Before there was blogging, I used to tell my food writing students not to write a story about their grandmother’s cooking unless their grandmother was Julia Child (and we all know she had no grandchildren). In those days, if you wanted anyone other than your best friend or your cat to read what you wrote, you had to get it published, which meant you had to pitch an editor. And most food editors — including me — rolled our eyes at stories that started with “I learned to cook at my grandmother’s knee.”
Now blogger write about their grandmothers all the time and I’m all for it. Still, that doesn’t mean I’ve ever written about mine. Probably because she was ornery and chain-smoked Virginia Slims and believed in well-done lamb. But this weekend I got a hankering for her apple cake, a recipe she got from a vegetable oil ad in a magazine in the 1950s. It’s foolproof and easy, no harder to make than muffins, but much more lovely. Here’s a couple of things to know: 1. use green apples, even if God didn’t make ‘em (I got mine at a farmers’ market, so the grower did). They’re tart and firm and hold up best in batter. 2. grate the apples and let them sit in sugar for a few minutes to draw out liquid; that’s what makes this cake so moist. 3. sift the flour, cinnamon and other dry stuff; it helps keep the cake light. 4. raisins are a must;* I like golden ones. Add walnuts or pecans unless someone has a nut aversion or allergy.5. bake in a glass dish; it helps brown the bottom and sides of the cake. 6. serve the cake buck-naked or with a gloss of cream cheese frosting. That’s the kind of talk my grandmother would have liked.
*weirdly enough, one of my grandmothers was a Raisin — that was her last name — but this is not that grandmother.
3 granny Smith apples (about 1-1/4 lb total)
1/2 cup white sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup lightly packed brown sugar
2 eggs, at room temperature
3/4 cup canola or safflower oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup raisins (I like golden raisins)
cream cheese frosting, optional (this one on Simply Recipes is the best and you only need a half batch to frost this cake)
Cut apples into large chunks, discarding cores. In a food processor or by hand, grate the apples coarsely, peel and all. Transfer grated apples to a large bowl and sprinkle with the white sugar; stir, then set aside to draw moisture out of apples while you get the rest of the recipe ready.
Preheat an oven to 350°F. Oil an 8- by 11-inch baking dish. Sift the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt into another bowl.
Stir the brown sugar into the apple mixture; mix well. With a fork, beat in the eggs, oil, vanilla, nuts and raisins. Stir in the flour-cinnamon mixture and mix well. Spread batter into the prepared dish and bake on center rack of oven until a toothpick inserted in middle of cake comes out clean, about 50 minutes. Let cool on a rack then frost, if desired, and cut into squares.