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

For topping:
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.

Make topping:
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.

Make cake:
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.


23 Responses to “All Very Autumn”

  1. eggsonsunday Says:

    Welcome home, Kristin, and it sounds like you had such a great time! What *great* pictures. The aqua-blue water in that one mountain lake is stunning! Now you have me all revved up for fall…it’s my favorite season, too. Looking forward to all your fall dishes. 🙂 –Amy

  2. Mia Says:

    Wow – your trip looks like it was fantastic! Fall is my favorite time of year, too…I already have my 5lb. bag of MacIntosh apples that I’m working my way through 🙂

  3. mari Says:

    Yum! I love biscuits and this looks like the perfect way to make your biscuits into dessert!

  4. April in CT Says:


    What an awesome vacation and beautiful pictures. Thank you for sharing it with us!

  5. sue bette Says:

    Congrats on whipping up a beautiful recipe while on your adventure! Sometimes when I first cook in a new kitchen it seems like everything falls apart – I don’t do as well on the road. Thanks for sharing the Banff are pics, I have been wanting to travel there and now I am even more excited!

  6. Amanda Says:

    Isn’t Canada fantastic? I went there as a kid and Lake Louise took my breathe away. And seeing all that green in Banff makes you want to become a mountain woman or something 🙂 At least they get to run around wild, making their own food and drinking jugs of hot cocoa.

  7. Whitney Says:

    Lake Louise is slowly creeping its way up to the top of my must see list. Your pictures are wonderful and the cake looks quite yummy. I am very jealous that you were able to get out of the city for nice trip before you start your job. When is your start date?

  8. Zoe Francois Says:

    Wow, that just screams fall. It looks absolutely gorgeous!

  9. Emily Says:

    Wow. It looks like you had an amazing trip! I can’t wait to try some of your more fall-ish recipes!

  10. pipee Says:

    that looks totally delicious. and the photos from your trip are great – loving the canoes on the water’s edge…

  11. diane (mom) Says:

    Kristin and Kevin, so jealous of the fabulous pictures,it really brings us back to our few visits into the Canadian Rockies. The pictures always are full of oohs and aahs. Welcome home and I can’t wait to try the apple dessert. MOM

  12. Luke Says:

    I was just thinking about making something with apples on my way home tonight. I went by an Indian restaurant and an apple smell coming from someplace nearby mixed really well with the savory/curried scents. So I’m gonna try to come up with something that’ll marry those. Also picked up some smoked paprika and tried it on corn on the cob over a weekend much like yours in the Russian River Valley. Glad you’d posted about it before I’d left. Delicious!


  13. pRiyA Says:

    the pictures are fantastic. and thank you for halving this biscuit cake recipe. i’m giving it a shot now.

  14. Ali Says:

    The pictures are Great and all, but I’m ready for family dinner to resume! Glad you’re back!!

  15. Amy: Thanks! I’ve got a list a mile-long of recipes for the fall …

    Mia: I had to do everything I could to resist the apples at the market last Sunday. I don’t think I’ll have such success this weekend. I’m ready …

    mari: Me too! And it’s a really easy version of biscuits, because there’s no rolling/cutting out. Plus they’re draped with caramel apples, so there’s that …

    April: Thank you!

    sue bette: I completely know what you mean about the lack of what I call “home kitchen advantage.” Even in my mom’s kitchen, where I learned to cook, things I make all the time at home come out a little off. I do love using all her fun appliances and cookware though …

    Amanda: Yes, so so fantastic! I am in love.

    Whitney: Definitely a must see. I start in two weeks.

    Zoe: Thank you!

    Emily: It was definitely amazing. See you this wknd!

    pipee: I kept taking photos of all the canoes! Something about the bright primary colors against the aqua lakes.

    mom: Thanks!

    luke: Glad you tried the corn! Good luck with your apple creation.

    pRiyA: Thanks! The halved recipe yielded four decent-sized servings, btw.

    Ali: Ha. Well, we will family dinner up a storm tonight. Don’t you worry.

  16. Dawn Says:

    Oh. My. Goodness! Your photographs are stunning. And I am coveting a vacation just like this one – relaxing but active, too. Of course, it might be a tad challenging with three little ones in tow…perhaps I should wait a few years? Naaah, I’m sure my 3 year-old twins could handle a little Rocky Mountain hiking. Well, at least my 7 year-old son would love it!

    In case you can’t tell, I am just a little bit addicted to your blog. It’s a happy haven from my workday stress. Thanks for that!

  17. Polly Says:

    Yum! I think instead of apple pie at Thanskgiving, this would be a lovely variation (leave the pie to those pumpkins).

  18. twofish4 Says:

    Totally captivating! I stumbled upon your blog and was sucked into the visual sensations! I too am a Chicago dweller, and a blogger.
    This trip looks extraordinary!

  19. cicada Says:

    Greetings from Istanbul,
    I made Apple Upside-Down Biscuit Cake, and it turned out wonderful. Although the apples did not much caramelized as yours, it tastes great. I will do it again, may be with peaches also. Thanks for the recipe!

  20. Dawn: Thank you! And, yes, might be best to wait a couple years! : )

    Polly: The apple pie at our Thanksgiving always goes untouched! So this would be a great way to spice (ha) it up.

    twofish4: Thank you! Good to (virtually) meet another Chicago blogger.

    cicada: Thanks for reporting back! I wonder what the difference in caramelization was? Peaches sound lovely!

  21. Dana Says:

    Wow! It looks so beautiful. Now I must go. And make an apple biscuit cake. Which looks fantastic!

  22. redmenace Says:

    just gorgeous. thanks!

  23. Dana: Yes — both the trip and the recipe should be on your to do list!

    redmenace: Thanks!

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