The season of apples and cinnamon
“The long Salinas Valley was part of the exploitation. Adam had seen and studied a fine color broadside which set forth the valley as that region which heaven unsuccessfully imitated. After reading the literature, anyone who did not want to settle in the Salinas Valley was crazy.”
East of Eden, John Steinbeck
Way back when (I am not divulging any dates) I worked for woman who loved to bake. She was single and new to the area so all her baking adventures were shared at the office. She was fiercely independent, having taken this new job, with a new company, in a new community. One of my favorite bosses had just been promoted and she took his place. And she arrived, a feminist in a male dominated workplace. We worked at a factory and I had been able to move from the warehouse to the accounting office. It was a lateral transfer but I no longer had to wear a hardhat or alternate working day and swing shift. We got off to a rocky start. She wanted me to take accounting classes, I resisted, she insisted. In the end she won and I took the classes.
We became friends and in many ways she was my mentor. When I finished my regular work assignments she encouraged me to do my accounting homework at the office. She took time to explain the concepts I struggled to understand. She badgered me to complete my college education, telling me I was smart enough and deserved the benefits a degree could offer. She got me to swim laps with her at lunch, I began to enjoy exercising. Her delight in baking for pleasure captured my imagination. During those years women were fighting to stay out of the kitchen. She stayed true to the things that excited her and drove her passion for living. Over the years I’ve lost touch with her but I’ve saved the recipes she shared with me. If my memory of the origin of the recipe is accurate, Betty was a friend of her mother. This coffee cake recipe is a family favorite. So much so, that when I asked picky daughter what I should bake with crisp fall apples “the coffee cake with cinnamon and apples” was suggested.
I’ve made this recipe countless times and it never fails to please. I use whatever apples I have and it doesn’t seem to make a difference. Do slice the apple very thinly as it must cook in the same time as the cake. Over time I have changed Betty’s recipe, adding more filling with a touch of nutmeg, lemon zest and a little more sour cream. I take the time to toast the walnuts too. But it’s her recipe and it is wonderful. Betty says the coffee cake freezes well. But without any leftovers, I’ve never had the opportunity to try her recommendation. The original recipe is made in an angel food cake pan which I used for this post. I usually use a 8”x8” square baking pan. Either way, the recipe will yield a terrific coffee cake. Both have a river of fall spices and walnuts that meander through the soft, fluffy coffee cake studded with apples. A bonus is the aroma of spice and apple that will fill the kitchen as the coffee cake bakes, sublime.
I’m updating this post on February 2, 2016 to share a little more about this story. This post was first published in October 2015 and before the end of the year my friend and mentor had contacted me! It had been decades since we last connected. The funny thing is that the post had nothing to do with reconnecting. Nowhere in the post do I mention Andrea’s name. I’m convinced it was fate, or were the stars in alignment? And as if the cake needed icing, Andrea doesn’t remember this coffee cake recipe, she thought I was using her mom’s recipe.
|1/2C||unsalted butter, softened|
|1-1/4C||sour cream, full fat|
|1 large||apple, thinly sliced|
|2T||powdered sugar, optional|
- Heat the oven to 350°. Spread the walnuts across the surface of a sheet pan and toast for 8-10 minutes. The walnuts will become fragrant and toasty brown when ready. Remove from the oven, cool and then chop. Leave the oven on at 350°.
- In a small bowl mix together the chopped walnuts, cinnamon, nutmeg and both sugars.
- Grease an angel food pan or an 8”x8” square baking dish. If using the 8”x8” square baking dish the pan can be lightly greased and then lined with parchment paper. Lightly grease the parchment paper too. After baking the entire coffee cake can be lifted out of the pan by using the parchment paper as handles for ease of cutting and serving.
- Into a medium sized bowl, sift or shake though a sieve the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer beat the butter and sugar together until the butter is pale yellow in color, 3-5 minutes. Stop and scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl to make sure the butter and sugar are throughly combined. Add the eggs one at a time, and mix in completely. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl after mixing in each egg. Mix in the vanilla and lemon zest. Add the sour cream and mix just until combined. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed. Remove the bowl from the stand mixer and fold in the flour mixture. Do not over mix. Spread half the batter evenly across the bottom of the baking pan. Cover the batter with half of the filling and then the thinly sliced apple. Spread the remaining batter evenly on top of the apples. Spread the remaining filling on top of the batter.
- Bake for 45-50 minutes. The coffee cake with have pulled away from the edges of the baking pan and a cake tester inserted into the center of the cake will come out cleanly when the cake is finished baking. Let cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes. If using the angel food pan loosen the sides and remove only the outer ring from the cake. Leave the center tube—bottom of the pan in place until the cake has cooled completely. When cool, place the coffee cake on a serving platter and remove the center ring. Dust with powdered sugar, if desired.