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Sometimes I forget about apples. Like during the summer when there’s all sorts of peaches and plums around. And when fall arrives, I pretty much only have eyes for figs, then persimmons. But this fall, I’ve been admiring the apple tree in the neighbors yard, watching the fruit go from green to pink and thinking about how much I want to hop the fence and pick them. So… I actually sent Michael K over one afternoon to do the dirty work. Let me just say that the house has been vacant for a year now and though it might technically be trespassing, I know the old neighbors would have wanted it that way. Plus I hate the idea of good organic produce rotting away on the tree. I’m a forager at heart. Please don’t judge me.
I’ve also been admiring all of the apples in the markets, like the green Gravensteins and the Rome Beauties (pictured above) and the Pink Ladies. All of the rows of apples were just calling out to me one afternoon, I couldn’t really say no. But you can only eat so many apples.
Luckily, having all of those apples reminded me of a recipe that I had bookmarked in Gourmet forever ago – apple upside-down cornmeal cakes. I love the idea of single serving desserts – they’re easy to serve and even easier to give away. This is one of those desserts that I can imagine casually whipping up even after a long day at work, it’s that easy. I ended up making these twice because they weren’t quite right the first time; a little heavy and not quite sweet enough for me. So I added a spoonful of sugar and a little buttermilk – I have this theory that buttermilk makes everything better, which was definitely the case for this recipe.
There is something very comforting about these little cakes; the flavors are really simple, though if you’re big on spice, feel free to add some cinnamon, or a pinch of ginger, or maybe a little ground clove or cardamom. I actually really enjoyed the bright, unadulterated apple flavor, so I went spice-free. The cakes are like a lighter, cakey cornbread muffin smothered in apple goodness. I like to think of them as fall on a plate. They are the perfect ending to a hearty autumn/winter meal. I think they’re kind of great for breakfast too, or as an afternoon snack with a hot cup of tea.
apple upside-down cornmeal cakes
adapted from Gourmet
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon pieces, plus additional for greasing
3 Gala apples, peeled and cored
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
3/4 cup buttermilk
Put oven rack in the upper third of oven and preheat to 425°F. Butter a muffin pan with six extra-large muffin cups. Cut apples into a 1/3-inch dice.
Heat 2 tablespoons butter in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat. When the foam subsides, cook apples, brown sugar, and lemon juice, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is reduced to a glaze and apples are tender, 5 to 6 minutes.
Stir in walnuts and divide apple mixture among muffin cups.
In a food processor, pulse together flour, cornmeal, granulated sugar, baking powder and salt until combined. Add remaining 4 tablespoons of butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal with some small (roughly pea-size) butter lumps ( I did this by hand with a pastry blender).
Whisk together the egg and buttermilk. Pour the liquid into the flour mixture and whisk until just combined.
Divide batter among muffin cups and bake until golden and a wooden pick inserted into center of a cake comes out clean, 15 to 20 minutes. Be careful not to over bake; my first batch were a tad on the dry side.
Run a pairing knife around edge of each cake to loosen. Invert rack over muffin cups then invert cakes onto rack. Be sure to serve warm. And with a dollop of whipped cream.