Plain or fancy?

The kitchen here at Apple Hill is a busy place these days. You know those days? When you are cooking, peeling, stirring, canning while in your yoga pants and t-shirt, and hoping desperately that no one just drops in to visit because 1. every pot in your kitchen is in use; 2. you surely don’t have time to take a break to talk to anyone; and 3. you were so busy getting into the kitchen that you might have forgotten to brush your teeth and you definitely didn’t comb your hair.

In between making tomato sauce, stewed tomatoes, applesauce, apple butter, and canning gingered pears, I made this most-delicious-apple-cake-in-the-world.  I posted the plain recipe before in a post about walnuts, but the fancy version (without walnuts) is, perhaps, the very best recipe ever that you can make with apples. And we do apples right around here…

It goes by the humble name of Apple Pudding Cake. I know, not exactly exciting or gourmet sounding is it?

But this is the most luscious, caramel-ly, apple-ly, golden brown earthy goodness you will ever taste. And if you want to make it even more so, there is a simple warm caramel sauce that you can ladle over the cake that will just send you and your tasters over the moon. Or at least over your favorite apple tree.

You can see how old and spill-covered the recipe is…

And after a quick scan of the ingredients, you can also see how basic the ingredients are. Most likely they are sitting in your food pantry this very moment, just calling out to be made into this simple, simply amazing pudding cake.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, and butter an 8 inch square pan. (This recipe can be doubled for a 9×13 inch pan as well. If you double it, bake the cake for 50 minutes.)

Beat 1 cup of brown sugar and 1/4 c. softened butter until well combined . Add one egg and beat until fluffy. Add the dry ingredients: 1 t. baking soda, 1 t. cinnamon, 1/2 t. freshly grated nutmeg, 1/4 t. salt, 1 c. unbleached white flour. Mix well. The batter will be thick — so thick a spoon will stand up easily in it. (If you are the type of person who likes spoonfuls of batter, try to control yourself — you still have to add the apples.)

Peel and chop apples to make two cups. Depending on the size of your apples, 2 or 3 is likely. I also like to mix and match the  apples — you can see in the first photo I used a red apple (Jonathan) and a yellow/green apple (Grimes Golden). But really, just use what you have. I don’t think this dessert could possibly be ruined by using the wrong apple. Although I will say that if you are using a bland Red Delicious sort, you might want to zing them up slightly by squeezing half a lemon over them.

Do not skimp on the apples. As you are mixing them into the batter, it looks like quite a lot of apples, but they soften while baking, imparting to the cake its pudding-like consistency. Bake 25-35 minutes, depending on how gooey you like it. The brown crustiness on the top is amazing with the pudding-like texture inside. Do not overbake it…

If you are reading the recipe card in the photo above, you will notice that it also suggests using mini-bundt pans. I tried this several times and had no success getting them out of the pans in any kind of decent shape. Maybe you will be better at that than I am, but I gave up and now just serve it as homely squares on a plate. When you make the caramel sauce to go over it, no one will care that it isn’t in some fancy shape.

This recipe was given to me over ten years ago by a friend of the woman whose name is on the recipe card. Last year, at a church potluck supper, a new friend brought an apple cake. I commented to her how delicious it was and she brought me the recipe. It was the exact same recipe, except hers added walnuts and a teaspoon of baking powder as well. I’ve been making this cake without baking powder for ten years, but comparing hers and mine, I will tell you that if you add baking powder you might get more of a cake type outcome. And of course, should you care to add walnuts, feel free…

To make the caramel sauce, melt 1/3 cup butter in a small pan. Add 2/3 cup sugar (I use 1/3 cup lightly packed brown sugar and 1/3 cup raw sugar) and stir until well-mixed and starting to bubble. Add 1/2 t. cinnamon and slowly add 1/3 cup half-and-half, whisking well. Let simmer over low heat until it is no longer sugar-y. Drizzle, ladle, or pour the warm sauce over individual squares of cake. This sauce guilds the lily. Truthfully, I only make the caramel sauce when I’m serving this for company (or taking pictures for a blog post) but the first time you make the cake, you should definitely have the sauce with it. You need to be able to make an accurate decision about when to make the sauce and when to have it just plain.

Plain or fancy — Which are you?

Smell the apple-cinnamon-brown sugar deliciousness?

149. Baked Apple Butter; or, confessions of a traditional cook who is sometimes in a hurry

Traditional Apple Butter is cooked over a low flame for very long time so that it’s spiciness can be cooked into the apples until they are creamy and spreadable and delectable.

It takes a lot of apples, peeled apples, and a lot of time and burnt pans in the process. I’ve read that traditional cooks used copper pennies in the bottom of their kettles to keep the apple butter from sticking. That’s probably the best use for pennies that I’ve heard lately.

