apples & honey

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For as long as memory persists, I have welcomed the season with a salted honey apple cake.

It most likely started back in 2008, when I stumbled on a gorgeous Smitten Kitchen recipe, Deb’s now-famous Mom’s Apple Cake, which she acknowledges is not her mom’s alone, but the cake of many moms and many kitchens, a simple recipe passed down over time on grease-spotted index cards from mother to daughter.

My tradition took on new meaning when I met my would-be husband. The apple cake is also a frequent part of the Rosh Hashanah table, using oil in place of butter, plus (in my version, honey and) apples, important symbols of the holiday. Austin was raised Jewish, and while we don’t observe religion as a family, it’s been meaningful to incorporate the cultural traditions of his childhood alongside my own growing up in a Greek Orthodox home, to make our own misfit (but nonetheless meaningful) family rituals.

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This cake uses the simplest of pantry staples—flour, vegetable oil, sugar, salt, eggs… made tender by pounds (and pounds!) of apples—so many apples you’re certain the cake will never bake. But indeed it does, a whole 80 minutes later, and you’re left with a dense, moist, apple-studded cake with so much heft that it feeds dozens for days.

Over the years, I’ve tweaked and fussed with Deb’s recipe and have come to a version of my own, unique enough to be renamed as Salted Honey Apple Cake. Deb doesn’t use honey, whereas I toss the apples in honey instead of sugar, with a good pinch of sea salt (thus the salted); add lots of fresh nutmeg (the Greek in me can never resist—traditions merging!); substitute apple cider for the orange juice; and bake the cake for about 80 minutes in a 9×13-inch pan for easy slicing and eating (the original recipe uses a bundt, but I am most fond of sheet cakes…)

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The cake is fantastic in a number of ways—it’s deeply forgiving, so you don’t have to be precise with measurements or quantities; it uses up all the apples you picked when you were overzealous at the pick-your-own orchard; it’s a hit at the office, as it slices and eats like a dream; and since it makes so much darn cake, you can easily freeze hunks in tinfoil for later snacking (it freezes and defrosts perfectly). A piece (or two) also makes a pretty great breakfast alongside a strong cup of tea.

I can’t imagine Octobers without this cake on our table, sweetly welcoming a new season and a new year.

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Salted Honey Apple Cake

Makes a heavy, dense 9×13-inch cake (about two inches deep). Recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen’s Mom’s Apple Cake.

Ingredients

For the apples

  • 6 large apples, cored, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes (I like honeycrisp or McIntosh)
  • 1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 5 Tbsp honey

For the cake

  • 2 3/4 cups allpurpose flour
  • 1 Tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
  • 1 c vegetable oil
  • 2 c granulated sugar
  • 1/4 c apple cider
  • 1 Tbsp vanilla extract
  • 4 large or 5 regular eggs

Method

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Grease and line with parchment a 9×13′ pan.

Toss apple chunks in a large bowl with cinnamon, nutmeg, honey and a pinch of sea salt. Set aside to do their thing.

Mix dry ingredients: in your largest mixing bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg.

Mix wet ingredients: in a smaller bowl, whisk together oil, apple cider, sugar, vanilla and eggs.

Mix the wet ingredients into the dry, scraping and getting to the bottom of the bowl to ensure everything is well incorporated.

Prepare the batter: Spread half of batter into your prepared pan. Arrange half of apples over it, pressing gently into the batter. Spread the remaining batter over the apples and arrange the rest of the apples on top, along with any juices that have pooled off.

Bake the cake for about 80 minutes. The cake will be deeply golden and a toothpick inserted into several places (make sure you test several areas, as raw batter likes to hide in this cake!) should come out clean.

Cool the cake completely before gently lifting from the pan using the parchment and slicing into squares.

Just to point out how foolproof this cake is—the photos above are all from different years, and you can see it bakes up reliably each time! (Though each year, I manage to cram in a few more apples…)

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