My recipe stories seem to fall into a predictable rut: I had to feed a few people. I needed something easy and simple, and so this recipe was born. But honestly, that's the way I cook. I look for recipes that give maximum pleasure at the lowest common denominator of work, ingredients, and convenience. The results don't always bear talking about, but this recipe — oh, this one does. A moist cake with a crumb that's almost creamy, swirled with cinnamon, and juicy with small bites of apple. It will take you about 15 minutes to make, and regardless of whether my story gets old, this recipe never will.
This recipe materialized during a week of cooking for a group of scientists doing research in snowy Colorado. The first night we were there, I needed a quick, simple dessert. I had all the makings of a yogurt cake, like this simple, favorite recipe. But I had been craving spring's sweet fruits and berries. They were not really around yet, of course, but I wanted a bite of fruit. So I turned to apples.
Over-wintered apples are always available, and I love their mild sweetness and brightness when cut up very small and baked in a cake. They are juicy little pops of fruit. I also craved cinnamon, and so I spread a crumbly mix of cinnamon and brown sugar through the middle and over the top of this cake. This created a cinnamon streak running right through the cake, and a dimpled, puckered top filled with brown sugar glaze.
The beautiful thing about this cake, besides its moist lusciousness, is that it all mixes up in one bowl, and you don't even need beaters. It's only mildly sweet, too; much of the sweetness comes from the apples.
In fact, I came downstairs the morning after I made this, and found only a corner or two remaining. My crew had evidently decided that this was good for breakfast as well, and attacked it with considered purpose. There were only a few moist crumbs left, two days later, but they were just as delicious as when I took the cake out of the oven.
I've baked this cake many times since I first made it a few years ago. It turns out nearly the same every time: very moist, a little tangy from the yogurt and apples, and popping with cinnamon.
Last time I made it, I did look closely through the comments to see if there was anything that needed to be retested. A couple of notes: If you use yogurt with a lower fat percentage, your batter will be thinner and your cake may need to bake longer. I do not recommend grating the apples, as opposed to chopping them, as they will make a moist cake too wet.
1 1/2 cups whole-milk yogurt, well-stirred
2/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/2 pounds apples, ideally tart apples such as Granny Smith
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
Pinch freshly ground nutmeg
2 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon, divided
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
Heat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 9x13-inch baking pan with baking spray or olive oil.
Whisk together the yogurt, olive oil, lemon juice, sugar, eggs, and vanilla in a large bowl. Peel and core the apples, and chop into chunks about 1/2-inch across. You should end up with 3 1/2 to 4 cups of apples. Stir the chopped apple into the liquid ingredients.
Add the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon right into the liquids and stir just until no lumps remain. In a small separate bowl, mix the remaining 2 teaspoons cinnamon with the brown sugar and butter.
Pour half of the batter into the cake pan. Sprinkle the batter with half of the cinnamon-brown sugar mixture, dropping it on the batter in small lumps. Spread the rest of the batter over top, and sprinkle with the remaining cinnamon-brown sugar.
Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, covering with foil at the end if the top is browning too much. When a tester comes out clean, transfer the cake to a cooling rack and let it cool for at least 15 minutes in the pan before cutting. Serve the cake warm or at room temperature.
This keeps very well for several days, and it gets even moister as it sits, due to the apples.
Updated from recipe originally published March 2011.