And we're back. Or rather, I'm back. Back from Paris, back in New York City, and back in an apartment whose kitchen comes equipped with more than a mini-fridge and a hotplate (a hotplate that I should call a lukewarm plate, since its only capability was a grudging simmer, insufficient even for waterlogging vegetables.) Don't get me wrong, there was a lot to love about a year abroad in Paris, but my 160 square foot apartment with a futon and a pretend kitchen was not one of them. Lucky for me I was able to subsist on a diet of excellent dairy products, cured meats and whatever fruit I picked up at the marché. Oh, and second-hand cigarette smoke.
There's even more to love about being home. For one thing, my NYC kitchen feels positively palatial in comparison. And there was a small stack of cookbooks waiting for my return to the land of people who actually prepare their own meals. So to celebrate, I'd like to introduce you to a book that is American, that utilizes the one kitchen appliance rarely found in a Parisian apartment (the oven), and that contains one of the easiest, and most delicious, applesauce cakes you can imagine.
Jodi Rhoden's Cake Ladies: Celebrating a Southern Tradition does just exactly what its title promises. I'll admit right away that I kind of aspire to cake lady status. As Rhoden says in her introduction, "almost every town in the South, large or small, has its cake lady. These are the women who bake the cakes for their community's special occasions: weddings, birthdays, church barbeques, and even funerals." With the increasing interest in preserving unique regional flavors and recipes, Rhoden's book steps up to help revive such classic Southern standards as Gullah Dirty Cake, Hummingbird Cake, Mississippi Mud Cake, Fig Cake and even a Ten-Layer Chocolate Cake, alternatively known as a Smith Island Cake in the Chesapeake Bay and a Doberge cake in New Orleans.
But best of all, each cake is prefaced by a section about the cook whose recipe it is. In an age of prepackaged cake mixes and anonymous mass-production, sitting down at a table with each of these cake ladies is what makes the book especially appealing. This Applesauce Spice Cake comes from Lois Mims of Pine Apple (!!) Alabama, a town which boasts a Pineapple Highway and a Banana Street, as though right out of a fairy tale. Like most great cooks and bakers, Mims doesn't use recipes, and instead proclaims "You talking about a recipe? I ain't got a recipe. I just put my stuff in there, take my head, and use it." I already love this woman. Partly because she was willing to commit this recipe to paper, complete with measurements and instructions. And Partly because this cake was nearly effortless, a one-bowl kind of affair, and yet the payout is huge. Sweet, moist, redolent of applesauce and spices. Definitely a keeper.
Applesauce Spice Cake
Excerpted (with permission) from Jodi Rhoden's Cake Ladies: Celebrating a Southern Tradition (Lark Publishing; 2011)
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Baking Time: 20 to 25 minutes
Cooling Time: about 1 hour
You Will Need
For the Cake:
1 cup vegetable oil
4 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
2 cups self-rising flour, divided
1 heaping teaspoon cinnamon
1 heaping teaspoon ground clove
1 cup applesauce
1 cup whole shelled walnuts, coarsely chopped
For the Glaze:
3 tablespoons milk
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350F.
Prepare the Pans
Spray two 9-inch round cake pans with cooking spray and set aside.
Mix the Batter
Combine the oil, eggs, and both types of sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat until light, fluffy, and fully creamed. Add 1 cup of self-rising flour, the cinnamon, and the clove, and beat until just combined. Add the applesauce, combine, and then add your remaining flour. Add walnuts and fold in with a spatula. Beat until just combined.
Bake the Cake
Divide the batter evenly between the two cake pans. Place the cake layers in the oven, and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean and the sides of the cake pull away from the sides of the pan. Remove from the oven and cool in the pans on a rack for 5 minutes before inverting onto racks to cool completely.
Make the Glaze
In a separate bowl, combine the milk and the powdered sugar. Mix with a fork or whisk until no lumps of powdered sugar remain.
Assemble the Cake
When the layers are cool, place the first layer on a plate. Drizzle 1/4 cup of the glaze over the first layer to cover the surface. Allow the glaze to drizzle down the sides a little. Place the next layer on top of the first and repeat with the remaining glaze. Applesauce spice cake can be kept at room temperature, covered, for up to a week.