Cider Pudding Cake
Every girl has a dear old friend whom she treasures like a sister. Maybe the first meeting was back in grammar school, high school or college, during years that brought awkward growth and tremendous shared experiences. A chainsaw can't break this kind of bond between old girlfriends. Then one day, after say, a few cocktails, someone decides to play the "what did you think of me when we first met?" card. And then you hear the needle squealing off a record somewhere in the distance as a response tries to form itself. In this pause I will say that I'm not using men in this example because no man would be crazy enough to ask such a question of an old friend. Inevitably, liquid courage will help someone say something rather unexpected, yet honest, like, "I thought you were obnoxious/mute/bitchy/weird." And then there will either be lots of pouting and shunning in the following minutes OR there will be much laughter and celebration of the fact that your love and friendship grew to far outweigh first impressions. The latter, thankfully, is my experience with Apple Cider Pudding Cake. During my first meeting with this recipe, I thought this cake was a liar. An insane, highly suspicious liar. I mean, I get bread pudding, but hot liquid poured onto a batter before baking? Whazzat? This cake had to be just showing off and telling tall tales to cover insecurities. Don't ask me why I guessed that. But as you know, I've been making a solid effort to try some new recipes to dig into fall's bounty. And as the husband so wittily pointed out, with its usage of apples in multiple forms, it was kind of like the Tres Leches Cake of fruit--Tres Manzanas Cake, if you will. So I soldiered on, with doubts in mind and peeler in hand. And you what? I ended up having to apologize and everything, by making this cake twice in one week and giving some to all my neighbors.
Despite its very questionable appearance before it enters the oven (is the boiling liquid actually cooking the batter on contact?), it emerges as a fragrant, rustic pillow, covered in pebbly streusel. With so little butter in this recipe, it's the liberal use of brown sugar and cider that save the day here: when sliced and served warm, you can admire how the sticky cider has waded its way to the bottom of the pan during baking, with a perfectly moist, apple-packed cake above. It's like this recipe uses the concept of making an apple cider reduction on the stove--there are concentrated notes of heady molasses, autumn spices and vanilla left behind--but the moisture has been trapped inside the cake rather than just evaporating altogether. Add to all that crispy edges and the buttery crunch of streusel (which the original recipe stated was optional, but it is so not), and you have yourself a dynamic new friend of a recipe that you'll want to have around all the time, first impressions aside.
Apple Cider Pudding Cake
For the Cake:
1 cup all-purpose flour 2 teaspoons baking powder 1/4 teaspoon salt 1/4 teaspoon baking soda 1 teaspoon cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg 1 large egg 1 cup brown sugar, packed 1/3 cup milk 2 tablespoons butter, melted 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 2 cups chopped apple (about 2 large, I chose a Fuji and a Winesap)
For the Cider:
1 cup apple cider 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon 1 teaspoon vanilla 1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour 1/4 brown sugar 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and set an oven rack to the middle position. Grease an 8x8 inch baking dish.
To make the cake batter, in a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda, cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice (or ginger) and nutmeg. In another, larger bowl, whisk together the egg, 1 cup brown sugar, milk, melted butter and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Stir in the flour mixture until just incorporated and then fold in the apples until the batter is well-blended. Spread the batter into the prepared pan.
To make the cider, in a small saucepan, combine the cider, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1 teaspoon vanilla and 1/2 cup brown sugar and bring it to a boil, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat, and pour the cider carefully over the batter. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes until a toothpick comes out with a few moist crumbs. To add the streusel, mix the flour, sugar and knob of unsalted butter together with a fork until well- combined and pebbly, but not homogeneous, and sprinkle it over the cake during the last 10 minutes of baking. If necessary, give the streusel a boost under the broiler during the last minute or so. Cool the cake on a wire rack, and serve while the cake is still warm.