Cake holds a special place in my heart. Of all confections, a good slice of cake is undoubtedly one of my favorite things, and it wasn’t all that long ago that a cake of some sort was in constant residence on my counter, nestled snugly beneath a glass cake dome. Since I have curbed and checked my sugar teeth, cakes are more of a rarity around my house – but I still long for them, especially in these first cool days of Autumn.
I’m also a big fan of the past. I like to read vintage cookbooks and think about family life in the 1950’s… which is where I figure “busy day cakes” and “one bowl cakes” had their rumblings of mass appeal. Firmly memorized is this quote in the Cook’s Illustrated cookbook referring to the only slightly more complex chiffon cake: “On any given day there must have been at least a thousand chiffon cakes hanging upside down to cool in the gleaming kitchens of postwar America.”
As any dutiful housewife of the ‘50’s worth her salt could throw together a cake in a blink of an eye, here is one of my favorites for Fall. Unpeeled fruit makes it even faster to go from bowl to oven, and this cake satisfies picky palates without being overly sweet - and does so whether you are a housewife or not. I often like to use just one type of fruit, but combined fruits are perfectly fine as well. I also appreciate the '50's-sized portions of an 8 inch cake tin.
I'm cheating on the moniker of one bowl, since I prefer to sift my dry ingredients together first in a small bowl. I also added a bit of work for myself by using coconut oil which first needs to be melted. I let it melt in the heat of the pre-heating oven, when the fruit was macerating with the sugar. It is fine to use any vegetable oil instead. Also feel free to swap the whole wheat flour for all purpose if you prefer, however I love the nutty bitterness of whole wheat in this cake.
One Bowl Apple or Pear (or Both) Cake
2 c. diced apples, pears or mixture of both
1/4 c. packed brown sugar
1/4 c. vegetable oil (or melted coconut oil)
1 t. vanilla
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 c. whole wheat flour
1 t. baking soda
1 t. cinnamon
1/4 t. ground ginger
1/4 t. Kosher salt
1/2 c. walnuts
Preheat oven to 350. Prepare an 8 inch cake tin by greasing it with butter.
In a large bowl, combine diced fruit with sugar and stir to combine. Let stand for 15 minutes until the sugar has partially dissolved. Meanwhile, sift the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger and salt together in a small bowl.
After resting the fruit, add the oil and egg and stir. Then add the dry ingredients and stir. Finally add the walnuts, and stir until everything is just combined with no dry patches. The dough will be very thick - this is ok.
Spread into prepared cake tin, pressing in with your fingers to even out the top as much as possible. Bake for about 30 minutes until a tester comes out clean. Move to a wire rack, cool for 10 minutes before unmolding the cake from the tin and cooling completely.
The batter is very thick, so thick that I like to use my hands to press it into the pan, but the moisture from the fruit prevents it from being heavy after baking. You are welcome to shower it with powdered sugar after it is completely cool, but it is perfectly acceptable to serve as is, or alongside a scoop of vanilla ice cream. I won’t tell if you snag a piece tomorrow morning with your coffee, either. The cake will hold for a couple days at room temperature, longer in the fridge.
I think part of the appeal of this cake is it’s lumpy, homemade appearance, a hint of a rustic and rugged past. It’s a cake that is utilitarian enough to be packed in a school lunch or briefcase without much worry of deterioration. Why not welcome Fall by turning on the oven and grabbing a forkful of cake? That’s my motto.