Thursday, September 13, 2012

Backyard Apple and Walnut Cake, with Rose Geranium Ice Cream

I have been trying with all my might to resist the fast-approaching onset of fall. I'm pretty much in denial about it all: the shortening days, the colder weather, the disappearance of summer produce from the markets, the upswing in activity with everyone returning from their summer vacations. On Monday when I met up with a few food-blogging friends in San Francisco for dinner, I refused to bring a thicker, non-summery coat and froze my ass off walking to the car, even though I knew full well beforehand that it was getting colder. Usually this is one of my favorite times of the year, and I relish the change in the seasons and everything that goes along with it, but for some reason, this year, I just don't feel ready yet! I haven't accomplished even a quarter of what I set out to do over the summer, and fall also means that 2012 is drawing to a quick close, and I haven't accomplished even 10% of what I set out to do at the beginning of the year...! I needs more time!

But alas, you can only resist change for so long before your mom starts showing up at your door bearing bags and bags of fall fruits in the form of adorable little apples and elegantly-shaped pears from the neighbors' yards back home!

These apples were too cute and sweet and juicy for me to turn them down, so before I knew it, I ended up with a bags! of them scattered about my kitchen. ... So of course the most efficient way to use them would be a cake! (or pie, really. But there's pie down the road for this blog, I promise.) A cake stuffed so chock-full of apple-y goodness that it turns into a super-robust and moist pound cake--none of that light and fluffy summery stuff. This backyard apple + walnut cake means Fall Business.

I've also been craving a walnut cake for the longest time and so am finally happy to have delivered on that front. Apples and walnuts are such the classic combination, and the bites of buttery nuttiness are perfect amidst the richness of this cake. A thank you is due to the wonderful folks at California Walnuts for sending me these fabulous specimens for the cake!

Oh, and so we can all feel good about being "healthy" and all, there's some whole wheat flour thrown in there for good, rustic measure. :)

You *could* serve this cake with whipped cream, or, you could make good on another summer goal of mine: make rose geranium ice cream. (check!) I've been on the search for rose geranium since I first read about it in the Chez Panisse desserts book years back, and finally, when my friend Toni took me out to the amazing Flora Grubb Nursery in the summer, I found a beauty of a rose geranium plant to bring home! Surprisingly despite my notorious brown thumb, the plant's been thriving ever since, exploding out of its new pot every which way with large, spindly leaves. The rose geranium ice cream is wonderfully flavored from the leaves, with tints of the haunting floral and slightly spicy-sweet smell of the plant.

...happy September! (though I am still going to refuse for a teensy while longer to admit that fall is pretty much here. <-- stubborn :))

Read on for recipe....

Backyard Apple and Walnut Cake
makes one 9 x 3" round cake

975 g (~9 - 10) small apples
2 1/2 cups (300 g) whole wheat pastry flour
1 tspn salt
1 tspn baking powder
1/4 tspn ground cinnamon
1 cup + 5 Tbspn (297 g) butter, softened
1 1/2 cups (300 g) light brown sugar, lightly packed
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup buttermilk
90 g walnuts, coarsely chopped

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour the insides and bottom of a 9 x 3-inch round cake pan. Line the bottom with a parchment paper round. Wrap the outside of the pan with bake even strips (see note).
2. Using a mandolin, very thinly slice two of the apples. Arrange the slices on the parchment paper at the bottom of the cake pan, starting from the inside and working outwards.
3. Finely grate the remainder of the apples, resulting in about 600 g of grated apple. Set aside.
4. In a bowl, whisk to combine the whole wheat pastry flour, salt, baking powder, and ground cinnamon. Set aside.
5. In a separate bowl, combine the butter and brown sugar. Beat on medium until light and fluffy, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add in the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the grated apple until combined. Add the flour mixture in two parts, alternating with the buttermilk. Beat briefly until combined, but do not overmix. Fold in the chopped walnuts.
6. Carefully pour the batter into the prepared cake pan. Use the back of a spatula to gently press the batter into the apple slices on the bottom and to smooth out the top. Tap the bottom of the pan gently on a counter to release any air bubbles.
7. Bake the cake for about 1 hour and 5 minutes to 1 hour and 15 minutes. The cake is done when the top is golden brown and just beginning to pull away from the edges, and when a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out cleanly. Remove the cake from the oven and transfer to a wire rack. Let cool for 15 minutes, until the pan is cool enough to touch. Run a sharp, thin knife along the inside edge of the pan to loosen the cake. Invert the cake onto a plate, remove the pan and parchment round. Let cool completely.

Note regarding bake even strips: Normally, I'd say that bake even strips were optional, but because this cake will be flipped on its head, a flat top is preferable. If you don't have bake-even strips, try using a 9 x 3-inch springform and trimming the top before flipping the cake over.

