Let’s get one thing out of the way. I’m sharing today’s recipe purely out of my enthusiasm for a new cookbook, one that I tested recipes for a while back: Date Night In: More than 120 Recipes to Nourish Your Relationship. Maybe you’ve seen it? Author Ashley Rodriguez is a friend of a friend and creator of the award-winning blog NotWithoutSalt.com. I tested many of the recipes while pregnant and without much of an appetite. Yet she surprised me with enticing recipes and complex, appealing flavors just about every time.
So, with that said, let’s talk about apple cake. The recipe for this one comes from a wooden box that Ashley’s grandmother gave her. Don’t we all love finding gems in the form of recipe cards? That story alone was enough to make me want to give this recipe a try. On the surface, it’s a simple cake: butter, sugar, flour, and some spices–not much else–mixed with chunks of tart apples. But Ashley has a way of transforming something as ubiquitous as apple cake into something remarkable. With cinnamon and freshly grated nutmeg–and a touch of salt, after all she named her blog after the James Beard quote, “Where would we be without salt?”–it’s one of the most flavorful and interesting apple cakes I’ve ever tasted (not to mention easy).
Enough about the cake for now–the recipe follows. We should talk about the book. Throughout the course of over 120 recipes, Ashley weaves in a love story. The premise is sweet: A young couple’s marriage starts to fall flat when life with three small children overshadows the romance that surrounded their early days–that is, until the wife starts cooking up special restaurant-worthy dinners to enjoy after they’ve tucked the kids into bed. Date nights–in. Ashley tells an honest, vulnerable, and refreshing love story in the form of 52 dates she created for her husband, Gabe. Organized by season, the recipes range from simple no-cook antipasti to enjoy on a hot summer evening to braises that benefit from hours in the oven.
The first menu I tested started with a pineapple rosarita: fresh rosemary muddled with pineapple and shaken with triple sec, tequila, and lime juice. Tart and refreshing, it whet the appetites while I assembled an avocado salad complete with generous handfuls of fresh herbs and pepitas. The main course came together in stages: chilaquiles layered with citrus-braised pork, roasted tomatillo salsa, gooey cheese, and an assortment of condiments including Ashley’s pickled red onions. If all that weren’t enough, we ended the meal with Mexican chocolate sorbet with red wine-poached cherries.
That menu was elaborate yet accessible. It would have been over the top to tackle on a single day, but Ashley instructed how to break down the steps over the course of a few days to make it doable for a date night. The whole idea is that it can be easy to create something special, a meal that’s elevated a bit from the regular weeknight dinner. The menus themselves are perfectly balanced, but the recipes stand alone as well: The BBQ pulled-pork sandwiches with apple and radicchio slaw are a regular in my kitchen. The bittersweet chocolate malted shakes are a crowd-pleaser. And I could eat the white salad with pomegranate–built from celeriac, apple, fennel, leek, and white cheddar–as a meal in and of itself.
Ashley starts by making me hungry. And by the time all is said and done, I’m totally satisfied.
Ashley Rodriguez’s Apple Cake from Date Night In
Ashley would have you serve the cake with maple cream. I’ve tried it with and without, and though I usually serve it alone, either way it’s delicious.
For the cake:
Unsalted butter, for the pan
1 1/2 cups / 210 g all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
3/4 cup / 150 g granulated sugar
3/4 cup / 180 ml mild-flavor oil, such as canola or walnut
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 medium-size tart apples, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
Turbinado sugar (optional)
Maple cream (optional, recipe follows)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and prepare an 8-inch round cake pan (I use springform): Butter or spray it, line the bottom with parchment, and butter the parchment.
In a medium bowl, stir flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and sugar. Whisk the oil, eggs, and vanilla in a separate bowl, then pour the wet ingredients into the dry. Tip the apples into the bowl, and fold all the ingredients together.
Pour the batter into the pan and and smooth the top with a spatula. Sprinkle on some turbinado sugar on top, if you wish. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Transfer to a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes, then remove from the pan to finish cooling.
Ashley recommends wrapping the cake in plastic wrap and leaving on the counter overnight. It’s one of those cakes that benefits from a day of resting.
To make the maple cream, just whisk 1/2 cup crème fraîche and 1 tablespoon maple syrup together. It’s that easy.
Makes one 8-inch cake.