Fall is arriving, reaching in and out teasingly with its chill. A crispness has returned to the early mornings, but by the afternoons the saturated heat of summer returns, heavily soaking the low hours in the depth of the day in syrupy sunlight. The leaves are changing; I stepped onto my stoop last Thursday to a single fallen maple leaf, crimson around the edges with a vivid yellow center and a bright vermillion in between.
Suddenly I'm thinking about the crunch of Macoun apples. The smell of woodsmoke. Warm cider and soft, thick socks and how my cheeks feel after a cold run in the park. I packed up my sundresses, carefully folding them into a basket and pushing them up onto the highest shelf of my closet. The main shelf now holds a folded stack of flannel shirts (dear L.L.Bean, I love you) in hunter green and bright red and navy blue.
Just as I'm ready for autumn, the hot weather floods back in at full force. It's 80 degrees on Tuesday in New York City. I have to test a few recipes for work, so I turn the oven on but not the air conditioning, and beads of sweat form at the nape of my neck as I bend over the stove. I put on a short red romper in a crisp cotton fabric and lace up my white Converse sneakers.
The kitchen counter is covered in the following: cacio e pepe-inspired biscuits (ridiculously flaky, flavored with grated Parmesan and cracked black pepper), slabs of blueberry muffin tops (a thin layer of muffin batter baked on a sheet pan), and gooey marzipan and toasted cashew blondies (more on those soon!).
Carefully, I pack each batch up into white bakery boxes and stack them in my oversized canvas King Arthur Flour tote bag. (Talk about a conversation starter! People always recognize the logo and talk to me about it.) On the subway, I lean my head against the glass and read the poem by Major Jackson that's posted on the back of the train car wall:
"All we want is to succumb to a single kiss
that will contain us like a marathon
with no finish line, and if so, that we land
like newspapers before sunrise, halcyon
mornings arrived like blue martinis. I am
learning the steps to a foreign song: her mind
was torpedo, and her body was storm,
a kind of Wow. All we want is a metropolis
of Sundays, an empire of hand-holding
and park benches? She says, 'Leave it all up to me.'"
Who could not be moved by that? A metropolis of Sundays. An empire of hand-holding.
I meet a friend to drop off the boxes at his office. Everyone loves the marzipan blondies. (Later that night, I'll thank myself for wrapping up a few extra blondies and stashing them in the freezer. I'll eat them over the sink at 11 PM, unable to stop at one because they are so buttery/sweet/nutty/delicious. The British call these sorts of things "moreish", as in you want a bit more.)
Another friend joins us; we sit outside at the bar that borders a small marina in Tribeca. Boats bob gently the water. The sun sinks lower, illuminating the office buildings in Jersey City and the far-off silhouette of the Statue of Liberty. Suddenly I'm freezing in the dusky evening light, so I jump on a Citi bike and cycle the 5 miles home. I sense fall again in the air, and I mentally remind myself to bake my second favorite apple cake. My absolute favorite is a recipe of my mom's that is buttery and dense, with soft, custardy pockets forming around the chunks of apple strewn throughout each slice. I'll write that one up for you, but a close contender is this cake from David Lebovitz. I almost hesitate to call it a cake, as it's more like cups and cups of diced apple barely bound together by a golden, rum-scented batter.
It's absolutely wonderful, and a perfect dessert if you want something fruit-forward that isn't a tart or a pie. Have at it!
French Apple Cake
From David Lebovitz
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 large apples, peeled and cut into chunks
2 eggs, at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons dark rum
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and grease a 9" springform pan very thoroughly.
Beat the eggs until frothy. Whisk in the sugar, rum, and vanilla extract. Add half of the flour, then stir in half of the melted butter.
Add the remaining flour, baking powder, and salt. Add the rest of the butter and fold the batter together until combined.
Fold in the apple chunks using a spatula, then pour the batter into your pan and smooth the top.
Bake for 50 minutes (it can take up to an hour); a knife inserted into the center of the cake should come out clean. Let it cool for 10 minutes, then remove the edge of the pan. Serve warm (also delicious cold the next day!) with whipped cream.