I’m a pretty sentimental little bastard, and food ties in nicely with my Sheldon-Cooper-esque, nostalgia-driven obsession with days of yore.
Years ago my parents had one of those old-school dishwashers that you had to roll across the kitchen, and attach it to the kitchen sink in order to kick off the wash cycle. Later on when they replaced the Mesozoic appliance, my Dad harvested the wooden top, and re-purposed it into a ginormous cutting board, and gave it to me. It remains one of my most prized possessions, despite the fact that it’s an absolute bitch to clean, as it doesn’t even come close to fitting into the sink. It has also served well as an ersatz baby gate when friends with kids have visited.
Despite the fact that it’s so gargantuan, and could likely serve as the barrier door on a nuclear bunker, I’m highly protective of it, and God help anyone who thinks they can use it without my express permission/supervision.
While I’m talking about sentiment (and neurosis), I also have a mug from my late grandparents. Technically it’s a coffee mug, but since my grandparents were very English, and rather proper, we only ever had tea in their company. As such, the mug may only contain tea. In the years since, I’ve managed to find more pieces in the same pattern, and I will allow other beverages to be served in the mugs. EXCEPT the one from my grandparents. Yes, I’ve memorized the position of the manufacturers mark on the bottom of the mug, and know which one is sanctified.
So yes, I’m a bit psycho.
However, in amongst the random synaptic firings in my brain I did manage to get one oddity which has proved quite useful: a pretty damned fine memory, if I do say so myself. And it is that oddly-honed attribute which is responsible for this recipe seeing the light of day.
I remembered this cake showing up in my school lunches a couple times back in elementary school (we’re talking mid 80’s here, people). At the time it wasn’t so much the cake itself I was in love with, but the caramelized coconut topping.
I called my Mom to ask for the recipe,
“Do you still have the recipe for French Apple Cake?”
“You must remember. The one with the coconut on top…?”
We went back and forth for a while, and over the course of several phone calls. My vague descriptions of the recipe card in her handwriting, clearly saying “French Apple…”. Her phone calls back with random recipes for carrot cake, coffee cake, and then eventually we both gave up, even though it was driving us both crazy by this time.
Ten minutes after we’d hung up, my phone rang again, and I answered, hearing two words that made these wistful little toes wiggle “Got it!”.
Apparently I inherited my obsessive nature from my Mom, as she pretty much conducted an archaeological dig on her vaults of recipes until she found this misplaced (but not forgotten) gem.
French Apple Pie Cake
For the cake:
· 4 cups chopped apples
· 2 cups brown sugar
· 1 cup oil
· 2 eggs (beaten)
· 2 tsp vanilla
· 1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
· 2 cups flour
· 2 tsp baking soda
· 1 tsp salt
· 2 tsp cinnamon
For the topping:
· ½ cup melted butter
· 2/3 cup brown sugar
· ¼ cup cream or milk
· ½ cup shredded coconut
Preheat oven to 350°. Grease & flour a 9x13 pan.
In a large bowl mix the brown sugar with the chopped apple. Add oil, eggs and vanilla, and stir/fold mixture until evenly dispersed.
In a separate bowl sift together flour, soda, salt and cinnamon.
Add to apple mixture, folding immediately until blended. The batter will be sticky and somewhat stiff.
Pour batter into prepared pan, using a spatula to push batter to edges and corners, and bake for 40-60 minutes. Test with a toothpick for doneness. No batter on the toothpick? It’s done.
Meanwhile, mix topping ingredients.
When the cake comes out of the oven, switch on the broiler (leaving rack in the middle of the oven).
Spread topping ingredients on the warm cake, and place under the broiler. When mixture is bubbling and bronzed, remove and allow to cool before cutting and serving.
It turns out my memory did fail me somewhat on this one. The actual cake is delightful! Carrot-cakey in texture and moistness. Capped off with the coconut, DAMN! Fine little piece of baking it be!