apple upside-down cornmeal cakes
Thanksgiving is two weeks away and I am all aflutter. My favorite holiday, my favorite time of year, my favorite foods. This year, for the first time in eight years, I’m hanging up my hosting hat and donning on a supporting one. It’s not easy – I’m so entrenched in Thanksgiving that to think I’ll only be cooking two dishes instead of a dozen is an adjustment. But it’s a good adjustment – this Thanksgiving is as cozy and comforting as it gets. This year we’re in Vermont, Andrew and I, celebrating with his family in a small, quiet, New England town. There will be fleece trousers, flannel pajamas, and, I hope, endless amounts of hot mulled cider. There will be naps. There will be a thousand piece puzzle. There will be bananagrams, I am told, longish trail runs, Andrew’s mother’s amazing sour cream cake, and book started and finished. I am bringing my camera and my only regret is that I don’t yet own a wide angle lens. I might even shoot some film too.
It is because of Robert Frost that I will forever link together Vermont and apple-picking. His New England is the New England I ache for, the New England that has a firm, tight grip on my heart and has made me a New Englander forever. It is home, simple and true. It is at once rustic and elegant, austere and welcoming. It is home to messy apple cobblers, autumn apple pie, creamy clam chowder, and the best lobster in the country. New England was made for a holiday like Thanksgiving – or maybe it’s my foolish heart, heavy with love for the region.
The other day, someone was asking me about Thanksgiving desserts and I rattled off a few ideas, but they shook their head. They didn’t want any more pies, they were pied-out. I personally cannot think of a moment when I was ever pied-out, and according to my clock, it’s always a very good time for pie. But perhaps my love of pie, as my love of all things New England, runs a bit deep. Deeper than most people’s perhaps. So I get it. Too much pie. Or perhaps, after such a heavy meal you want something lighter, or smaller.
So maybe these little apple upside-down cakes might do? They’ve got a lovely cornmeal base, a nice rustic texture, but just look at how small and adorable these guys are? Tiny! I managed to have two, and might have snuck in a third, shhhh! But, should you be so full of turkey on Thanksgiving that you can only take in a little bit of dessert, these are perfect for the occasion. The batter is the sort of fool-proof, unfussy type you can particularly appreciate on a day when you have all your appliances going on at once. And all the burners. And the oven. And so to make something that requires a bowl, a whisk and a spatula is a welcome reprieve from all the times you will be washing and drying your food processor. Plus the added bonus of savoring one of these Friday morning with your coffee – is priceless. You can be as lazy as you want. You could decide to spend the day in your flannel jammies. You could play bananagrams and think of nothing else. Whatever your Thanksgiving holiday holds, I hope it brings a little bit of stillness and calm into your life. We could all use a little bit more of it, don’t you think?
Apple Upside-Down Cornmeal Cakes
Adapted from Gourmet
3/4 stick (6 tbsp) cold, unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon pieces, plus additional for greasing
3 Gala apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/3 inch dice
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 large egg
3/4 whole milk
Put oven rack in upper third of oven and preheat to 425 F. Butter muffin cups and set aside.
Heat 2 tablespoons of butter in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat, until the foam dissipates. Cook the apples in butter, with brown sugar and lemon juice until liquid is reduced to a glaze and apples are tender, about 7-8 minutes.
Stir in walnuts and cook another minute. Divide mixture among the 12 muffin cups. You only need a little bit at the bottom. You will have more than enough of the apple mixture and undoubtedly have apples left over. You can always double the batter amount and make 24 cakes instead of 12.
For the Dry Ingredients:
Food processor method (in case you really want to): In a food processor pulse together flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and salt until well combined. Add remaining butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal with some pea-sized butter lumps. The mixture will feel sandy to the touch.
Manual method: If you don’t have a food processor on hand, whisk these dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Add remaining butter and with a pastry cutter, working quickly, cut butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles coarse meal with some pea-sized butter lumps. The mixture will feel sandy to the touch.
In a large bowl, whisk together the egg and milk. Add flour mixture and whisk until just combined. Divide batter among the muffin cups and bake until golden about 20 minutes.
Run a pairing knife around the edge of each cake to loosen it from the pan. Invert the rack over muffin cups and flip the muffin cups over onto the rack.
Serve with a dollop of freshly made whipped cream, or a scoop of ice cream on top.