Christmas Apple Loaf
This terrific mildly spiced loaf cake, loaded with dried fruits and toasted nuts, gets its special taste and texture from a very thick homemade apple purée. Because it keeps really well at room temperature, this loaf is something you’ll want to have on hand for the holidays to eat/serve just about anytime—at breakfast, brunch, as a pick-me-up with afternoon tea or coffee, or even—yes!—as a midnight snack.
You’ll actually be making two recipes, the apple purée, which can be made way ahead and refrigerated for a week or two, and the cake itself. For the purée you can use just about any fall crop apple. When I first came up with this recipe I used firm-textured apples such as Braeburn, Granny Smith, and Jonamacs. But this fall our Macintosh tree blessed us with a gorgeous crop of big, juicy and crisp fruit, so I thought, what the heck, I’ll see if they’ll cook down and thicken enough to work in the recipe. And they did! So any fall apple variety will work.
My advice is to make the purée when you’ve got a couple of hours to spare for some meditative cooking. It takes awhile to prep the 5 pounds of apples—peeling, quartering, coring, and cutting into chunks. And once that’s done, the apples will need about an hour to cook down slowly to about 4 cups of heavenly thickness. The purée, flavored with vanilla, Applejack (or cider), cinnamon, and butter, is so thick and smooth it will stand at attention.
The firm-textured cake takes only minutes to make, and it bakes up in less than 90 minutes, perfuming your kitchen with the aroma of apples and cinnamon. You’ll probably want to slice into it as soon as it’s cool. But don’t. Instead, wrap the completely cooled loaf in plastic wrap and let it stand at room temperature overnight. The texture and flavor need that extra time to be at their best. Oh, and when you do eat this cake, please serve portions with a generous spreading of cream cheese.
Here’s what the baked loaf looks like.
Thick Apple Purée
Makes about 4 cups
Five pounds of apples are cooked down to a thick, concentrated purée that proclaims “apple.” It will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks or frozen for up to 3 months. You can use any fall crop apple.
5 pounds crisp cooking apples
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons Calvados or Applejack or apple cider
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
- Peel, quarter, and core the apples. Cut the apples into 1-inch chunks and place them in a heavy nonreactive 8-quart pot. Cover the pan and cook slowly over low heat for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally with a wooden spatula, until the apples are tender. Keep stirring the apples to break them up.
- Add the remaining ingredients, increase the heat to high, and cook at the boil stirring constantly, until the apples cook down to a thick purée that holds its shape on the tip of the spatula, about 20 minutes. Just when to stop cooking can be a bit tricky, but as you stir, keep your eye on the bottom of the pan. If you swipe the spatula quickly across the pan bottom and the purée immediately runs together, it is not ready. But when the bottom of the pan remains visible after swiping, and the purée stays put, it’s ready. Here are a couple of other tests: 1. When the purée wants to stick to the pan bottom as a thin film, and you no longer see obvious bubbles even though the purée boiling hot, it is probably ready. 2. If you spoon some of the purée in a mound on the tip of the wooden spatula and quickly turn the spatula upside down, the purée should stay put.
- Remove the pan from heat and stir occasionally until cool. Use a potato masher, if necessary, to make a smooth purée. You will have about 4 cups. When completely cool, transfer to an airtight container; cover and refrigerate up to 2 weeks or freeze for longer storage. Bring the purée to room temperature before use.
Christmas Apple Loaf
Makes 1 large loaf, almost 3 pounds
This is a moist cake loaded with the taste of apple from Thick Apple Puree (see recipe above) and tart dried cherries or cranberries and blueberries or huckleberries. It’s great for breakfast, a snack, or to serve with tea or coffee. The cake is wonderful cut into thickish slices and slathered with cream cheese. Let the loaf stand overnight before serving. You’ll need an 8-cup capacity loaf pan. A 9 x 5 x 3-inch pan is standard—no smaller!, but if you have one that measures 10 x 4 1/2 x 3-inches, the loaf will have a higher, more appealing shape. To measure pan volume, fill to the brim with water and see how many cups that comes to.
To toast pecans, spread the nuts in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake in a preheated 325 degree oven for about 10 minutes, until fragrant and toasted. Cool completely before using.
1 2/3 cups (8 1/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon table salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup vegetable shortening
1 1/3 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 large eggs
1 1/3 cups thick apple puree (see recipe above)
1/2 cup (2 1/2 ounces) dried sour cherries
1/2 cup (2 1/2 ounces) dried blueberries
1 cup (4 ounces) toasted pecans, broken into pieces.
- Adjust an oven rack to the lower third position and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter the loaf pan, or coat it with vegetable cooking spray, and dust it lightly with fine dry breadcrumbs. Tap out excess crumbs and set the pan aside.
- To measure the flour, scoop dry measuring cups into the flour container to overflowing; sweep off excess with a metal spatula. In a medium bowl, thoroughly whisk the flour, salt, baking powder, and cinnamon and set aside.
- Beat the butter and shortening together with an electric mixer until smooth. Add the sugar and vanilla and beat several minutes on medium speed, until fluffy and almost white. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each. Stop to scrape the bowl as necessary. Beat in the apple purée. On lowest speed, gradually add the dry ingredients, mixing only until incorporated. Stir in the dried fruits and pecans. The batter will be very thick.
- Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and spread it level—the pan will be almost full—and place it in the oven. Bake for 75 to 85 minutes, or until the loaf is well-browned and a wooden skewer comes out clean and dry. The internal temperature of the loaf will be about 205 degrees. Cool the loaf in its pan on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Carefully remove the loaf from the pan and cool it completely on a wire rack right side up. Wrap the loaf airtight and store it at room temperature for 3 or 4 days. Freeze for longer storage, up to 3 months.
VARIATIONS: You can use any dried, tart fruits you like. Apricots and cranberries are a nice combo; use 1/2 cup of each. Some chopped walnuts, instead of pecans (about 1 cup), are a good addition. You can also play around with spices. But do try it this way first.