|Even this "perfect" one seems to have some displaced apples.|
I just pitched a piece to a women’s magazine about my schizophrenic kale-Cheezits relationship to food and eating. Jolly Ranchers and buckwheat groats; bar-room chicken wings and raw kohlrabi. “Interesting!” the editor wrote back. “But what’s the take-away going to be? We’re not getting such a clear sense of it.” That is a good and important question! What is the take-away going to be?
Maybe it’s this: the fact of our privilege means we have a fridge full of food, which is such a profound luxury.
I want us to nurture our healthy bodies and to invest in organic practices, in local and sustainable harvests, in a healthier planet with healthier creatures on it. But I also want to not fret over every mouthful, which can feel kind of narcissistic given that so many people are frankly hungry. Also, I’m raising a girl. I really don’t want her to overthink every bite of food, if you know what I mean. I wish for some easiness in her about eating—a sense that, as long as her basic diet is healthy and sound, it’s fine to slurp up a blue raspberry Slurpee every now and again. (Even if she notices, and she does, that it makes her feel kind of cruddy.)
|Corn Nut butt|
I’m just thinking aloud, by the way. And this may all just be specious justification of the fact that, even though I’ve been generally leaning away from sugar and white flour, I’m posting this cake today. Because it’s apple season, and because I wanted there to be something nice when the kids got home from school.
The cake is so sticky-salty-buttery good that everyone will love it. Even if right after you take it out of the oven your camera strap catches on the corner of the kitchen island such that the camera slingshots out of your hands onto the tile floor where its lens cap flies off with a heart-stopping clatter and by the time you finish Googling "I dropped my camera and it seems alright but is it?" the topping has cooled and stuck, and you have to scrape the entire thing back onto the cake in a messy heap. Even then.
|It will still taste delicious! Even if all the dumb apples and dumb cooled caramel had to be spackled onto it and photographed with a not-broken dropped camera that is maybe taking blurry pictures.|
Caramel Apple Upside-Down Cake
Serves 6 to 8
Active time: 35 minutes; total time 1 hour
This cake is like the autumn cousin of the more familiar pineapple version. It is gooey and gorgeous--and a fantastic way to use some of those apples you might be getting in large quantities right about now. It’s based on the French tarte tatin, so butter, yes, caramel, yes, salt, yes, but NO CINNAMON. If you want to add cinnamon though, you totally should. Because life is short.
Please note: if you need to be sure the cake is going to come out perfect, then butter the skillet and line the bottom with a circle of parchment before you begin melting the butter and caramelizing the apples.
For caramelized apples
2 crisp apples (or 3 if they’re small), peeled
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) butter (I use salted!)
For cake batter
1 1/2 cups flour (I use—can you guess?—half spelt)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (or half as much table salt)
3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 large egg
1/2 cup sour cream
Heat the oven to 350.
Core the apples, then quarter them and slice each quarter into thirds. Put the apple slices and sugar in a large bowl and toss to coat the slices with sugar.
Melt the butter in a10-inch cast-iron skillet over medium heat until foaming. Reduce the heat to low and arrange the apples, cut-sides down in the skillet. I do mine in an attractive spiral! Sprinkle any leftover sugar around the apples, and cook over moderately low heat until the sugar begins to caramelize, about 15 minutes. (At first it may look like the sugar is caramelizing right away, but that is likely still the butter toasting. Wait a sec and see.) Remove the skillet from the heat while you make the batter.
Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Beat together the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and egg and beat well. Add the flour mixture and sour cream alternately in 3 batches of flour and 2 of sour cream, mixing at low speed after each addition until just combined.
Spoon the (very stiff) batter over the apples in the skillet, blooping out all the batter in stiff little globs and using a butter knife after to spread it as evenly as you can without disturbing the apples; this is sort of stressful and unsatisfying, and the batter will not cover the tops of all the apples. Bake in the middle of the oven until the cake is golden brown and feels firm when you press it, around 25 minutes.
Run a thin knife around edge of the cake and invert a plate over the skillet. Invert the cake onto the plate, keeping the plate and skillet firmly pressed together, then replace any (or all) fruit stuck to the bottom of the skillet if necessary.
Serve cake warm or at room temperature.