"I think this is the best one you've made," he said, gently scraping his fork against the white dessert plate. He gathers the crumbs in a pile and presses the fork against them—the cake is so moist that the last bits stick together and he scoops up the last bite. "The best cake?" "The best apple cake."
Truth be told, I do make a lot of apple cakes, so this judgement carries a lot of weight. A few years ago, we spent a crisp, sunny Sunday in October picking apples north of Manhattan in a little town in the Hudson Valley. Our kitchen was overflowing with apples: they filled up both crisper drawers, and spilled from a bulging canvas bag on the counter.
I remember making a large batch of applesauce, pulling down my largest stock pot from the top shelf of the kitchen. I make applesauce the way my mom does: just apples, cinnamon, and water, cooked down and mashed with the back of a wooden spoon to stay chunky and textured, just the way I like it. I sneak spoonfuls of it every time I open the fridge. He swirls it into yogurt and eats it in the most adorable way possible out of a tiny white ramekin with a spoon far too small for a boy. At night after dinner, I heat it up and pour cold, thick cream over the top.
When I cook applesauce in the afternoon, the entire kitchen smells of cinnamon. After that trip, and on every apple-picking excursion since, I cast around for more apple recipes.
My mom makes a fantastic version of David Lebovitz's apple cake (the secret: booze), and I also love the fruit-laden Teddie's apple cake from the New York Times. For something sweeter, I often bake this caramel-glazed applesauce cake. If I want a lighter yet more sophisticated dessert than pie, I follow my mom's technique for a dinner party favorite: She rolls out puff pastry to a rough rectangle, tops it with thinly sliced apples and cinnamon and dots it with butter, then bakes it for a rustic, crisp, golden-edged tart.
But over all the others, I like to make this particular apple yogurt cake. The way that fruit mixes with the cake batter, in sweet custard-y pockets, is one of my favorite things. Do you know what I mean about the custard? It's like an eggy pancake batter snuck into your cake. Like a clafoutis and a cake and a pancake and a muffin got together, combined their best attributes, and out came a cake!
The apples retain some of their bite but they soften around their edges. Cold, this cake is even better. I always freeze the leftovers, and I love how it tastes a few days later. There's a crunchy, buttery cinnamon sugar streak that runs through the center (the same streusel forms the filling and the topping--if you like streusel, double it!), and the yogurt and olive oil gives the batter a dense moisture that manages to stay light and not heavy, strewn with softened bites of fruit.
Apple Yogurt Cake
1 1/2 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
2/3 cup olive oil
juice of one lemon
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
5 apples, peeled and diced
2 1/2 cup flour
2 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon. baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
dash of nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
4 tablespoons butter, softened
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, whisk together the yogurt, olive oil, lemon juice, sugar, eggs, and vanilla. Add the diced apples and stir until mixed. Add the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, nutmeg and cinnamon and stir with a spoon until well-mixed and smooth.
Oil a 9" x 13" baking pan and pour half the batter into the pan. In a small bowl, mix together the topping ingredients until they clump. Scatter half of the topping mixture over the batter. Pour the rest of the batter on top and then scatter the remaining topping mixture over it. Bake for 45 minutes (possibly a little longer) until the cake pulls away from the edges of the pan and a tester comes out clean. Let it cool for at least 10 minutes and then serve.