Today I made the Susan Boyle of cakes. It is quite ordinary looking, definitely not the glamorous sort, and perhaps would even be mocked in a Cake's Got Talent competition. It seems like the type to have never been kissed, is a little soft in the middle, and might even benefit from a makeover...but boy does it sing. And though you'd never guess it from the looks of it, it has a little sassy kick from all that nutmeg and cinnamon added to the batter.
Admittedly, much of its unsightly appearance is my fault. You see the recipe specified using a 9x13 pan, and I, in my narrow perception of what an applesauce cake ought to be, immediately assumed that it would bake in a loaf pan. Big mistake. As the cake rose up, much of it tumbled over the sides (and landed on my pizza stone...thank goodness!). I took it out of the oven before it was fully cooked in the middle because the edges seemed like they were awfully close to burning. I had fantasies of wrapping up the lovely little loaf in a pretty dish towel for a photo op. But it was not meant to be. C'est la vie.
Despite its homely appearance, this cake is tender, moist and incredibly flavorful. A tablespoon of cocoa powder added to the batter not only enriches the color, but gives it an amazing depth of flavor that is not chocolatey at all, but rather serves to compliment the spiciness of it. I think it would be wonderful topped with cream cheese icing, but that will have to be for another day, when I have baked it in the proper vessel.
The recipe comes from Mildred Armstrong Kalish, author of the delightful memoir Little Heathens, which is about her experiences growing up during the Great Depression. I know that the words 'delightful' and 'Great Depression' are rarely associated together, but trust me, you will love this book! With tales from a simpler time where kids worked hard and played harder, this is how it starts...
I tell of a time, a place, and a way of life long gone but still indelible in my memory. For many years I have had the urge to describe that treasure trove, lest it vanish forever. So, partly in response to the basic human instinct to share feelings and experiences, and partly for the sheer joy and excitement of it all, I report on my early life. It was quite a romp...Little Heathens' Apple Sauce Cake
1 stick butter
1 1/2 C sugar
2 1/2 C flour
1 T cocoa powder
1/4 t salt
2 t baking soda
1 t baking powder
1 t cinnamon
1/2 t nutmeg
1 1/2 C applesauce (she says unsweetened, but the applesauce I had in my pantry had sugar and worked fine)
1/4 C chopped walnuts (I omitted)
2/3 C raisins (also omitted)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 9x13x2 cake pan. Cream butter and sugar together in a large bowl. Add egg and mix well. Sift together flour, cocoa, salt, baking soda and powder and spices and add to the butter mixture in two additions, alternating with the apple sauce. Stir just until combined. Pour into prepared pan and bake for 45 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool in pan.