Caramel-Glazed Apple Cake
October 23, 2008
Over the past several months, Sundays have come to mean one thing: our little neighborhood farmers’ market. Well, actually, Sunday also means a couple grocery stores, yogurt parfaits, baking extravaganzas and, more recently, Mad Men. And, sadly, this Sunday two of these things—the market and Mad Men—are coming to a close for the season. Whereas Mad Men has been building toward this final act for weeks now and will likely exit in highly dramatic fashion, the farmers’ market has just kind of petered out.
It’s funny, really, how the farmers’ market season unfolds. It debuts in the spring, when the patrons are desperate, but the crops are meager. I am practically moved to tears when the first verdant spears of asparagus appear. And by the time my misty eyes clear, strawberries, ramps, rhubarb and green garlic swoop in to really set my heart rate racing. Then, as if overnight, summer’s bounty sneaks up and we’re swimming in a rising tide of juicy tomatoes and fuzzy peaches and sweet corn. It’s difficult to remember, in the glut of July and August, that such delicacies won’t last forever.
(Click “more” for the rest of the story, more photos & the recipe.)
But last forever they do not. For the last couple weeks, the harvest has slowly shrunk. Last week, the flower tent even folded up shop. No sunflowers, even? And it makes me feel a little bewildered and regretful. That is, until I reach the very end of the path that winds through the market. That’s where Nichols Farm lays out their primary-colored crates brimming with apples—no fewer than a dozen varieties. These apples are the entire reason I keep going back for these last few skimpy weeks.
Not only have the apples been helping me hold off the inevitable barren months that lie ahead, they’ve also served as a crunchy afternoon snack. And, you might not have noticed, but they’ve shown up in each of this week’s posts, albeit in a variety of forms. On Monday and Wednesday, savory recipes called for apple cider, vinegar and juice. And while those two recipes happened to both be delicious, we all know that apples are at their very best in the sweet realm—preferably coupled with warm spices or sticky caramel.
Or, in the case of today’s recipe, warm spices and sticky caramel. The spices thread the sturdy cake batter, which bakes into an incredibly moist sheet cake studded with chunks of apple and bits of chopped pecan. The caramel comes into play after the cake has cooled a bit, when it is drizzled atop the cake’s broad surface, enticing rivulets spilling down the sides. Perhaps the end-of-market-season apples can match Mad Men’s drama after all? Even if not, both season finales this Sunday will surely leave me waiting with bated breath for the next season.
1 cup light-brown sugar, packed
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
3 large eggs
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ground Ceylon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 fresh apples (such as Winesap or Granny Smith), peeled and diced into 1/2 inch pieces
1 1/4 cups not-too-finely chopped pecans
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 stick unsalted butter
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light-brown sugar
pinch of salt
1/2 cup heavy cream
Preheat the oven to 325°F (160°C).
Make the Cake: Put the sugars and vegetable oil in a mixing bowl, and beat until very well blended. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt, and gradually add to the sugar and eggs, mixing just until well blended.
Stir in the apples, pecans, and vanilla, and pour into a buttered and 9-by-13-inch baking pan.
Bake in the preheated oven until a skewer or toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 1 1/4 hours (begin checking after 50 minutes). Remove from the oven, and allow to cool in the pan while you prepare the caramel glaze.
Make the Glaze: Melt the butter in a saucepan, and add both the sugars and the salt. Stir until blended, and cook over medium-low heat for 2 minutes. Stir in the heavy cream, and boil for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat.
Use a skewer or toothpick to poke holes all over the top of the cake, and pour the warm glaze over the surface. Serve warm or at room temperature.