French apple cake

I have a bit of a habit of getting a new favourite song and listening to it so often that I wear it out. But in this case, this is a favourite song revisited. Since I heard it at dinner at a friend’s house last week, I can’t stop listening to Joan Baez’s song, Diamonds and Rust. It’s such a classic and so powerful and incredibly, hauntingly beautiful. 

I first heard Joan Baez when I was in high school, back in the days of Joni Mitchell and Neil Young and Bob Dylan. But it had been such a long time since I’d heard Diamonds and Rust and it stirred up something – opening neural pathways and dredging up time-worn emotions. I’d forgotten how good this song is. It sounds as good or even better than I remember. I’ve listened to it about a hundred times in short order – running to it on my iPod in a continuous loop. It’s taking me on a powerful trip. Old memories are surfacing, my dreams are full of my earlier self, I’m filled with familiar, deep-rooted pangs of wanderlust – I just want to chuck my possessions, pack my rucksack, travel the world. Today I was singing, shamelessly, in the change room at the gym. “You burst on the scene already a legend. The unwashed phenomenon. The original vagabond. You strayed into my arms….” Sigh.

If you’re too young to remember this song (bless you!) it’s  Joan Baez’s breakup tribute song to Bob Dylan.  Actually it’s a tribute to memories of love. Their love of each other, of places, of their time on the road, and of their own disappearing youth. And who doesn’t have some of those memories?

I’ve been on the road myself a bit lately. The last two months have been a blur of travel – both personal and professional. Last week I was back in Waterloo, home of my Alma mater, the University of Waterloo – another trip down the memory lane. I was staying with a friend in her beautiful old house in a tree filled neighbourhood with well-tended gardens, riding her bike, cooking in her kitchen, listening to her music. One night another friend joined us and there we were – three women – soft beeswax candles aglow – conversation and laughter and camaraderie -some wine,  a pot of bacon corn cheddar chowder simmering on the stove, and Joan Baez pelting out her classic, timeless Diamonds and Rust. “Now you’re telling me, You’re not nostalgic. Then give me another word for it. You, who are so good with words….”

Nostalgia, like sentimentality, is so underrated.

Time for apple cake. This is a classic French apple cake – stunningly simple, subtle, and surprisingly flavourful.  And autumn-like. And like most things French – it’s elegant. This recipe, or a version like it, appears in many French cookbooks and on many blogs. My version is just the slightest adaption. Most of the versions online stem from Dorie Greenspan’s book, Around My French Table. I don’t have that book but my version of the recipe is adapted from David Lebovitz (who adapted Dorie Greenspan’s version- who adapted the recipe from her French friend, Marie-Helene, who probably got it from her mother and so on….).

The rum is probably key in this cake so if you don’t drink alcohol – you might want to think twice about this one.  Don’t be tempted to add cinnamon or nutmeg or anything. There are other recipes for those cakes. This one is perfect the way it is. Serve it warm or room temperature with whipped cream or Greek yogurt and maybe a drizzle of honey. One caveat – this cake is probably best served the day it is made. You can certainly eat it afterwards but the flavour and texture are optimum sooner rather than later.

Classic French Apple Cake

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 1/2 cup butter at room temperature
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 tbsp dark rum
  • 2-3 good-sized cooking apples, peeled, cored and cut in chunky slices (I used Macs)
  • 2/3 cup of all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup whole-wheat flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • confectioner’s or icing sugar to dust top with

Preheat oven to 35o degrees F. Butter a 9 inch springform pan.

Beat the butter and sugar for at least three minutes or until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well between. Add the vanilla and rum.

Mix together the flours, salt, and baking powder and stir into the egg mixture. Add the chopped apples and fold into the batter.

Spread into the prepared pan and bake for about 35 minutes or until the cake springs back lightly to the touch. Let cool and dust with icing sugar. Serve with a little sweetened whipped cream or yogurt.


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