Indiana is flat, but you probably know this already. Or, maybe you don’t. When the apples fall from the trees in the many orchards that live on the outskirts of my city, they fall straight down, and stay there. No rolling or helplessly creeping their way downhill, as they tended to do in the mountainside orchards I visited as a kid growing up in Southwestern Virginia. I’ve no preference though, for either the stationary or the rolling apples. I love them all the same. They all make for some great cakes.
We visited a fantastic orchard about 25 miles outside of town a couple of weekends ago, and it was a remarkable day in the true sense of the word: it was to be remarked upon. Some days just are, because they carry themselves a bit better than others – are a little more sensational in their unfolding. More jazzy. Our orchard day was like that. Dawn brought with it a sun that rose high and proud in a sky that became cloudless and a piercing shade of pool water blue. Not unlike the small pool that was situated behind my college apartment complex, and that no one ever dared swim in because it was leafy and gross, save for the happy-baby-candy blue shade with which it had been painted. It was painted that color by a man named Leo who wore overalls with one of the straps hanging down while he worked … said the clasp was broken. We got to talking one day while I did my homework in a lawn chair that was angled away from the gross pool, which was drained at the time, and he offered me a cigarette. I told him I didn’t smoke. His one loose overall strap banged against his back while he painted and it drove me to complete and utter distraction.
But I digress.
The sky at the orchard was picture-perfect blue and the breezes were just warm enough. It was just right; a gem of a Fall day if there ever was one. I was genuinely impressed by how fast my kids filled their little bag with apples and paused to think that we should have sprung for the bigger one – the bushel and not the half-peck. Or whatever. We left with loads though, and the ones that escaped the snacking in the few days to follow made their way into this candy apple cake of mine. I tried to find a recipe for a “Candied Apple Cake” online and was surprised when I didn’t readily come up with anything that fit the bill. And so. I set about creating my own and if I’m being completely honest, it turned out so much better than I had even anticipated. The sport of baking doesn’t usually exist in a bullseye/hole-in-one/nail-it-on-the-first-try kind of arena, but this time, fate smiled right down on me … from her picture-perfect swimming pool blue sky.
This is a very straightforward fresh apple bundt cake that is spiced just enough to give it warmth and a very “Fall!” feel. The candy apple crackle on top is classic – I didn’t get all weird with my ingredients there and it just works very nicely. I do add a splash of vanilla to my candy coating, as I think it’s a good touch, but you could leave that out. Either way, I would like to conclude by highly encouraging you to give this cake a go this season. As fun as candy apples can be, I think the classic candy apple red coating has really been waiting on a cake all along. It’s fun to play matchmaker every once in a while …
Candy Apple Cake
3 cups diced apples, peeled or unpeeled, any variety will do (about 2 large apples)
3.5 tsp vanilla extract, divided
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
3 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
4 cups sugar, divided
1-1/4 cups canola oil (or vegetable or grapeseed)
1/3 cup apple cider
1 to 2 tsp red food coloring
1/2 cup light corn syrup
Crushed/chopped walnuts, for topping (if desired)
Special equipment: candy thermometer
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F. Grease/spray a bundt or tube pan.
In a medium-sized bowl, mix together the apples, 2.5 tsp of the vanilla, the cinnamon, and the nutmeg. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt.
Using an electric or stand mixer beat 2 cups of the sugar, the oil, eggs, and cider on medium speed in a large bowl until combined. Add in the flour mixture and beat just until everything is completely mixed. Fold in the apples. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 1 hour and 30 minutes or until a tester inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.
Allow the cake to fully cool in the pan (about 1 hour), and then transfer it to a plate. Working VERY carefully, spoon the candy coating over your cake and garnish right away with the crushed nuts, if desired. Serve and enjoy!
For the candy coating:
In a medium, heavy-bottomed pot, combine ¾ cup water, with the remaining 2 cups of sugar, the food coloring, remaining 1 tsp vanilla, and the corn syrup. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to medium-high. Using your candy thermometer as a guide, continue to cook the mixture until it reaches a temp of 300 – 310 degrees (hard crack stage). Once it’s reached this temp, remove it from the heat.