I’ve always loved spice cake. When I was a little girl, I used to ask for spice cake for my birthday. I think one year I requested blue icing. I was a little proud of myself for picking a cake I considered an “adult” cake—no chocolate involved.
So this weekend, when I decided to make yet another apple dessert because I can’t be sure the apples piled in my basement are going to last a long time, I knew it was time to make the Apple Spice Cake recipe I’d seen in my Joy of Cooking.
I have only made one or two cakes from scratch in my life and thought it would be nice to move away from the easy “cake comes from a box” mentality I’ve fallen into. Also, my friend Abby, younger but years ahead of me in cooking and baking skills, had brought over an apple cake the week before, with a homemade glaze/icing, and I thought it would be fun to make my apple spice cake and see if I felt it stacked up to what Abby had served a week earlier.
Plus, I’ve never, ever made my own icing. Because my cake would be slightly different from Abby’s—mine was a spice cake and hers wasn’t—I decided to try an icing different from the brown sugar glaze she had made, but it needed to be straightforward as I had no experience. I settled on a Quick White Icing recommended by my Joy of Cooking as a good icing for the apple spice cake.
Four-year-old Jonah is becoming my regular baking assistant. First he helped me mix up the dry ingredients, smelling the spices as we added them—cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. Then we whisked them with a special gadget-y whisk I’ve had for several years but never found handy until now. In moments, we were done whisking, and the result looked like—well, exactly like spice cake mix from a box.
It took me aback a little. Me and millions of others have been buying cake mixes to save time, when it only took a couple of minutes to get this far making a cake from scratch? Obviously we have all been hoodwinked. ’Cause it ain’t that hard, really.
At this point Jonah and I added the wet ingredients, combined it all, and then stirred in a cup of chopped apples peeled, cored and sliced by Jonah, who is obsessed with my apple coring and slicing tool. I used a Fuji because it had been sitting out on the counter a couple of days and needed to be used but the recipe recommended using a tart green apple. I didn’t notice anything lacking in the taste of the final cake because I used a Fuji.
While the cake was baking, I mixed up the icing. To my surprise, the icing was incredibly easy to prepare. This particular recipe requires no cooking time and takes only moments to mix up. I did have to soften the butter, but I didn’t run into any problems there.
I did not turn the finished cake out onto a rack as the recipe recommended but instead left it in the pan and iced it in the pan once it cooled. There was plenty of icing left, so I covered the surface of the remaining icing with a sheet of plastic wrap and froze it to use later. The icing works as a glaze for cinnamon rolls too, so I’ll probably pull it out of the freeze for that purpose.
The best part of the whole thing? Well, probably taking the first bite of the cake after dinner. But second best may have been the post-cake discussion.
You know how men have to call each other after a big game to discuss minutiae of every play, compare their teams’ and players’ strategies, and talk endlessly of how the next game will go? Well, I got the urge to make that kind of call about this cake. So late Saturday night, after Chris and I had both had our cake and ice cream, I called Abby to compare recipes and icings.
Abby pulled out her cookbook and we compared ingredients, talking excitedly about the differences between the two cakes and my icing and her glaze and about the cake ideas we plan to try in the future.
Brown sugar in her icing, powdered sugar in mine.
White sugar in her cake, brown sugar in mine.
We compared vanilla.
We compared quantities of flour and yield per cake.
We compared baking dishes.
It was great conversation! It really was. I could have talked for a long time, but when two-year-old Neeley began skating around our tiny kitchen with his foot in a dog food bowl, I had to cut it short.
What a nice evening. Man, I love spice cake and talking baking with my friends.
Apple Spice Cake (from The Joy of Cooking)
This cake tastes spicier once it has cooled and rested for a couple of hours.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour one 8 x 8-inch pan or line the bottom with wax or parchment paper.
Whisk together thoroughly in a large bowl, pinching out any lumps in the brown sugar:
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour, or a combination of all-purpose flour and whole-wheat flour
1 cup packed dark or light brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon freshly ground or grated nutmeg
½ teaspoon salt
Add and stir together until smooth:
1 cup buttermilk (I added 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to milk)
½ cup vegetable oil
Optional: 2 tablespoons rum or brandy (I did not add this)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup chopped apples
½ cup chopped walnuts or pecans (I didn’t add nuts because Chris hates walnuts and pecans)
Scrape the batter into the pan and spread evenly. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Let cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes. Slide a thin knife around the cake to detach it from the pan. Invert the cake and peel off the paper liner, if using. Let cool right side up on the rack. Serve warm or plain with vanilla ice cream, or let cool completely and frost with icing.
Quick White Icing (from The Joy of Cooking)
In a medium bowl, beat together on medium speed:
2 cups powdered sugar, sifted if lumpy
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened, or 3 tablespoons hot heavy cream
Add and beat until smooth:
3 to 4 tablespoons milk, dry sherry, rum, or coffee
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon salt
Correct the consistency if necessary, adding additional powdered sugar or liquid of choice.
To store, cover the surface of the icing with a sheet of plastic wrap. This keeps for up to 3 days at room temperature or up to 3 weeks refrigerated. Or freeze for up to 6 months. Soften and stir or beat until smooth before using.