All Very Autumn
September 8, 2008
Last week, as recipes featuring the jewels of summer produce were hopscotching across this page, Kevin and I were driving, hiking, eating, relaxing and photographing our way through the Canadian Rockies. In decided contrast to the late Augusty menu that was unfolding here on this site, Calgary and the mountains to its northwest were a bit more autumn (and at times, downright winter, especially when it, you know, SNOWED). And while it wasn’t quite the summer vacation we had envisioned, I didn’t really mind. Fall has always been my favorite season and with each brisk mountain breeze, I could feel the cozy cocoon that comes with cool weather stitching itself up around me.
Inside this cocoon, very, very good things happen, including, but not limited to: soft, nubbly sweaters; fleece jackets zipped up tight to the chin; blazing fires; mugs of steaming beverages (which may or may not be spiked and, in case you’re wondering, they should be spiked when in the mountains because, well, just because—and it’s just so après-ski-ish); crocks of hearty soups (between Kevin and I, we slurped no fewer than a dozen bowls of soup!); an extra blanket on the bed; rosy cheeks. We indulged in all these fall treats on our trip and also the upside-down apple cake you see atop this post—but more on that later.
(Click “more” for the rest of the story, more photos & the recipe.)
Lest you think we spent our days guzzling boozy coffees and tucking into cheese-lidded French onion soup, I must tell you that we were also quite active. We chased mountain peaks; played hide-and-seek with glaciers clinging to the sides of snow-covered mountains; followed trails along rivers that led to the whooshing waterfalls that fed them; gawked at glacial lakes—pools in every imaginable shade of blue; and paddled a fire-engine red canoe around one mountain-ringed lake.
We also took hundreds of photos, which cushioned the end-of-vacation blow that inevitably came on Saturday when we returned to Chicago. We spent the balance of the weekend sorting through the shots and whittling them down to a mere 70 or so that were quickly deposited into a Flickr album (my first!), which you can see here.
And we did all this swathed in layers upon layers of clothing, not to mention hats, mittens and scarves. I’m telling you: it was chilly. Given all this exhaustion, is it any wonder that chowders featured prominently and happy hours started early? Or that we returned greedily each night to our lodgings, which happened to span the spectrum of mountain accommodations: one traditional hotel in Banff, just off the main drag; a tiny cabin at a resort in Lake Louise, perched on the edge of the gently bubbling Pipestone River; and an A-frame log cabin in Golden, tucked on the slope of a mountain, with a sweeping view of the Kicking Horse River valley and it’s flank of mountains—and a kitchen (!).
It was in that kitchen that the upside-down apple cake was created. After almost of week in single digit temperatures (okay, single digits in Celcius, but still), we were craving an assortment of fall foods and warm, cinnamon-scented apples were at the top of the list. Throw in a simple caramel topping and a homey, biscuit base, and you get this cake, which is not only very pretty (there is something so charming about upside-down cakes), but also very tasty.
We ate it our first night in Golden as we stared out—transfixed—at the sun setting over fog-ringed, snow-dusted mountains. The sun might have been setting at the Augusty hour of 9:30 and, yes, we tried to summer up the cake with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, but it was still all very autumn. In a very good way.
Apple Upside-Down Biscuit Cake
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 lb Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and cut into thin wedges
For biscuit cake:
1 cup all-purpose flour*
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/2 cup well-shaken buttermilk
Accompaniment: crème fraîche or sour cream (optional)**
Preheat oven to 425°F.
Heat butter in an ovenproof 10-inch*** heavy skillet (preferably well-seasoned cast-iron) over moderate heat until foam subsides. Stir in brown sugar and remove from heat. Spread mixture evenly in skillet and arrange apples, overlapping, in 1 layer.
Blend flour, sugar, baking powder and soda, salt, and cinnamon in a food processor. Add butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal. Transfer to a bowl and add buttermilk, stirring just until mixture is moistened.
Drop batter on top of apples and gently spread, leaving a 1-inch border around edge of skillet. (Cake needs room to expand.)
Bake cake in middle of oven until golden brown and firm to the touch, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool cake in skillet on a rack 3 minutes, then invert onto a platter. Replace any apples that stick to skillet on cake.
* I used whole-wheat flour and it was great—a nice hearty contrast to the caramel topping.
** We went with vanilla ice cream. I highly recommend.
*** I halved the recipe and made this in a small (probably 5 or 6-inch—sorry I didn’t measure) skillet.