FRONT BURNER: Apple cake beats pumpkin spice as fall foodstuff

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/KELLY BRANT Sunken Apple Cake
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/KELLY BRANT Sunken Apple Cake

I've never understood what all the pumpkin spice fuss is about. I mean I like pumpkin, and I like the spices — cinnamon, ginger, allspice and cloves — known as pumpkin (pie) spice. But I'd much rather celebrate the arrival of autumn with apples and pears.

Maybe it's because I associate pumpkin less with pies and more with soups and other savory applications.

Or more likely, it's because when I was growing up my Granny Tommie almost always had my favorite pie — apple — and her pear cake — made from pears picked from the two towering trees in her backyard — on hand. Either fresh from the oven or, more often, her deep freeze, as she called it. That freezer was a wonderland of delectables, from homemade pies and cakes to corn and other goodies from her garden.

I know it's only been three weeks since I last wrote about an apple cake. So it may seem a bit too soon to do it again, but I'm doing it anyway.

This one is completely different from the sticky, maple cake of September.

This one is much less sweet and a wee bit more wholesome. Plus, its name is fun to say — Versunkener Apfelkuchen.

Sunken Apple Cake is a German-style apple cake featuring hasselback-cut apples baked in a vanilla- and lemon-flavored batter. The batter puffs up and bakes around the apples.

The hardest part is cutting the apples — the apples are peeled, quartered, cored and sliced hasselback-style. Hasselback is a technique most often used on potatoes that calls for slicing into, but not all the way through, so the slices fan open like a book. It is sometimes called accordion-style. It is named after the Swedish hotel that created the dish. In addition to visual appeal, this technique allows the potatoes, or apples in this cake, to cook evenly and quickly.

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For added sweetness, the cake is sprinkled with coarse (sanding) sugar before baking, or it can be dusted with confectioners' sugar after it cools. Coarse sugar will give the top of the cake a pleasant sugary crunch, but confectioners' looks lovely. The choice is yours.

Sunken Apple Cake

(Versunkener Apfelkuchen)

2 to 3 medium apples

1 lemon

½ cup butter, at room temperature

½ cup packed light brown sugar

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 eggs

1 ½ cups cake flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

¼ teaspoon fine salt

1 to 2 tablespoons coarse sugar, for sprinkling OR confectioners' sugar for dusting

Whipped cream, for serving

Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 350 degrees. Line the bottom of a 7- to 9-inch springform pan with parchment paper; set aside.

Peel, core and quarter the apples. Thinly slice each quarter without cutting all the way through to the core side, leaving the quarter hinged together.

Using a lemon zester (I use a Microplane) remove the zest from half of the lemon. Juice the lemon. Add half of the juice to the apples. Set the remaining juice aside.

Place the lemon zest, butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar in a large mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, scraping sides of bowl as needed. Add the vegetable oil, vanilla extract and one egg. Beat until combined. Beat in the remaining eggs, one at a time, until combined between additions. Scrape sides of bowl and beater as needed. The batter may look lumpy and slightly curdled; this is OK.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. With the mixer on low speed, beat in the flour mixture until just combined, and beat in the reserved lemon juice. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and stir with a rubber spatula.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Gently press the apple quarters into the batter, core-side down, leaving only a bit of space between each quarter. Sprinkle evenly with the coarse sugar, if using.

Bake, rotating the pan halfway through, until the cake is golden-brown and a tester inserted into the cake (not the apples) comes out clean, 35 to 55 minutes depending on the size of the pan.

Place the pan on a rack to cool for 5 minutes before running a knife around the edge and removing the springform ring. Let cool to room temperature. Dust with confectioner's sugar, if desired.

Serve with unsweetened or lightly sweetened whipped cream, if desired.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

Food on 10/09/2019

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