Note regarding peeling apples: For the sliced apples on top of the cake, I prefer to leave the skins on so that there are borders to the design on top of the cake. Just make sure to use a mandolin to make very thin slices so that the peels don't get chewy. For the grated apples inside the cake, I left the peels on because the apples are finely grated and a teeny bit of peel doesn't bother me much. If you'd like a smoother texture, you can peel these apples first before grating them.

Rose Geranium Brown Sugar Ice Cream
adapted very liberally from Jeni's Ice Cream

2 cups (460 g) whole milk
1 1/2 cups (345 g) heavy cream
10 large rose geranium leaves
1 Tbspn + 1 tspn tapioca starch
1/2 cup (100 g) dark brown sugar, lightly packed
2 Tbspn (38 g) light corn syrup
1/8 tspn sea salt
1/2 tspn vanilla extract

1. Combine the milk and cream in a medium-sized pot with a tight-fitting lid. Rub the geranium leaves between your fingers briefly to release their fragrance, and then add them to the milk and cream. Over medium high heat, bring the dairy mixture to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Once the mixture has reached a simmer, remove from heat, cover, and let steep for 30 minutes.
2. Strain the milk and cream through a fine mesh strainer, making sure to press all of the liquid out of the rose geranium leaves. Discard the leaves. Return the milk and cream back to the pot.
4. Prepare the tapioca starch in a separate bowl. Spoon about 2 Tbspn of the milk and cream mixture into the starch and whisk until smooth. Set aside.
3. Add the tapioca starch, brown sugar, corn syrup, and sea salt to the remaining milk and cream in the pot. Whisk to combine. Over medium high heat, bring the mixture to a rolling boil, stirring with a spatula to prevent over-boiling and burning. Let boil for 4 minutes.
4. Whisk the tapioca starch into the pot. Let cook while stirring until the mixture becomes a bit thicker, about 1 minute. Remove from heat.
5. Whisk in the vanilla extract, cover, and refrigerate until cold.
6. Freeze according to your ice cream maker's instructions. If the mixture looks a little bit separated when you remove it from the refrigerator to freeze, give it a whisk and it will come back together quickly. Finish freezing the ice cream in the freezer overnight.

Note: the rose geranium ice cream is also very, very good with dark chocolate shards mixed in at the end of churning!

Disclaimer: I received these walnuts for free, but, as per strict desserts for breakfast policy, I wouldn't be telling you about them unless I personally used them and loved them. Also, this post contains a few Amazon affiliate links to books that I personally own ...if you click through and buy something, I get a few middling pennies, so support your friendly neighborhood grad student-baker today. :)



  1. I'm in love with your photos and the apples!!!

  2. Beautiful as always, and it looks delicious!

  3. I love fall in San Francisco, I think the evenings here are so much warmer in the fall than in the summer...

  4. ps: I'm totally making this because we get loads of gravensteins from friends...

  5. Dannii @Hungry Healthy HappySeptember 13, 2012 at 10:46 AM

    What a perfect fall recipe! I am so excited for apple season.

  6. Haha. I'm SO in denial too, but your receipe definitely is changing my mind. It looks incredible!

  7. Reading this while helping myself to another "sliver" of this delicious cake :) Love love love it!

  8. jaime @ asweetroad.comSeptember 13, 2012 at 11:27 AM

    I know the feeling of not being ready for the next season, but I love fall so much! I'll admit, there have been a few times over the years I have pumped up the air conditioning during some 90 degree evenings just so I could wear a sweater and bake sweet potatoes or pie... whoops!

  9. m-m-m yummy

  10. Gorgeous simplicity! Enjoy your works so much!

  11. Beautiful photography as always and the recipe looks perfect- thanks for sharing!!

  12. Beautiful beautiful photos! I've been trying to resist autumn and hold onto summer too, but I think I'm going to have to surrender sometime soon. If I had to, this would be the dish to do so with :-)

  13. I just love simple cakes like this one. The photography here is so beautiful. And...I'll trade you weather conditions any day!! Do you like "humidity"? No? one wants to trade!

  14. Humidity?! Absolutely not! sorry, but I'm keeping my beautifully chilly SF weather. :)

  15. Stephanie, these photos are simply Beautiful! I was just looking back at some of your prior photos from around 2009. Although they were beautiful as well, you have elevated your work to a whole different level. It was hard to focus on the recipe because I was so transfixed on the photos. However, I went back and read it and it sounds perfect for a sweet and simple autumn treat.

  16. Thank you, Mary! It's definitely been quite the learning curve since 2009. Some of those photos make me really cringe. :P

  17. You've done it again! Your styling and photography is stunning of course :)


I love hearing from you and reading your comments! Thanks so much for stopping by the blog. Happy feasting!