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Posted on Wed, Aug 21, 2013 : 8 a.m.

Helen's apple cake offers a tasty preview of autumn

By Mary Bilyeu


Mary Bilyeu | Contributor

Craig's mother, Helen, passed away in 2005, long before I could meet her. So I listen to his stories about her; and I ask questions, trying to get to know her a bit.

She loved movies, was virtually inseparable from her twin sister (once married, their families lived next door to each other), would always order the famous Maurice Salad at Hudson's if she was there for lunch, and worked on the TV Guide crossword puzzle every week. She understood and spoke a bit of Yiddish, but she wasn't at all religious. She had a sweet tooth, which she passed on to Craig.

I've heard that Helen didn't really enjoy cooking and housewifery stuff, especially because Craig was an astoundingly picky eater. (This has improved a bit — his mom would be proud.) Had she been born a number of years later, she might have had a professional career; as it was, married in 1948, her job was taking consummate care of her family. And to feed her loved ones, mostly she relied upon a few cookbooks and recipes from magazines and newspapers, serving good, hearty comfort food.

I was given the enormous privilege of looking through Helen's recipe box recently, finding some handwritten note cards — with her own pretty penmanship — among the clippings. One recipe that particularly struck my fancy was for Apple Cake, a perfect treat for fall: a layer of batter, a layer of cinnamon-coated apples, and a top layer of batter, all baked until tender and fragrant. I scribbled it down, intending to make it perhaps for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year which begins at sundown Sept. 4; it's traditional to eat apples and honey to usher in a sweet year. The recipe came from Helen's sister, Syl, so it was definitely what I would consider a family heirloom.

And then Craig's 89-year-old father, Sid, came into the kitchen. I showed him the recipe I'd found, and he smiled as so many memories came back to him. He doesn't have much of a sweet tooth — an occasional treat suits him just fine. But this cake? "Oh, I like that." As I left, after being entrusted with the recipe box to search through it a bit more, Sid stopped me and asked: "If you make that cake, will you save a piece for me?"

Of course I would. Absolutely!

So I baked this a bit earlier than I'd originally planned to, given how anticipated it was, sharing both a cake and memories of Helen, who was so very loved and is deeply missed.


Mary Bilyeu | Contributor

Helen's Apple Cake

(very slightly adapted — I used margarine to cut some of the flavor of the olive oil; I reduced the number of apples; and I had to determine the quantities of sugar and cinnamon to sprinkle on top, since they weren't noted)

1/2 cup margarine, melted
1/4 cup olive oil
1-1/3 cups sugar, divided
3 eggs
3 cups flour
3 teaspoons aluminum-free baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup sour cream 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
8 small-medium Honeycrisp apples, peeled, cored, cut into 1/3-inch dice
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons cinnamon, divided
ice cream or whipped cream, for serving

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9x13-inch baking pan.

In a large mixing bowl, mix together the margarine, oil, 1 cup sugar, and eggs.

In a medium mixing bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

In a small bowl, stir together the sour cream and vanilla extract.

Add half the flour mixture to the margarine mixture; combine well. Add the sour cream mixture, and stir to combine. Add the rest of the flour mixture and stir until completely mixed; "dough will be thick & heavy." Spread half the batter into the prepared baking pan.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the chopped apples, cornstarch, and 1-1/2 teaspoons cinnamon. Spread apples over the batter.

Drop the remaining batter over the apples. With damp fingertips, spread it as thoroughly as possible over the apples.

Combine the remaining 1/3 cup sugar and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon; sprinkle over the cake.

Bake for 40-45 minutes, until the cake is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool completely, then cut and serve with ice cream or whipped cream.

Makes 16-20 servings.

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Mary Bilyeu - a self-proclaimed Food Floozie (named for her blog, which is taking a summer vacation) - writes for on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, telling about her adventures in the kitchen. She is also on a mission to find great deals for her Frugal Floozie Friday posts, seeking fabulous food at restaurants on the limited budget of only $5 per person. Feel free to email her with questions, comments, or suggestions:

The phrase "You Should Only Be Happy" (written in Hebrew on the stone pictured in this post) comes from Deuteronomy 16:15 and is a wish for all her readers - when you come to visit here, may you always be happy.



Wed, Aug 21, 2013 : 1:09 p.m.

My guess is that the original recipe didn't call for olive oil, but rather a neutral-flavored vegetable oil. It looks like a great cakes are one of the best things about fall!

Mary Bilyeu

Wed, Aug 21, 2013 : 1:27 p.m.

The original would, indeed, have called for standard vegetable oil - but I never have that in the house! Oh, the times have changed ... :) This cake has been HUGELY popular, so I hope you enjoy it ....