Have this Cake. And Eat it, Too.

I would be remiss if I did not take a brief pause from the road trip adventure stories to talk a little bit about the fact that this is Thanksgiving week. Not only is this, like, my favorite holiday of all time (next to Christmas, of course), but for the first time in over a decade, I am back home with my family to share in holiday times together. It's pretty special.

Much has transpired since Fred and I landed in Richmond a little over a month ago. We've settled into our new place – for the most part. Still looking for window treatments for the kitchen, and a few odds and ends. We carved jack-o-lanterns for Halloween and had trick-or-treaters! It snowed. A little. I got a new bike that is super, extra cute. And, at both my dad and Fred's behest, a helmet that is decidedly less cute. We have explored old and new Richmond restaurants and cooking at home with equal frequency. And I have a few other extremely exciting tidbits to share. But not quite yet.

Because, you see, we need to talk turkey. Or, at least, Thanksgiving stuff (ing). Or, at least, fall, food holiday things. You wouldn't know it from checking in here, but I actually have been cooking up a storm since we arrived in Richmond. With the exception of the brief few days it took to replace the electric stove with a new, super awesome gas stove.

There have been pools of soups, piles of cakes, profusion of roasted chickens, pyramids of biscuits, plenty of cookies and a prosperity of granola. As the leaves on the trees have gone from full and green to the bright yellows, reds, oranges and browns, to almost barren, we have sampled almost all of the various, local farmers' markets, settled on our favorite and have become regulars.

I baked two cakes that seem particularly timely for this season, this week: a persimmon upside down cake and an apple-walnut cake. They both showcase peak seasonal produce items and were both remarkably delicious. However, A) the persimmon cake requires several more shots to get it just right for you and, B) Fred got way better pictures of the apple-walnut cake. And they do say, we eat first with our eyes, right?

For this particular version, I used a local Virginia apple, the Jonathan, which was a new one for me. I was told that Virginia Jonathan apples are the first red apples available in the Fall and are the ideal all-purpose apple. The farmer told me that they are equally delicious for snacking, cooking and baking – and are perfect for candy apples. I found them to be earthy and at the same time exotic with a unique blend of sweet and tart. To the eye they appear to be a standard red, but upon closer inspection, their skin combines light red stripes over yellow or deep red. If you don't happen to be in Virginia, which you're probably not, find apples that hold up under heat and balance sweet-tart flavor, like Honeycrisp, Mutsu, Pink Lady.

All walnuts ripen in the Fall, so they were the perfect nut choice. However, I used black walnuts as opposed to the standard English walnuts (which are actually Persian). Black walnuts are native to the U.S. - from California, actually - and have a bolder, earthier flavor than the milder and slightly sweeter taste of the English walnut. That's just my jam, is all. Your walnut, your prerogative.

Team effort alert: Fred made the glaze! Fred chose the lemon-vanilla variety to add a brightness to the rounded warmth of the flavors in the cake.

Now, I realize this comes to you the day before Thanksgiving. A day you're probably working on pumpkin and pecan pies rather than an apple cake. But just in case you're looking for that curve ball, that little glimmer of inspirato that deviates slightly from the norm this Thanksgiving, I tell you what - this cake came together beautifully and I can't think of a single thing I would change about the recipe we made. So, whether it's today, tomorrow, next week or next month (as long as it's soon-ish), make this cake. Have a slice after dinner with a glass of rum, or in the morning with a cup of coffee.

But you should definitely have this cake. And eat it, too.

Apple-Walnut Cake with Lemon Vanilla Glaze

(Recipe adapted from this Southern classic)

1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 eggs
2 cups finely chopped peeled apples
1 cup chopped walnuts
Lemon Vanilla Glaze, below

In a large mixing bowl, blend all ingredients except chopped apples and walnuts with electric mixer. Stir in chopped apples and nuts. Pour into a generously greased and floured 10-inch Bundt cake pan or tube pan. Bake at 325° for 55 to 65 minutes, until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan for 15 minutes; turn out onto serving plate to cool completely. Drizzle with a vanilla glaze.

For the Lemon Vanilla Glaze

3 Tablespoons lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 cup+ confectioners’ sugar, sifted

Combine lemon juice, 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla, and confectioners’ sugar in a small bowl and whisk until smooth, playing with lemon juice and sugar ratios until desired glaze consistency and flavor has been reached. Drizzle glaze over cake and serve immediately. Store cake in an airtight container at room temperature or in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Three years ago: Sausage over Creamy Lentils
Four years ago: Bouchon Beverly Hills

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