Friday, November 12, 2010

apple upside-down cornmeal cakes

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.

cooking the apples down

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.

diced, partly cooked apples

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.

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  • 1

    I love the unique idea of combining sweet apples with cornmeal. The texture of the muffin must be so delightful… with the ice cream on top to improve the experience.

    November 12, 2010 3:20 pm
  • 2

    that sounds like an absolutely amazing way to spend Thanksgiving. You and Andrew sound like a fairytale. Why do I tend to use the same word multiple times in a comment?? (sound!)

    November 12, 2010 3:22 pm
  • 3
    Whitney said:

    Love the look of these little cakes!

    November 12, 2010 3:29 pm
  • 4
    Radish said:

    Olga – he’s been a shining ray! I feel very blessed and very loved.

    November 12, 2010 3:32 pm
  • 5
    Liz @ Blog is the New Black said:

    Drool! Looks amazing.

    November 12, 2010 5:38 pm
  • 6
    Nisrine said:

    Yummy twist on cornmeal cake. I bet it’s delicious!

    November 12, 2010 7:08 pm
  • 7

    YUMMMM that looks good!! What an awesome idea for Thanksgiving– thanks!

    November 12, 2010 8:06 pm
  • 8

    these are adorable and look absolutely delectable!

    November 12, 2010 10:24 pm
  • 9
    LimeCake said:

    such lovely little cakes! i’ve never tried cornmeal in baking. these look delicious!

    November 13, 2010 3:46 am
  • 10
    emiglia said:

    Your description of Robert Frost’s New England is right on… you’re making me miss it!

    November 13, 2010 6:12 am
  • 11

    Ooh, flanel PJs, coffee, and apple cornmeal cake. Sounds like a perfect lazy morning to me! These look wonderful! I love cornmeal in cakes – such great texture.

    November 14, 2010 9:44 pm
  • 12
    Aubrey said:

    Hey Olga! Just wanted to let you know I made this last night and it was delicious! It’s just my kind of simple, comforting, no-fuss cake. I had to make do with my limited resources in my little Beijing kitchen, and used a loaf pan instead of individual cakes, but it came out just fine and sliced nicely. I didn’t top it with ice cream or whipped cream because Chinese grocery stores are a tad low on quality ice creams, but it IS delicious this morning for breakfast with a bit of greek yogurt plopped on the side. Thanks!

    November 15, 2010 10:47 pm
  • 13
    Janae said:

    Oooh, I definitely bookmarked these, they look perfect! I think I would actually prefer them for breakfast (not very healthy, but it’s the holidays so it’s okay, right?). Your Thanksgiving plans sound like fun — enjoy!

    November 15, 2010 11:24 pm
  • 14
    Radish said:

    Aubrey – that’s terrific that this worked out. Did you adjust the baking time? If so, can you share with us what it was, so that others can follow suit if need be? I hope Beijing is treating you well!!

    November 16, 2010 6:07 am
  • 15

    Your descriptions sound like the perfect Thanksgiving! I’m just so NOT ready yet for this holiday! Thanks for the inspiration, I look forward to the recipe for the Sour Cream Cake too!

    November 16, 2010 7:01 am
  • 16
    Radish said:

    Lael – I know! I am SO not ready either. Ugh. I will try to get the recipe from Andrew’s mom :) Hopefully she’ll be willing to share with all of us. I had it for Break Fast after Yom Kippur and I think I might have eaten half the cake (really!)

    November 16, 2010 8:56 am
  • 17
    Nicole said:

    It sounds like you’ll have a wonderful time and I think Bananagrams will be part of our Thanksgiving, too :) I can’t imagine being pied-out either, but these cakes look amazing.

    November 16, 2010 2:49 pm
  • 18

    […] something delicious – maple frozen yogurt. And you must make it soon. Maybe to sit on top of these. Because they go excellently together. I know this because that’s how we had […]

    November 16, 2010 2:51 pm
  • 19
    Carly said:

    Yum! I think we were having very similar thoughts at the same time– I just made upside-down cakes in muffin tins for my blog too! I like your flavor combination. Cornmeal is underrated :)

    November 18, 2010 12:16 am
  • 20

    […] Apple Upside Down Cornmeal Cakes […]

    November 24, 2010 5:14 am

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