The last time I made apple butter, I peeled a mountain of apples; then I cooked the apples for a very very very long time; and from that mountain of apples I ended up with about 3 pints of apple butter. It didn’t seem like a practical way to use my apple harvest.

IMG_6451Traditional apple butter also calls for stupendous amounts of sugar.

Now, about sugar — I’ve seen lots of recipes lately that call for just apple juice as a sweetener. In my humble opinion, apple butter without sugar is tasteless. I don’t put much in — only a half cup or so in each batch — and I use fair trade organic sugar so I don’t have to feel so bad about it. :-)

So in the interest of modern time-saving and apple saving, I decided to try two new ways of making apple butter. For the first batch I cored the apples but did not peel them. I added about 3/4 cup of water to the bottom of the pot and basically just steamed them for about 10 minutes — roughly chopped, unpeeled, but scrubbed, apples. When they were soft, I put them through my Victorio Food Strainer ($50 on Amazon, and the best time-saving device in the world.)


Just look how thick this stuff is and it hasn’t even been cooked yet!

The next batch, I baked whole apples in the oven. IMG_6485

Aren’t they cool looking? Not what I expected at all. I just dumped the whole pan in the hopper of the food mill and again, got thick apple puree.

I put the thick puree into glass pans, added a bit of sugar, lots of spices, and baked them in a low (300-325) oven for an hour or so. Check it and stir it, and taste it after an hour. I added whole cinnamon sticks to one batch, and I really liked the extra pizazz.


I wish I could tell you the yield, but I was haphazard about it. (Yes, it’s true, I am sometimes haphazard when I cook.) But I can tell you that it was much more than three pints.

And it’s lovely to tuck in a Christmas present.

23. Not Quite Mom’s Baked Apples

I’m not sure why we loved Mom’s baked apples so much. They are a homely dish, not fancy, and easy to make.

It might be that we got to eat a sweet dessert-like food for dinner — she never served them for dessert — we always ate them right along with whatever else we were having. Or it might be that she only made them in fall and early winter when we had fresh apples.

Depending on how long the apples baked, or how juicy the apples were, the recipe was never the same. Sometimes the sauce was thin and sweet, sometimes the sauce was thick and caramel-like; it didn’t matter, we always loved them.

We have four different apple trees at Apple Hill and only one variety has been absolutely identified: the Red Delicious. (They are the two apples on the right in this next photo.)

So in the interest of trying to determine what varieties the others are, I decided to make baked apples using all four kinds of apples. Two of each, knowing that Mom almost always used Red Delicious for hers. They are not a cooking apple, so they hold their shape very well when baked; and also, it’s a good use for them, because who really likes to eat a Red Delicious? There are so many better varieties — beats me why they ever got famous for being a good eating apple!

See the dish of walnuts on the right? Those are from our very own English walnut tree! Talk about being happy campers when we discovered that! We thought the tree was the traditional black walnut with those nuts that you have to drive a car over to get the husks off, as well as staining your hands and fingernails a beautiful, rich dark brown.

It took us about 30 minutes to pick and shell enough walnuts for the baked apples. Technically the nuts are supposed to dry in the shell for about a week, but we couldn’t wait! Maybe the next picking…

The Recipe:

    Mix a stick of softened butter with some oats, some chopped walnuts, and some raisins. (Mom never used raisins; Dad didn’t like them.)
    Pour in some maple syrup. (Mom used brown sugar, and you are welcome to as well, but the maple flavor is yummy.)
    Grease a 9×13 pan with softened butter or coconut oil. (I told you these weren’t Mom’s baked apples.)
    Cut 8 apples in half and core them. (If you ask me, this is the hardest part!)
    Spoon the oat and nut mixture in to the center of the apples and sprinkle cinnamon over all.


    Pour enough water in the dish to just cover the bottom. I added a little more syrup — really just drizzled a bit more over the apples. Cover tightly with foil and bake at 350 for about an hour. (If you would like, you can uncover them for the last ten minutes.)

Serve warm with dinner. Pay attention now: this is not dessert. No ice cream, no whipped cream, no creme fraiche…

The experiment was a success. The greenish yellow apples on our side yard tree have been judged to be a Yellow Transparent — good for cooking and eating (just be sure to peel them).


The other two trees on the wild part of the property seem to be Jonathans (ripe now)


and McIntosh (not quite ready, but they still taste delicious!)


Verdict: the Red Delicious looked the best and tasted pretty good. The Yellow Transparent tasted good, but they separated from their skins and didn’t look so appetizing. The Jonathans looked just okay, but tasted the best. The Macs are definitely not for baked apples; they turned into crunchy applesauce.

We ate half for dinner and saved the other half for breakfast. They’re even good cold.

Bon appetit, or in Greene County lingo — them’s good eatin’.


Michael using his new picker, so we can get the good ones up high. He splurged and bought the expensive one!