over the snoring dog, and tiptoed out to the kitchen. Got the coffee going and set about making my Aunt Alice's apple cake.

Auntie Al, as we all call her, is one of my dad's four sisters. She is in her 80s and lives across the bay from me. She is smart, sensible, and practical to the core. But underneath is a deeply loyal and loving heart. I know this because I have seen it many times in my life. As the husband might say, she has a soft and chewy center underneath her tough, no-nonsense shell. 

Auntie Al has been through a great deal, health-wise, in the last few years. She has persevered and survived, almost as if she just set her mind to it and made it so. She and my Frances have something in common (although I would not tell her this for fear it might offend her to be compared to a dog), which is a relentless spirit. I find the quality incredibly admirable, in part because it's something I'm not sure I possess.

Recently, Auntie Al made a remarkable gesture to me. I was shocked by the overture, and both in the moment and in the days following have found myself experiencing the simultaneous swelling of happiness and sadness that great generosity sometimes elicits in me. I can't explain the feeling any better than that. Perhaps you know it.

In addition to being very generous, Auntie Al is also a excellent baker. Her apple cake is golden-crumbed, sweet, and cinnamony, with just the right amount of crunch to balance out the pillowy cake. It's a classic, and one you should definitely consider adding to your weekend brunch.

Auntie Al's apple cake
Originally from Sunset, 1986

For cake
2 c. flour
1 c. sugar
2 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt
1 large egg
1 c. milk
2 T. vegetable oil
2 large apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced (recipe calls for Golden Delicious, I had Galas on hand)

For topping
1 c. brown sugar
1 t. cinnamon
1/3 c. butter, melted
1/2 c. chopped walnuts (or whatever nut you prefer)

Preheat oven to 350. Butter and flour a 9x13 baking pan.

Whisk dry ingredients together in a large bowl.

In a smaller bowl, beat egg to blend, then whisk in milk and oil. Add to dry ingredients and stir until combined, but don't overmix. Spread batter evenly in pan. Arrange apples in rows on top of batter.

To make the topping, in a small bowl, stir together brown sugar, cinnamon, and butter; distribute evenly over apples. Sprinkle topping with nuts. Bake for 45 minutes, or until the cake begins to pull away from the sides of the pan and a skewer comes out clean. Let cool at least 10 minutes in pan before cutting. Serve warm or at room temperature.


  1. I can almost 'smell' it in my head. Mmmmmmmm

  2. What a lovely tribute to Auntie Al. She does epitomize a great deal of the "soul" of the Jang clan: resiliency, toughness, loyalty, kindness, thriftiness, humor, and a very generous heart. I wish she could read this lovely blog you've dedicated to her. She exemplifies the Jang Family and deserves your sweet praises. Now to try her apple cake one of these days! Jang food prevails! MOM

  3. Yes, a beautiful tribute to your aunt. Makes me think of some of my relatives and their wonderful recipes. It's an opportunity to honor them every time I decide to make one!

  4. What a lovely post. She's so lucky to have an appreciative niece like you!

  5. Aw, sweet post. Your Aunty Al sure sounds like a special lady. And I'm definitely bookmarking her recipe, thanks for sharing it with us.

  6. I've seen quite a few recipes for apple cake lately, but Auntie Al's is far and away the best! Moist and gooey....I love it! Definitely will be making this when the kids come in February.

    I had an Aunt Mar who lived across the street from us when I was a child. I credit her with my love of cooking...she was fabulous. She made the best birthday cakes for all of us. I posted it a while back.

  7. tamilyn: you should make it so you can smell it for real!

    Mom: thanks! You should try this one, it's in the 2nd cookbook.

    DS: Aw, thanks! (Hey, are we getting together soon?)

    jessica: thank you!

    shaz: I hope you try it--it's a keeper.

    Barbara: It is just the right amount of sweet and gooey without being cloying. I'm going to go back and read about your AUnt Mar!

  8. I can tell just by looking at the picture, that that cake is a winner! It looks scrumptious!
    *kisses* HH

  9. What a great post! You're lucky to have an Auntie Al in your life, but you already know that.

    My dad wakes up most days thinking of apple cake. I'm bookmarking to make this for him!

  10. Okay, I'm all about adding that to the weekend brunch. That looks and sounds delicious.

    And I woke up this morning thinking about Neville Chamberlain and space travel. Is that weird? I think apple cake might be more normal. I have weird dreams.

  11. HH: It definitely is!

    oneordinaryday: Oh, you should make this for your dad--he must be an expert on apple cake so I look forward to his review!

    Rich: No, not weird--cool! Everyone's dreams are a little bizarre I think. Enjoy the cake!

  12. Mmm, I can almost smell that cinnamon-apple goodness coming out of the oven. If only, it WERE coming out of MY oven right this minute. Sigh. Looks heavenly.

  13. auntie al sounds like a woman worth knowing! this is an amazing apple cake. as i'm sure you know, most all apple cakes are great, but this one stands out!

  14. CJ: well it doesn't take too long to throw together so you could be eating apple cake very shortly...

    grace: I thought this one might be up your alley though it does lack frosting. :)

  15. Yum, I love a "pillowy" cake. Just had apple cake last night at a restaurant and I've always wanted a good recipe (the last recipe I tried was mouth-parchingly dry). Thanks for posting this!

  16. Connie: You will like this recipe indeed. The cake is perfectly soft...Sigh...wish I had some left.

  17. Yum! I am always looking for new apple recipes in the winter, and I am a sucker for streusel topping.

  18. camille: I do believe the streusel elevates this cake from delicious to divine!

  19. Though I've eaten and enjoyed this cake, I had never made it until this morning. Served it up to my mom and dad after lunch today. Even though my oven slopes, and the cake was crooked, it sure tasted good to us, just like you promised. Thank you HD for inspiring me to make it.

    p.s. my dad printed out a copy of your blog (with comments) and sent it AA. I think she'll enjoy your post!

  20. Tracey: glad you made it! And thanks, UT, if you're reading this, for sharing w/AA.

  21. Lesson learned: not every cake recipe can be made into cupcakes. Wanted to try this but didn't want to make a whole recipe so made a half recipe in muffin tin. They puffed WAY up, overflowing the rims with the streusel oozing out and walnuts falling down. Esthetically, rather a disaster. But flavorwise, still rather yummy! Will share some of the tasty mess with AA. - Pete

  22. Pete: I'm surprised that didn't work. Good to know. Glad to know AA will get some of the delicious (if messy) results!