Apple Time: Golden Russets, a Minor Grumble and a Major Chunky Apple Cake

Shopping Alert: If you love apples, it’s smart to see Thanksgiving as the deadline. Many orchard farmstands make that closing day and many more close soon after, shutting the window on neat choices for most of us.

We went on the annual stock-up outing about 10 days ago – across the river to New Paltz, to Jenkins-Lueken’s, where we’ve been going for years. But we didn’t notice until we got home that the cider is UV treated. That means we’re still on the hunt; you need raw cider to get fizzy cider. Next stop, the listings at, a national orchard locator searchable by state.

Meanwhile, there is a big box in the barn containing about a bushel of apples and right here it should be admitted that the barn is our enabler. Apples MUST be stored very cold, nothing ruins quality as fast as warm temperatures. If all you have is a refrigerator, fill it with varieties that will not be found after the orchards close.

Representatives from our current stockpile. On the left of the handle, clockwise from green:(3)Rhode Island Greening, (2) Honeycrisp, (2) Cameo. Right of the handle, clockwise from red: (2) Stayman Winesap, (2) Northern Spy, (4) Golden Russet – in a line up the middle – and (2) Jonagold.

Golden Russet : Born in New York, already well known in 1848. Described by the invaluable Seed Savers Exchange Fruit, Berry and Nut Inventory as “ The champagne of cider apples,” it’s delicious for just about any use except (unless you peel it) eating out of hand. An excellent apple to stock up on; it keeps very well.

Jonagold: A marriage performed by New York’s Geneva experiment station, introduced in 1968. The sweetness of Golden Delicious combined with Jonathan’s size, juiciness and slightly sharper flavor. Not always as tart as ideal for best flavor but usually yummy. Tough skin, though.

Rhode Island Greening: ! Pie ! And thus it has been for about 400 years. A tad on the sharp side for fresh eating but ideal in savory applications such as sautéed apples and onions to go with winter’s roast pork.

Northern Spy: Can’t say I grew up with this; it’s more popular in New England than in Pennsylvania. But it has that remembered from childhood quality, fuller flavored than modern fruit – or so it seems. Both crisp and tender, both sweet and tart, good both fresh and cooked. My desert island “if you could only have one.”

Honeycrisp: New kid on the block ( 1991) cross of Macoun and Honeygold, from the University of Minnesota. A good compromise for fresh eating if your family is, like mine, divided on the sweet vs. sharp question.

Cameo : Also recent (1987), a lucky find chance seedling from Washington state. Crisp and balanced in the manner of Honeycrisp but more aromatic and frequently huge.

Stayman Winesap – labeled “Stamen” at the stand where we got it, with no indication which of the 4 variations on Stayman Winesap it might be. And I’m actually guessing at the Winesap since there is also a Stayman apple, grown mostly in the south and considerably less red if its pictures are any indication. Assuming they are some kind of Winesap they should make dandy applesauce.

The grumble and cake part

is because the New York Times magazine recently addressed the subject of apple cake with, I suppose not surprisingly, the mandate to be as contemporary and hip as possible. Net result, no fault of the Times’ sensible Amanda Hesser?  A chef who was determined to improve an easy, tasty, but the recipe already exists cake, came up with a no doubt delicious but utterly uncakelike fruit-bottomed “soufflé crepe.” Shelf life of original cake, which could be eaten out of hand: a few days, and then toward the end you could probably toast it. Shelf life of chef’s goodie – several minutes; so be sure to have that plate and fork handy before you start.

Well ok, but was it really impossible to make an old fashioned everyday cake sort of cake that would be interesting to eat? And could one not make it with butter instead of oil?

Distantly remembered a long-ago struggle to find – and then when I couldn’t find, develop – a carrot cake based on butter instead of the usual oil. Checked out the recipe (it’s in Reading Between the Recipes). Unfortunately, it’s a layer cake, with frosting and other non-everyday aspects, and although the apple one could be a sheet cake something prettier would be nicer.
the experiment. Left to right: Cakes 2, 3 and 4

Four cakes ensued, one that we will not discuss and three that were different primarily because I kept screwing up. Cake # 2 was heavy and damp, because I couldn’t find the bundt pan and tried to bake it in a tube pan.

I know this was the problem because the bit of extra batter baked in a little glass bowl was very close to just fine. But did I pay attention? I did not. Cavalierly choosing to keep messing around I omitted the touch of oil, reduced the sugar, and upped the pecans for cake #3. And then, it being quite late by this time, just forged ahead after discovering the only white flour on hand was unbleached.

Commonly available unbleached flour makes tougher, heavier cakes than bleached flour. Simple fact. More nuts sat on the apple flavor; sugar and oil were both missed. Cake # 4 was back to formula #2, this time in the right pan with the right flour, for a long-keeping, velvety butter cake studded with apples and nuts. Big, too, so there’s plenty for all the relatives or you could freeze half and have it on hand for cake emergencies.

Chunky Apple Cake with Pecans

More like dice than chunks, truth be told, if you want the cake to resemble cake instead of steamed pudding. On the other hand, the rather steamed puddingy cake #2 was Bill’s favorite, so it’s hard to go completely wrong.

3 ½ cups roughly 1/2 inch dice or slightly larger chunks of peeled crisp tart cooking apple (see above for variety suggestions. Granny Smith will do in a pinch)

2 ¼ cups sugar

1 ½ tsp. kosher salt

3 1/4 cups bleached all purpose flour

1 tsp. baking soda

scant ½ tsp. baking powder

8 ounces unsalted high fat butter such as Plugra, at cool room temperature

3 eggs and 1 egg white

1 tbl. bland vegetable oil

2 teaspoons vanilla

½ cup sour cream

1 cup chopped pecans

1. In a non-reactive bowl, mix the apple dice with 1 cup of the sugar and 1 teaspoon of the salt. Set aside for an hour and a half. Stir when you think of it. (Pulling juice out ahead of time this way minimizes the holes-around-the-cooked-fruit effect that otherwise plagues these cakes.)

2. While apples sit, get everything else lined up. Let eggs and sour cream come to room temperature. Butter and flour a standard (10 cup) bundt pan. In a large bowl, thoroughly mix the flour with the remaining ½ tsp. salt, the soda and the baking powder, either by repeated siftings or much stirring with a wire whip. Heat the oven to 350.

3. When apple sitting time is about up, cream the butter, then add the remaining 1 ¼ cups sugar and cream again until pale and fluffy. Lightness of cake is directly related to whether you’re doing this with a stand mixer for about 8 minutes or your own personal arm ‘till you’ve had enough.

4. Beat in the eggs and white, one at a time, scraping the bowl from time to time. Beat in oil, vanilla and sour cream, again scraping right to the bottom of the bowl. Beat in free liquid from apples.

5. Make a well in the dry ingredients, scrape the wet mixture into it and stir together as gently and briefly as possible. Batter will be very thick. Stir in the apples and remaining juices and the pecans, then turn into the prepared pan. Thump the bottom of the pan on the work surface to reduce large air bubbles.

6. Bake until all the usual done signals: well risen, browned, pulling away from the sides of the pan and a toothpick comes out clean, anywhere from 55 to 70 minutes. Cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes, then turn out and cool completely before slicing. Cake will be most delicate and cakelike on the first day but still tender on days 2 and 3. Maybe more but I just made it 3 days ago so who knows?

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