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All that Jazz (Apples)

Delicate, vibrant berries and juicy, plump stone fruit steal the thunder in summer.

So much so that we almost forget how delightful biting into a crisp, wine-y apple can be.

I was reminded of that when a 40-pound box of Jazz apples arrived with a big clunk on my doorstep as a sample.

Who needs to go to the gym, when wrestling this heavy crate into the house was exercise enough for the ol’ biceps? My neighbors loved me for sharing the wealth. After all, who can resist a sweet-tart apple that squirts juice from the first snappy bite?

Jazz apples are available year-round. A cross between the tart Braeburn and sweet Royal Gala varieties, Jazz apples are grown in New Zealand during our spring and summer, and in Washington state during fall and winter. You can find them in both organic and non-organic versions at Safeway, Whole Foods, Mollie Stone’s, and many other grocery stores.

I enjoyed many a Jazz apple just out of hand. But I also set some aside to make a most wonderful apple cake. The recipe, “Babette Friedman’s Apple Cake,” was published last year in the New York Times.

It was my friend, Marvin, who first brought this recipe to my attention. As a food writer at the San Jose Mercury News, I used to fondly refer to Marvin as my “Number One Fan in Southern California,” because each and every week, he would go online to read the food section diligently. Invariably, he’d send me an email afterward to let me know how much he enjoyed a particular story. He’d also send me links to other recipes he had tried and loved. A movie buff, who is retired from that Tinsel Town industry, he would send me recommendations for obscure, interesting foreign flicks, as well. And when my parents passed away, it was Marvin who sent me some of the most thoughtful and touching words of comfort.

So when Marvin sent me this apple cake recipe, I knew it as worth trying. Marvin doesn’t like baked goods that are too sweet, especially ones with fruit. Instead, he likes the true flavor of the fruit to shine through.

In this recipe, the apple slices are tossed with a little cinnamon and freshly grated ginger. A half-teaspoon of Calvados gets mixed in, too. But since I had a big bottle of Calvados at home, I upped the amount to 1 tablespoon instead.

Mix the batter in the bowl of an electric mixer. Fold in about 1/3 of the apple slices, and pour the batter into a springform pan. Arrange the rest of the apples over the top, then sprinkle on a mere 1 tablespoon of sugar.The recipe says to bake about 50 minutes, but maybe because I have a gas oven, mine ended up taking a little over an hour. After emerging all caramelized from the oven, the cake can be enjoyed warm or at room temperature.

It’s a tender, buttery cake chock-full of apples. It’s just sweet enough. And it’s a most delicious reminder of just how wonderful apples can be, no matter what time of year.

So thank you, my “Number One Fan In Southern California,” for again sharing your words of wisdom that never cease to hit the mark.

Babette Friedman’s Apple Cake

(makes one 9-inch cake, about 8-10 servings)

8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter; plus more for greasing pan

1 1/3 cups plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar, divided use

1/8 teaspoon salt

2 large eggs

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

4 apples, peeled, cored, and each cut into 8 slices

1 tablespoon Calvados or apple brandy

1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch springform pan, and set aside.

In bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine 8 ounces butter, 1 1/3 cups sugar, and salt. Mix until blended and fluffy. Add eggs and whisk until smooth. In a small bowl, combine flour with baking powder. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold in the flour-baking powder mixture into the butter-sugar mixture until thoroughly combined. Fold in about 1/3 of the apples, and spread batter evenly in pan.

In a large bowl, toss remaining apples with Calvados, ginger and cinnamon. Arrange apple slices in closely fitting concentric circles on top of dough; all slices may not be needed. Sprinkle remaining 1 tablespoon sugar over apples.

Bake until a toothpick inserted into center of cake dough comes out clean and apples are golden and tender, about 50 minutes (or maybe a little longer). Serve warm or at room temperature.

Adapted from Daniel Rose’s adaptation of a December 2008 New York Times recipe

Try another dessert featuring apples and Calvados: Gingerbread with Warm Apples and Cider Sabayon