Monday, February 26, 2007

Saturday Night Apple Cake

I have this darling little cookbook (I've mentioned it before) that we picked up at a local book fair last summer, and it's been... well, collecting dust ever since I traded over a dollar for it. Why? It's weird. It's the Congressional Club Cookbook from 1970 -- the eighth edition -- and while it's an entertaining jaunt into the past, it's full of jello molds, tuna casseroles, and ingredients like Oleo (from what I can gather, a particular brand of margarine.) It's a great treasure trove of the odd stuff our elected officials used to eat, supposedly, and includes some nifty tidbits: charts outlining the chain of command and where to seat specific members of the house, senate, and their wives (senate wives outrank house members) and what to do when the President invites you to dine at the White House. Never decline the invitation, even if you had other plans: just write the people you're brushing off a letter explaining that you've been invited to dine with the President, and naturally, that is more important than anything else you may have committed to.
It's a neat cookbook, but like I said -- hard to find something I'd actually want to eat in its pages. So when we decided, once and for all, to just use the darn thing this past Saturday, I was thrilled to find a recipe for Saturday Night Apple Cake. Perfect! We had a busy and full day -- complete with a ridiculously delicious lunch and a milkshake at the Eleven City Diner (I hadn't had a milkshake in years, people, and it was fabulous: supposedly one of the best shakes in Chicago, and I agree) and I was in no mood for a heavy dinner. So we settled on this apple cake -- which I imagined would turn out much like a zucchini or banana bread, but it is much sticker -- and some matzo ball soup. And the best part? The apple cake was perfect for Sunday morning breakfast. Can I just brag, for a second, about how wonderful yesterday was? The sleet mushed about outside, and we were so cozy with our two newspapers and our apple cake and an Oscar-nominated movie that there was no need to go out. By the way: Last King of Scotland? Great movie, but... I covered my eyes at the end, there. Also, I cried -- not tears of sadness, but tears of ohmygod no one would ever actually do that to another human, right? (wrong, by the way.) I recommend it -- although the plot was too predictable (I kept calling out what was going to happen, which is an annoying habit of mine) it was very well done and Forrest Whitaker totally deserved that Oscar. What an actor.
In any case, apple cake is good. And it's brought to us by Mrs. Mark O. Hatfield, the wife of the senator from Oregon (in 1970, obviously.) The women don't use their real names; in fact, they don't even sign their recipes with their name, only with the name of their husbands. Because no one knows (or cares) who they are. They just make the food, behind closed kitchen doors. And after the dinner was finished, the men took out their cigars and began yammering... and the women retreated, back to the kitchen, for a Virginia Slims cigarette and coffee. Their advertisement on the cookbook's paste-down says it all:
Saturday Night Apple Cake
Begin by creaming 3 tablespoons of shortening. Add 1 cup of sugar, gradually, until the mixture is crumbly and well-combined. As usual, I used my KitchenAid for this -- any time I'm making a batter, the KitchenAid gets to play. I'm not one for mixing by hand. When I was a child (and this, I assure you, is a true story) I was instructed to make the batter for a brownie mix. Simple, right? Add the egg, the water, and mix. By hand. I was young, so I interpreted this literally. There was batter everywhere -- a photograph exists as proof. I think that was probably my dog's happiest day alive. The moral of the story? Don't trust me alone in the kitchen.
Add one large egg and 1 teaspoon vanilla to the sugar mixture and beat well. Now, mix in 3 cups of diced firm apples. We used 3 red apples which was plenty, and D diced them into small ( about 1/4 inch) chunks. We wanted some substance to the apples, so we didn't grate them, and we went with red because those looked best at the grocery store. I know most people bake with Granny Smith apples, but... I wanted something sweeter. And the Granny Smiths looked kind of sorry anyhow.
Sift in 1 cup of flour, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon. Another quirk of this cookbook, by the way, is that they use soda and baking soda interchangeably. So this recipe, in actuality, calls for "soda," which we (correctly) interpreted to mean "baking soda." Very strange, no? This cookbook is wild. Stir in 1/2 cup chopped walnuts or brazil nuts. The recipe calls for walnuts, plain and simple, but -- shock of all shocks -- we couldn't find them in the store. We opted for the brazil nuts instead, because they were cheap and unseasoned, and I was very happy with the results. A nice nutty flavor without being overwhelming. We used our little Cuisinart Chopper, which could have turned them to butter if we weren't being careful, and the result was mostly powdery with some small chunks. I liked that -- I'm not that interested in chewy chunks in my bread.
Turn the batter into an ungreased 9-inch pan and bake for 45 to 50 minutes at 350º. By the way: I used a springform pan, and I'm really glad I did. The resulting cake is pretty spongy and sticky, and I can't imagine the mess it would leave in a standard ungreased pan. You might just want to smear a bit of butter in there, especially along the sides, if you're not using a springform. It can be served warm (yummmmm) or cold, and be sure to save a slice or two for breakfast the next morning. And possibly lunch. As a matter of fact, I didn't eat anything but apple cake until dinner yesterday. Glorious.

No comments:

D & I design merchandise related to the HUAC hearings. Visit our store: