Real men go apple picking

After the epic failure that was my attempt at gluten-free baking, I was more determined than ever to find a healthier but still delicious way to feed my weekend baking habit. A few of my favorite blogs had featured recipes from a book called Good to the Grain, by Kim Boyce — a book dedicated to baking with whole-grain flours. While I’m a fan of whole-wheat in the most general of senses, I was skeptical about what it might do to a cake or cookie. (Fool me once and all that.) But because I’m a sucker for well-lit shots of professionally-staged food stuffs, my attitude brightened significantly upon receiving the book from Amazon.

This is a joy to own. It’s well written, informative, and beautifully shot.

One of the best parts of this book is that it features twelve different whole-grain flours, with a chapter dedicated to a mix of sweet and savory recipes for each type. Who knew there were so many different types of whole-grain flours? Besides the basic whole-wheat, there’s barley, spelt, rye, kamut, and like a bajillion others. Some, like oat and amaranth, are also gluten-free. But those can go fuck themselves. (By the way, Whole Foods certainly knows all about the myriad of whole-grain flours. And they apparently also know that a fool and her money are easily parted. If I ran that store I would dedicate a quarter of it to cook books.)

Anyway, after careful consideration, I settled on a recipe for Apple Graham Coffee Cake that used a mix of all-purpose white, graham, and whole-grain pastry flours. I figured that the traditional white flour in the recipe would help mitigate any taste or texture issues that might arise. But first, I had to get some apples. And not just any apples. I wanted fresh, just-off-the-tree apples that were individually chosen and then lovingly picked by my very own hand. So I needled, begged, cajoled and in the end, bribed J to go apple-picking. (A combination of The Original Pancake House and two afternoons of Golf Channel was what finally did the trick.) We found an orchard about thirty minutes away and set off for our adventure (some of us a wee bit more excited than others.)

Not surprisingly, the place was swarming with kids. There they were, running through the rows of trees, baskets banging against knobby knees; squatting in the pumpkin-patch for the obligatory fall family photo; squealing as they got lost, got found, and got lost again in the corn maze; and dubiously eyeing the tractor towing the flatbed of hay bales, somehow knowing that the slow, bumpy and boring hay ride was really just a weary parent’s excuse to sit down and chill for a while. As J and I took in the scene, I could see panic slowly settling into his eyes. So I shoved a bucket into his hand and not-so-gently nudged him through the entrance.

“No honey, we can’t just pick the ones off the ground and go home.”

“I don’t care that they’re closer to where we parked the car. They’re not ripe.”

“See, I told you that if we kept walking up this big hill we’d find some.”

“Because these are different than those, that’s why.”

We actually wound up having fun. Once J realized that we only needed to fill two baskets before we could go home he started pretending that he was in a sort of apple picking olympics and attacked the task at hand with what I can only describe as “please god don’t let that family of five come into our row” gusto.

My hot-ass apple-pickin’ man.

All kidding aside, J was a great sport about the whole thing. Although he flatly refused to squat in the pumpkin patch or get on the hay ride so that I could take a picture, despite my dogged insistence that “content is king”.


Now that I had my apples, it was time to bake.

The first step was to caramelize the fruit. While the recipe calls for two large apples, I recommend that you use up to five instead. I’ll tell you why a little later.

Leaving the skins on gives a nice boost of fiber and depth of flavor. Saute them until they are soft but not dry.

Then the sifting and whisking of the dry ingredients (the recipe calls for cinnamon and ground ginger — mmmmm).

I love how pretty whole-wheat flours look.

You mix the wet ingredients (melted butter, buttermilk, yogurt and applesauce) and then combine the wet and dry.

The recipe recommended a 9″ cake pan but with 2.5″ sides. But the only thing I had with high enough sides was a 9.5″ springform pan. This caused a five-minute internal rant about why every cookbook author feels the need to screw with you by using really specific and hard-to-find equipment. My standard cake pan is 9″ round but has 1.5″ high sides. Will that work, or will the batter spill over and make a huge mess in my oven? The blackberry pistachio tart I wanted to make last weekend looked amazing but called for a rectangular tart pan. Will it fail to set if I use my 9″ round tart pan? The crackly banana bread needed a slightly smaller loaf pan than usual. That gorgeous olive oil cake was made in an antique 11″ loaf pan that you found in Paris? REALLY?! WHY?!  Doesn’t seem like a big deal, right? Well then you must be a math/science genius who can convert volume and mass equations in your head. In which case, I hate you.

