For Part II of the apple cake duel I bring you a recipe from the paternal side of my family. This is my dad’s mother’s cake (Mary Jo) and one she was quite famous for. I honestly don’t have any personal stories tied to this recipe because I never had the opportunity to meet Mary Jo. Both of my dad’s parents died before I was born, leaving the majority of their grandchildren with little more than some second-hand stories and one fine applesauce cake to remember them by.
Here’s what I do know. They were fun – a lot of fun. Holidays around my dad’s childhood home sound like a scene straight out of Mad Men. (Well, as sixties-chic as one can get in small town West Virginia.) They had a wide circle of friends and hosted some of the best parties on the block. Laughter and drinks flowed freely. In short, they knew how to have a good time.
On top of that, they were great parents and would have no doubt been even better grandparents. So, much like the oatmeal cookies, the best I can do in the present is use graying photographs, passed down stories, and Mary Jo’s applesauce cake to knit together a history of the people who once were.
According to my mom, Mary Jo’s applesauce cake was a favorite during the holidays and as opposed to Yie’s sweeter version, this is more breakfast bread than cake thanks to its strong spices, hearty combination of raisins and walnuts and subtle sweetness. This recipe yields a large quantity of batter and may need to be split between a few baking dishes if, like me, you don’t own a tube pan. It would also work very well for muffins.
Mary Jo’s Applesauce Cake
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups applesauce (unsweetened)
3 large eggs
4 cups all-purpose flour
4 tsp baking soda
2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground cloves
1 1/2 tsps salt
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup crushed pineapple
2 cups raisins
1 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
Confectioner’s sugar (for dusting)
1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Spray with nonstick cooking spray, a large tube pan or combination of 9 x 13 inch and smaller (8×8) baking dish.
2. In the bowl of a mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Add the applesauce and then the eggs one at a time and mix completely between each addition. In a large bowl, combine the flour, soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and salt. Gradually add the flour mixture into the butter mixture and beat on medium-high speed to combine. Add the vanilla and pineapple and once fully incorporated, add the raisins and chopped walnuts.
3. Pour the batter into the tube pan or split between the 9×13 and smaller pan filling each approximately two-thirds full. Bake for 60-75 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool completely on a wire rack and dust with confectioner’s sugar to finish.