Do you ever start thinking about something and head to the Internet to find out more? That’s a silly question! Who doesn’t? As a child my mother would send me to the encyclopedia to “ look it up” when my curiosity would get the better of me. If I couldn’t find what I needed, a trip to the library would be in order. But today, a world of knowledge is at our fingertips, and sometimes I go down a deeper rabbit hole than I bargained for.
Take, for example, my recent quest for a recipe for an apple cake. When our Food! Glorious Food! SIG met last week, Janet Keeler, our speaker, mentioned that she had recently been baking an apple cake that she could not get enough of. Idea planted. Mmm. Apple cake sounds yummy. I, who am very fond of cookbooks, started my search on my bookshelves and pulled several books I thought might have a recipe for this cake. Here I found many apple cake recipes. No two alike. And, what constitutes cake in one culture might look more like pie in another.
Next, I went to Google and typed “ recipe for apple cake” to see what I might find. Choose a nationality or culture. German, French, Polish, Hungarian, Irish, British, Norwegian, Jewish, Dutch, Swedish, Australian. Choose a family member: mom, Aunt Betty, Cousin Joan. All have their very own apple cake recipes. I counted over 80 recipes for apple cake on Food.com. alone. And that was just one website.
As I looked more closely, there were variations on the type of apples to be used. Some bakers prefer Granny Smith apples for their tartness and for their substance after baking. Grannies hold their shape. (I like reading that since I am a woman of a certain age.) Other bakers like a variety of apples mixing tart and sweet. Still other bakers don’t specify. Use any apples on hand. All apple cake recipes contain apples. The remaining ingredients vary widely. Most call for flour of some type and most have eggs though the number of eggs varies. Oil or butter? Nuts, raisins, neither or both? Spices? Vanilla or burbon?
The type of pan one uses for baking also matters. Loaf pan?. Springform pan? Square cake pan or round? Bundt? For some bakers this matters. And then, does the cake stand alone or need a topping? Should it be a simple glaze or dusting of sugar? Or would a caramel icing be more appropriate? Maybe some nuts – – or maybe not?
Where did the apple cake originate? Does anyone know? Of course, food historians would provide some clues but the Internet just took me to Wikipedia where apples were linked to Chaucer but not apple cake specifically. The entries there referred to the basics with nationality overtones. Jewish apple cake seemed to have the most text because it is linked to the holiday of Rosh Hashanah.
So where does all of this lead me? To the kitchen, of course. Time for baking. I have baked apple cakes in the past (Polish, German, Jewish) but today I want to try Janet’s recommendation. If you are curious, too, here is the link to the recipe she loves: from Once Upon a Chef.
Jane Applegate Belzer, retired professor and Dean of USF’s College of Education, joined OLLI in 2012. She has taken OLLI classes in literature, art, history, lifestyles, nature and technology. Jane is a member of the Hiking SIG and the Faculty Support Team. With Ara Rogers, she teaches A Course is Born: From Concept to Classroom, an OLLI course for prospective instructors.