Moving on. Pour the combined mix into your buttered pan and then top with the sautéed apples. (Bang the pan a few times to make sure there are no air pockets.)

The two apples asked for in the recipe just don’t provide enough coverage. You’ll need more.

Bake at 350 degrees for 40 – 48 minutes. WATCH IT LIKE A HAWK. I’m finding that wheat flours tend to bake up faster.

You’ll know it’s done when it starts to pull away from the sides of the pan.

Cake turned out pretty, with a great golden, wheaty color.

But what about the taste?

Okay, it was pretty good. Not too sweet and moist. Good flavor. But I found it really, really dense. Graham is a course whole-wheat flour and it weighed the cake down and was too prominent in the flavor profile. Also, it just wasn’t applely enough. I kept wanting more apple taste; the ones on top were sooooo good. So I recommend that you cut down on the whole-wheat flours and up the white. Or just cut down on the graham. Play with it until you find the taste and texture you like. Also, use five apples and fold half of them into the batter before baking. That way you’ll get a bit of apple throughout the entire cake and have more to put on top — which will make for a prettier presentation.

The recipe is below. I’m giving you the original, with a few of my notes.

Apple Graham Coffee Cake, from Good to the Grain.

2 large tart apples
(I recommend up to 5 Granny Smiths)
1 oz (1/4 stick)unsalted butter
(If using 5 apples use a bit more that 1/2 stick)
2 tablespoon sugar
(Use 1 tablespoon per apple used)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
(Use 1/2 teaspoon per apple used)
3/4 cup all purpose flour
(Try 1.25 cups instead)
3/4 cup graham flour
(Try 1/2 cup)
3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
(Try 1/2 cup)
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking power
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
(be sure to use Kosher)
2 ounce (1/2 sick) unsalted butter)
1 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup whole milk yogurt
I used Greek yogurt — awesome for baking
1/4 cup unsweetened apple sauce
1 large egg

* Try adding some orange and/or lemon zest. Up to a teaspoon of each depending on how many apples you use. It really wakes up the apple mix.


  • To make the apple topping, peel, quarter and cut apples into 3/4″ chunks. (Feel free to peel them, if you don’t like the skin)
  • Melt the butter, sugar and cinnamon in a large skillet over medium-high heat until bubbly. (Stir in zest, if using.)
  • Add the apples and let sear for 1 minute, w/o stirring.
  • Continue to cook for 6 to 10 minutes, stirring every 1-2 minutes. Allow the apples time to get a nice sear on each side. If you stir too much, you won’t get the caramelization.
  • Cook until apples are soft and have lots of color, but not dry. Scrape apples and juices into a bowl to let cool.
  • Sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl. Make sure to pour any whole-wheat grains and brown sugar that didn’t make it through the sifter back into the bowl. That’s where the flavor is. Set aside.
  • Whisk together all of the wet ingredients.
  • Scrape the wet ingredients into the dry and mix gently.
  • Fold half of the apple mixture (if using) into the combined batter.
  • Scrape batter into buttered cake pan and smooth the top.
  • Top with the remaining apples.
  • Bake on middle rack for 40 – 48 minutes, rotating the pan half way through baking.
  • Cake is ready when it’s golden brown, springs back when you touch it, and has pulled away from the sides of the pan. (You can also double test with the wooden toothpick inserted into cake center method.)
  • Eat warm.
  • Cake will last 2 days, cooled and wrapped in plastic.

Enjoy! And let me know how it turns out. Would also love to hear your best whole-grain recipe.

Categories: Clean(ish) Living, Yummy

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

3 replies

  1. Did the real man help caramelize the fruit? Did the real man help you mix the wet ingredients (melted butter, buttermilk, yogurt and applesauce) and then combine the wet and dry? I bet he didn’t pour the combined mix into your buttered pan and then top with the sautéed apples. Apple picking is only half the battle, the real man should stick out until the job is done. My name is Andrew and you can find me on the unemployment line on monday morning.

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