The road curves this way and that.
I wind right, careen left, and bank the steering wheel along a good 20 minute stretch of highway.
The route's a pain. The rocks jut up and the traffic slows and if you stop paying attention for even a minute, you'll have to stomp on your brakes, shortening the distance between you and the car in front, landing so close you can whisper and the other driver will feel your breath on his cheek.
But we're orchard-bound, and the day is bright. When we arrive, and I park horribly -- really, you'd be embarrassed for me -- I relax. We spend a good hour picking apples, ringing a silvery windchime, and swinging on a bench suspended from a tree. Then we eat apple turnovers warmed in a toaster by the check-out.
Only Fujis are available for picking on this day, but that's okay. What the small family orchard lacks in variety -- no Cortlands, Empires, Macs, or Pippins, no gourds, no scarecrows, no hayrides here -- it makes up for in friendly folk, fresh pastry, and cool, clean air. That the all-organic apples are riddled with cosmetic imperfections makes them taste better, somehow.
Driving home (swerve, careen, left, right) is simpler. As the radio blares, I get lost in plans: apple butter, apple sauce, apple galette, apple rings, even fresh apple cake. I taste them all in my head while cruising the curlicue road.
We make it home.
I bake a cake.
And that first bite tastes just like fall, cloaked in a tender, sweet, brown sugar kiss.
I've started pinning apple recipes, including those mentioned above, to this board.
Recipe for Fresh Apple Cake with Crumb Topping
There are three things you should always have in your freezer: peas, ice, and crumb topping. I make big batches of these crumbs and pull out handfuls whenever I need them. You should, too.
For this dessert, I started with Emily Luchetti's Fifty-Year Apple Cake in her wonderful cookbook, A Passion for Desserts. My goal was to shove as many apples in there as possible, so I took out the raisins and nuts and threw in more apples. And then more still. I left their skins on for texture and subbed in some brown sugar, which gave the cake a caramellike chew. If you make the crumb topping ahead, and store it in your freezer, this will be one of the simplest, no-need-for-a-mixer fresh apple cakes you'll ever make.
Makes 20 squares
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup (packed) brown sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 cup vegetable oil
4 medium Fuji apples (1-1/2 pounds total weight), or other variety you fancy, peels on, chopped (5-6 cups chopped apple)
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup cold (or even frozen) crumb topping
Powdered sugar, for sifting over (totally for show, totally optional)
In a large mixing bowl, whisk the eggs, two sugars, cinnamon, and oil. Fold in the apples. In a separate bowl, sift the flour, baking soda, and salt. Stir the dry ingredients into the wet, folding and mixing until all the white, floury bits are completely incorporated. The batter will be extremely thick. Carry on.
Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, using a small offset spatula to work it into the corners. Sprinkle with the crumb topping.
Bake in the center of the oven for 45 minutes, until a skewer comes out clean. For neat slices, let cool for as long as you can stand it before cutting. If desired, sift over a little powdered sugar, but go easy -- the cake's plenty sweet.
(I found cutting it with a metal bench scraper made the neatest squares. After 24 hours, store any leftover cake in the refrigerator.)