Growing up in the south, fall was always just a short little respite from the heat, before the dull, dark cold winter. The leaves turn quickly and fall fast. The weather is only really sweater-worthy for a few days. The mass-marketed Halloween costumes were always hideously hot, and eating outside on Thanksgiving is usually a possibility.
I love everything about fall. Autumn colors, falling leaves, pumpkins, warming meals, the nip in the air. But I never really realized the true glory of fall until I started college in Connecticut. I suddenly understood why people would take leaf-viewing car trips, and those preppy catalogs and magazine shots now made sense. I took those leaf-viewing drives myself, driving through picturesque towns awash in amber, gold and russet. I bought apples at road-side stands, and finally wrapped myself in soft sweaters, fashionable jackets and colorful scarfs.
And it was on these exploratory fall jaunts that I was introduced to real apple cider, a world away from the apple juice I grew up with. I loved hot cups of cider with a cinnamon stick and warm, cake doughnuts served at those roadside stands to keep the hands and heart warm.
Real apple cider is now available readily here, and I enjoy it to the fullest. A nice warm mug is a special warming treat, and I use it to make French onion soup, to jazz up my family favorite waffles and hash and in the classic Thanksgiving sweet potatoes. And it is wonderful for baking.
For this lovely, rich pound cake, I boil the cider down to concentrate its apple-y essence. I think this cake is perfect on its own, unglazed, the cider flavor really shines. But it can easily be topped with a rich caramel glaze or a rummy version or an old-fashioned buttermilk glaze.
Spiced cider pound cake
2 cups fresh apple cider
1-1/2 cups (3 sticks) butter, room temperature
2 cups white sugar
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1. Boil the apple cider in a medium pot until it is reduced by half, yielding one cup. Watch it carefully so it doesn’t boil over. Leave the cider to cool completely.
2. Thoroughly grease and flour a 12-cup bundt pan, or use a baking spray like Bakers’ Joy. (The decorative pan I used for the picture is a 10–cup pan, so I filled it almost to the top, then had a little bonus mini-cake).
3. Cream the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer until smooth. Add the sugars and beat on medium speed for 5 minutes, until light and fluffy, scraping the sides of the bowl frequently. Add the eggs one at a time and beat well after each addition. Add the vanilla and beat until combined.
4. Mix the flour, baking powder and salt together in a bowl, then add the spices and blend with a fork until everything is combined. Lower the mixer speed and add the flour and reduced cider alternately in three additions, ending with the cider. Beat well after each addition, scraping the sides of the bowl a few times.
5. Scrape the batter into the well-greased pan and tap it on the counter a few times to even it out a remove any air bubbles. Put the cake into a cold oven and cook it at 325 degrees F. for 50 – 65 minutes, until it is puffed and golden and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.
6. Cool the cake in the pan for 10 minutes, then carefully turn it out onto a wire rack to cool.
The cake will keep for two days wrapped in plastic wrap.