apple graham coffee cake

Hey rhubarb! Where you at?

This is the pressing matter at the moment. Maybe I’m mistaken, but I swear there is usually rhubarb at the farmer’s market this time of the year. But I’ve been checking every week. And nada. No rhubarb is an indication to me that it’s not really spring yet. And this makes me yearn for springtime even more. Oh well. Hopefully I’ll have some rhurbarb deliciousness to share with you in the not-too-distant future.

In the meantime, I’m doing a bit of spring cleaning over here. I recently took an inventory of my pantry and have come to realize that I have a lot of flour. Like a lot. Some of it is leftover from past experiments. And then there is some that I’ve been hoarding for future projects. It’s a little bit out of control, so I’m making a point to use what I have before I buy anything else.

Enter Good to the Grain. This lovely book has been sitting on my shelf for quite some time, waiting patiently for a little attention. It’s full of recipes that call for flours other than your run of the mill all-purpose variety. Since there is a whole chapter devoted to whole wheat flour, I decided it was time to finally crack open the package of graham flour that I’ve been holding onto. And since I had apples on hand, it seemed the only thing to do was make this apple graham coffee cake.

I’m a sucker for apple cakes. There is something so simple, even humble about an apple cake. Apples, cinnamon, sugar, flour, you get the picture. I was pleasantly surprised by this particular apple cake; I have to admit that I get a bit nervous when whole wheat flour is involved. I live in fear of heavy masses of dry, flavorless dough. But this cake is exactly the opposite – it is incredibly moist with a light crumb and bit of a rustic feel from the coarse graham flour. And the caramelized apples baked into the surface of the cake are just perfect, tender and sticky with cinnamon and sugar. Not only will this cake satisfy your sweet tooth, but you might just join the whole-grain fan club.

apple graham coffee cake

adapted from Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce

makes one 9-inch round cake

apple topping:

2 large tart apples (I used Granny Smiths), peeled and cored

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon sugar

dry mix:

3/4 cup all-purposr flour

3/4 cup graham flour

3/4 cup whole-grain pastry flour

1/3 cup sugar

1/3 cup dark brown sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 tablespoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon kosher salt

wet mix:

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly

1 cup buttermilk

1/4 cup whole plain yogurt

1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce

1 large egg

Preheat the oven to 350°F, with the rack positioned in the middle of the oven. Butter a 9-inch round cake pan with high sides (I used a 9×3-inch pan with a removable bottom). Set aside.

Quarter the apples, then cut each quarter into thirds. Slice the thirds into pieces as thick as your thumb.

In a large skillet, melt 2 tablespoons of butter with 2 tablespoons of sugar and 1 teaspoon of cinnamon over medium-high heat until bubbly. Add the apples and toss to coat, then let sear for 1 minute without stirring. Cook for 6-10 minutes, until tender and caramelized, stirring once a minute or so. Remove the caramelized apples from the heat and scrape them onto a plate with the buttery sauce.

Sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl and set aside.

Whisk together the wet ingredients until thoroughly combined. Using a spatula, scrape the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and gently mix until combined. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top with a spatula. Spread the apple topping evenly over the batter.

Bake on the middle rack for 40-48 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through baking. The cake is ready when it is golden brown and springs back when lightly touched, or when a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Serve the cake warm or at room temperature.

apple upside-down cornmeal cakes

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

serves 6

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.