September 21, 2012

Applesauce Cake

I've been thinking a lot about nostalgia lately. Did you know the root algia- means pain? And the first half comes from the Greek word nostos, which meant "home coming." So the etymological definition of the word nostalgia quite literally means "painful home-coming." Of course the etymological definition doesn't always precisely mesh with the actual definition (my favorite is asteroid which is parsed into aster- meaning star, and  oid- which means shape, so asteroid means shape of a star. That always struck me as cute.)

But nostalgia does evoke a pain of some sort, even if it's just the pain of longing. Oddly enough, this is the season for nostalgia, especially among bakers and foodies. Fall brings out the traditionalists in all of us, with recipes for "Grandma's mashed potatoes" or "Mom's apple pie."

I think I've said before that I've never really had a tradition of cooking in my family (other than the uniquely Italian need to feed everyone we're remotely acquainted with), and that I was jealous of those that had their own nostalgic memories of cooking at the elbow of their little Italian grandmothers. Maybe that's what's got me in such a maudlin mood. In this season of tradition and secret family recipes, I feel left out in the steadily increasing cold (see what I did there?).
But then I realize, I may not have those traditions and recipes to start from, but I can sure as heck fake it 'till I make it. Take traditional flavors, shlop it in a bundt pan, dust it with powdered sugar, and no one will know the difference. And it's mine, no one else's. Maybe one day, I'll be a little old Italian grandmother, or a great-auntie, and I'll have little ones that make this with me at my elbow, and someday they'll post a hologram on the neuronet and call it Grandma's Traditional Applesauce Cake. And I'll just be chortling away in my zero-gravity sleep chamber because I fooled them all.
In the meantime, newly minted mothers and grandmothers and aunties who might be feeling the burden of tradition can borrow my strategy and recipe and make it so they can fake it.

Applesauce Cake {Printable Version}
Yield: 12 servings

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp. packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups unsweetened applesauce
1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
Powdered sugar, for dusting (optional)

Preheat the oven to 365 degrees F. Generously grease and flour 1 regular Bundt pan. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg. Set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter and sugars together at medium speed until fluffy. Add the eggs and vanilla, beating well after each addition. Gently fold in the flour, alternating with the applesauce. Before the flour has been fully incorporated, add the vinegar and mix well. Spread evenly into the prepared pan and bake 30-40 minutes, until lightly browned and firm to the touch (some small soft spots are okay; those will firm up while cooling). Cool completely on a wire rack.

To serve: Level the cooled cake with a serrated knife before flipping it onto a serving dish. Dust with powdered sugar, if desired.

Recipe by Kim
Why yes, this is the recipe I used for baby CC's smash cake (modified slightly for sugar content), and it is a modified version of my applesauce cupcakes and applesauce whoopie pies. Aren't you clever?