Last week, I promised you an apple cake recipe. And I’m following through on that promise – sort of. Technically, I promised you my grandmother’s apple cake recipe. This is not it.
But it turns out that Nannie’s apple cake recipe is actually a major family mystery.
I was pretty sure that I had the recipe for Nannie’s cake, along with half a dozen other Jewish apple cake recipes, in my recipe file. But as it turns out, the recipe I had thought was my grandmother’s was virtually identical to a recipe from my aunt, which she apparently got from a woman at her synagogue. The only difference between the two recipes was the type of baking pan to be used. And when I questioned my aunt further, she revealed that she had always believed Nannie’s apple cake to have been straight from a boxed mix, with the addition of a few chopped fresh apples. So I called my mother, and then my brother, and despite all of our combined memories of Nannie’s apple cake, we are frankly still confused. My mother swears that while Nannie was fascinated by boxed cake mixes, her apple cake was 100% from scratch. My brother thinks she baked it in a bundt pan, I’m certain she did not. My mom thinks there was cinnamon in the cake batter itself, but not one of the recipes in my file has cinnamon appearing anywhere but in the apple mixture. And the question of whether or not she peeled the apples opened a whole new round of arguments.
All I can tell you for certain is that this recipe here is decidedly not Nannie’s. She would never have used whole wheat flour, or egg whites. Nope – Nannie was a full-on butter and sugar kind of lady. But since uncovering the truth about the real deal would have required more recipe testing than I had time for this week, I just winged it.
And I think Nannie would be proud. She would have liked the way the whole wheat flour adds a little bit of heartiness to the crumb of this cake. Nannie’s apple cake was always more like a huge, round muffin than a fluffy cake, and the whole wheat flour only enhances that lovely, dense texture. This cake is chock full of apples, which as my mom pointed out, is the whole point. My mom is famous for having spent her youth creeping into Nannie’s kitchen to sneak slices of apple out of this cake (or pilfer raisins from a pan of cooling bran muffins, or snag bits of apricot from a cookie filling). But most of all, Nannie would have loved how easy this cake is to make. It comes together in minutes, bakes up beautifully, and is basically fool-proof. Nannie was not a fussy lady, and this is not a fussy cake.
This cake is wonderful with a dollop of whipped cream, and I think it would be equally tasty as a sweet breakfast treat with a big cup of coffee. It would make a great addition to a Yom Kippur break-the-fast buffet, too.
And as for the to-peel or not-to-peel debate, I vote don’t peel. It’s just too fussy (and I’m just too lazy).
Whole Wheat Apple Cake
3 egg whites
1/2 cup sugar, plus 3 tablespoons
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup orange juice
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 medium apples, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons cinnamon
Powdered sugar for dusting (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8″ round baking pan. In a large bowl, beat the egg, egg whites, 1/2 cup of sugar, vanilla extract, oil, and juice together until well mixed. In a separate bowl, sift together the flours, baking powder, and salt. Add the flour mixture to the egg mixture, and stir to combine. Toss the sliced apples with the remaining sugar and the cinnamon. Spread half of the cake batter into the bottom of the prepared baking pan. Add the apples, and spread them as evenly as you can. Top with the remaining batter, doing your best to spread evenly (as I mentioned, this is not a fussy cake, so don’t worry if you don’t get the batter all the way to the edges of the pan, it will spread itself as it bakes). Bake for 50-60 minutes, until the top of the cake is a dark golden color and the edges pull away from the pan. Cool before serving. Dust with powdered sugar, if desired.