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
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)
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.