I think we can credit apple-picking’s rapid ascendancy as a Peak Fall Activity to Instagram. The apple orchards with their rows of heavily laden trees, hay bales, and working tractors make a perfect photo backdrop for this early autumn ritual—and in the South, it truly is a performance of fall, as temperatures can hover in the 90s weeks after school has started. Local apples arrive to our farmers markets as soon as they’re ready, so why are we all driving north to join crowds of people in pursuit of the same thing? 

Rituals root us, bridging the past to the present and connecting us to the bigger picture. September is heavily perfumed with tradition—freshly sharpened pencils, shiny school buses, new beginnings—but the fragrance is fainter this time around. So amid all the change, I’m leaning hard into yearly traditions where I can, even small ones like apple-picking adventures to snag warm apple cider doughnuts from a busy orchard.

An essential component of my typical apple-picking trip is coming home with far more apples than we can eat. The resulting glut of apples always inspires new baking projects. This year, I dusted off my Bundt pan in hopes of producing a dense apple spice cake that could make an ideal companion to afternoon coffee. Heavy on warming spices and finished with a brown-sugar glaze, the cake is rich with butter and apples and complements coffee as well as I hoped. There are still apples on my counter, but at the rate I’m baking lately, there won’t be for long. Maybe I’ll take two trips to the apple orchard this year—start a new tradition.


Ingredients:

Cake
Nonstick cooking spray
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
¾ tsp. kosher salt
½ tsp. nutmeg
¼ tsp. cloves
¼ tsp. allspice
1 ¾ pounds Granny Smith apples,
peeled, cored, grated
1 ½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter,
room temperature
1 ½ cups sugar, plus more for dusting pan
½ cup brown sugar
1 tsp. lemon zest
3 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice

Glaze
½ cup brown sugar
¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter
¼ cup heavy whipping cream
1 tsp. vanilla extract
½ tsp. fresh lemon juice
½ tsp. kosher salt

Instructions:

1. Preheat oven to 325ºF. Spray 12-cup Bundt pan liberally with nonstick spray, making sure to cover all the crevices, and sprinkle pan lightly with sugar (to prevent sticking).

2. Sift flour and the next 6 ingredients into a medium bowl; combine well. Using a clean kitchen towel, squeeze out excess liquid from apples and measure 2 cups grated apples.

3. Using an electric mixer, beat butter, both sugars, and lemon zest until fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Mix in vanilla and lemon juice. Carefully beat in flour mixture. Mix in grated apples. Spoon batter into prepared pan (it should be thick). Bake cake until a tester inserted near the center comes out clean, about 50 minutes to one hour. Cool in pan on rack 20 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, to make glaze: stir all ingredients in a small nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until sugar dissolves and mixture comes to boil. Reduce heat to medium; whisk until glaze is smooth, about one minute. Remove from heat.

5. Invert cake onto a rack set over baking sheet. Using a small skewer, pierce holes all over the top of the warm cake. Pour glaze slowly over top, a little at a time, allowing it to be absorbed before adding more. Cool cake 30 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Photography by Jivan Davé