Johnny Appleseed was my kind of guy, and tomorrow’s his birthday. So following my little tribute to the man, I’ll post a recipe for a seriously scrumptious Apple Cake with Maple and Walnut Cream Cheese Frosting. But first, Johnny.
My childhood image of Johnny Appleseed is of a somewhat daft oddball who traipsed through the forests planting apple seeds. And although that image is a bit off (and only a bit) I still love him as much as I always did. Born John Chapman, Johnny Appleseed was a professional nurseryman of the North American frontier who helped prepare the way for 19th-century pioneers by supplying apple tree nursery stock throughout the Middle West. He sold or gave away thousands of seedlings to pioneers. And as Michael Pollan points out in The Botany of Desire, Chapman wasn’t planting apples for for the hungry tummies of pioneer children, but rather for pressing into cider. I’ll drink to that.
An obsessive love for planting trees is of course a very attractive trait in my mind. And I find his other customs no less charming: A generous nature, an affinity for the wilderness, gentleness with animals, a vast knowledge of medicinal herbs, harmony with Native American culture and above all, his eccentric appearance. According to the Encycolpedia Britannica, he had “flowing hair under an inverted mush pan, bare feet, ragged trousers, and an old coffee sack over his shoulders with holes cut out for arms.” I’m telling you: My kind of guy.
So to wish Johnny a happy birthday, I’m making this cake which was inspired by a recipe in the October 1998 issue of Bon Appetit magazine. It’s moist and apple-y, and the frosting is knee-weakening delicious–the perfect cake for a cool old coot of an apple planter. I highly recommend using an heirloom apple variety, Newtown Pippin apples were George Washington’s apple of choice…
For the cake
2 medium Pippin apples, peeled, cored, diced
1/4 cup buttermilk
2 1/2 cups plus 1 tablespoon all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup dried currants (optional)
1 cup walnuts, toasted, and roughly chopped
2 cups organic sugar or Sucanat
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 tablespoon brandy
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 large organic eggs
For the frosting
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 cup organic brown sugar
2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
2 cups walnuts, toasted, chopped
1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. Butter and flour three 9-inch cake pans.
3. Combine apples and buttermilk in a small covered saucepan and simmer over medium-low heat for about 20 minutes. For a fine textured cake, puree in a food processor until smooth; for a chunkier cake, dice apples with a knife. Cool apples.
4. Sift 2 1/2 cups flour, baking soda, salt and spices into a medium bowl. Toss currants with remaining 1 tablespoon flour in small bowl to coat; mix in walnuts.
5. Beat sugar, butter, brandy and vanilla in large bowl with an electric mixer until blended, then beat in eggs one at a time. Add half of the flour mixture and 1 1/4 cups apples, then the remaining flour mixture. Stir in currants and walnuts and split the batter evenly between the prepared pans.
6. Bake cakes until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Use a knife around the edges to loosen cake, and cool on a wire rack.
7. Make frosting. Using electric mixer, beat butter and sugar in large bowl until blended, then beat in cream cheese, and maple syrup. Chill until frosting starts to get firm, about 20 minutes.
8. When cakes are cool, frost, then press walnuts all around the side of the cake. Chill for 30 minutes, and serve.