This cake falls into the “bissel” category for a few reasons: first, it is one of those recipes that is more about look and feel than it is about exactness; and secondly, expanding on the first point, it’s also one of those recipes that allows for a lot of tweaking– a pinch of that, a variation of that, a bissel of orange this time, let’s say– and it always just works.
It also keeps nicely, is a perfectly hospitable option for gluten-free guests (see the flour options part), and it doesn’t take a ton of effort to make it look “wow.”
Let’s do this:
I know, I know, you’re thinking, “Granny Smiths are so tart! I like such-and-such.” Yes. I know. but, for baking, Granny Smiths are sturdy so they don’t turn to a lump of mush and they sweeten up as you cook ‘em.
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus a little extra to grease the pan
1 cup white sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar
water (maybe a ¼ c or less– it’ll depend on weather, altitude, blah blah blah. So just add a little at a time until you have it like you like)
pinch of kosher salt
For the batter there are options, depending on the type of flours with which you prefer baking.
1/4 cup chestnut flour
1/2 cup coconut flour
1/2 cup flax meal
½ cup almond flour (If you can’t find chestnut flour, make up for it with an extra ¼ cup of almond flour–again, this is a really flexible cake– but finding chestnut flour is worth the effort, simply because it adds a nice buttery flavor to the cake)
OR 3 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda (a bissel a more if you went the non-flour route)
1 teaspoon salt (not quite a full teaspoon)
½ teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1 cup sugar
¼ teaspoon fresh lemon zest (orange is ok in a pinch)
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoons vanilla extract
½ cup brown sugar
3 large eggs
½ cup coconut oil (or vegetable oil, in a pinch)
1 almost-over-ripe banana
⅓ c. orange juice (the fresher the better)
½ c. water, added slowly, if needed (Your batter should be like oatmeal or thick-ish pancake batter. Add this water slowly as you need it. On humid days and/or low altitude, you might not need it at all. No biggie.)
Grease deep 9-inch cake pan (I use a Springform for less drama later). Set aside. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Start your caramel. Okay, listen: Caramel goes haywire fast, but just be conservative with the heat and it’s nothing to be afraid of. Cook up your sugar and the water over medium-high heat, stirring minimally and occasionally, until your sugar dissolves and the mixture darkens a bit. (It’ll probably take you about 7 to 9 minutes.) Then, reduce your heat to medium, add your butter and salt. Stir until it’s all combined and smooth (about 2-3 minutes). Set aside.
Drizzle a little of your caramel in the bottom of the prepared pan and set aside, at least a half hour or so at room temperature.
Chop apples: core the apples and slice (aim for about 10-12 snack size segments– not too thick but not too thin, either.). Arrange about half of the apples on top of caramel in prepared pan, overlapping them slightly, to desired presentation style (they’ll be visible once the cake is ready and inverted, so take a minute and fan them around nicely). Set remaining apple slices aside.
Create batter: Combine dry ingredients in a mixer at low-medium speed. When incorporated, add lemon zest, followed by coconut oil, banana, then remaining wet ingredients.
Pour half the batter over the apple arrangement. Arrange remaining half of sliced apples (for whatever reason, I like to reverse the direction of them, but that may be more of my own weird little quirk than it is a strengthening measure. Then again… maybe not.) drizzle with a small amount of your caramel, and top with remaining batter. Bake on center rack for one hour to one hour and 20 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean from center. (Note: the top is going to darken a little. Don’t panic. If it is really a big issue, lightly drape a piece of foil across the top towards the end of the baking time, taking care not to seal edges.) Also: you might want to put a tray or foil below to catch oozing caramel.
Cool cake in the pan on a wire rack at least 15 minutes. Run small knife around edge of cake pan to loosen cake, then invert onto a flat plate. (If any apple slices stick to pan, gently replace on top of cake. No biggie; very easily fixed.)
For variations, you can switch the lemon zest or orange zest, and if you are feeling adventurous, add a pinch of chili powder to the batter. Again, this is the kind of cake to take and make into your very own.
Before serving, soften the reserved caramel in a microwave by zapping for 15 seconds, stirring thoroughly, zapping another 15 seconds, and so on. Drizzle over the finished cake and/or over individual slices before serving.