Sometimes the simplest things can be the best things. It’s not that a cherpumple or a three-layer chocolate cake are bad things (although, truth be told, my personal jury is still out on that cherpumple), but, amongst all the fanciness and multiple layers of many things, it is often times quite nice to just roll with something straightforward, humble, and nearly perfect in its simplicity.
It may seem far-fetched, but a similar line of thinking could also be applied to friendships. My best friend’s husband once asked her why she and I rarely go out together, and her response was hilarious in its point-blank frankness, “It’s not what we do,” she told him. And it’s true. When she and I hang out, we are almost always on her couch (because we never, ever hang out at my house, only hers, because, again, hanging out at my house is “not what we do”), there is almost always something horrible on the television, and there is always a running commentary going on that concerns how bad everything is on that television. Someone once told us that there should be a television show about the two of us watching television, and, after thinking about it for a bit, we sort of agreed. Of course we agreed. We are best friends. We can center an entire evening around one couch, and we don’t even need to involve any alcohol. With respect to our spouses, we’ve had a comfortable, married-type relationship for well over 15 years, and I don’t care how boring that sounds to other people, because my super-mellow relationship with my best friend is one of my most favorite things about life.
And here is where my cake comparison comes into play. While a super fancy cake can be a nice thing, more often than not, the most satisfying cake you can have is a simple, beautiful, everyday type of cake. This apple cake is my take on the classic and somewhat legendary New York Times recipe for Teddie’s Apple Cake, circa 1973. The cake was meant to be a proven example of how not all cakes needed to be laborious, time-consuming affairs. This apple cake was about as straightforward as you could make a cake: you chopped, you mixed, you baked, you were done. Though nearly perfect in its original form, I’ve made this cake a number of times, and each time I do, I change a little something here and there. Predictably, I have reduced the sugar, and swapped out a bit of the regular sugar for brown sugar. I’ve added more spices, used an apple with a bit more bite to it, and, inspired by my son’s desire to have more cinnamon in everything at all times, I’ve added a crunchy cinnamon sugar lid that, while subtle, adds a lovely dimension to each bite. I may have made the cake evolve a bit, but, at its core, it’s still the same, simple, endlessly pleasing cake.
Fittingly, for no reason at all, except because everyone needs some cake once in a while, I gave this cake to my best friend. When I told her I wanted to make her a cake, she was delighted. When I asked her what she wanted, she requested something not too big, and rather simple. Of course she did. She knows.
Cinnamon Apple Cake
Adapted from Teddie’s Apple Cake, in the New York Times
Butter for greasing pan
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting pan
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
1 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon, divided
½ teaspoon ground ginger
pinch of nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 cups peeled, cored and thickly sliced tart apples, such as Granny Smith
For sprinkling on top of cake:
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter and flour a 9-inch tube pan. Beat the oil and sugars together in a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, or beat in a large bowl using an electric mixer. After about 5 minutes, add the eggs and beat until the mixture is creamy.
In a large bowl, toss the apple chunks with 1 teaspoon of the cinnamon, then set aside.
Sift together 3 cups of flour, the salt, the remaining 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and baking soda. Stir into the batter. Add the vanilla. Fold in the cinnamon apples.
Transfer the mixture to the prepared tube pan pan. Combine the ½ teaspoon of cinnamon with 1 teaspoon of sugar, and sprinkle evenly over top of cake. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan before turning out. Serve cinnamon-sugar-side-up, at room temperature.