Here is what I like most about autumn, even more than the apple cider and the crunchy leaves and the chilly air that makes me reach for a sweater while I cradle a cup of tea: like the other seasons, fall doesn’t arrive in one grand, magical instant.
Although its place on the calendar is fixed, autumn’s effect on daily life comes more gradually, reaching us through small, almost imperceptible shifts day by day—the gusts of wind, the days of rain, the hazy fog over some afternoons, until, one day, someone says: Hey, look around you, see those red leaves? It’s fall! And then, as we notice, we remember the Used To Be and marvel, that what was once hot and humid has become cooler, darker, crisper, more colorful, as if the change had occurred overnight, just like that, when in reality, it had been coming for a while.
I like this about fall because it is like life, and by that, I mean it is like the way a person you sit next to at work, through daily conversations and shared lunches and common experiences, becomes, over time, much more than someone you sit next to at work, changing from an acquaintance not in one day or one moment, but in the slow, daily shifts of knowledge and understanding that make a friendship.
It is like the way years fly by, in a series of moments and days that keep coming, so that I sit here, now at 27, wondering how in the world I was a senior in high school ten years ago, how recent and how faraway that seems and how much has changed and how much hasn’t.
These are the kinds of things parents are always saying, too, you know what I mean? How a newborn baby becomes a toddler becomes a kindergartener becomes a high school kid becomes a going-away-to-college adult. None of these changes happens in an instant; though birthdays and anniversaries can be marked, the change from one stage to another comes in tiny steps, almost inconsequential ones, that, one after another after another, add up to New.
And new seasons are sometimes bittersweet; never is this more apparent than in fall. As our days darken, by minutes each day, they will lead to a night sometime very soon, when the sun will set as I type at my work desk, an hour or so before leaving for the day, and there will be a sadness with that—not unlike the loss of friendship, one which after months of moments spent choosing not to listen or becoming too preoccupied to think of someone else before yourself, slips away.
I guess what I’m saying is that I like autumn because it demonstrates something true: everything is changing, constantly, in ways so small that we cannot even recognize them, and that is part of what makes every moment valuable. We can think sometimes that moments do not matter, that obsessing over our own problems or being lazy or blowing someone off are just individual decisions, without consequence, but that is not true.
Even the smallest decisions are leading towards something, so we will make the New improved, like the seasons remind us four times a year, by making our own almost-imperceptible shifts every day—when we smile at a stranger, bring someone the bag they just dropped, extend grace when we are hurt or, do something as simple as make a homemade cake and eat it on a Friday night, while the leaves turn all around us, and say it was good.
Apple Tart Cake
Adapted from Molly Wizenberg of Orangette
This cake is all the beauty of an apple tart but with a cake base that is sweet and firm, strong around the edges from being in a springform pan. You could use Granny Smith apples, like Molly did, but then go ahead and up the sugar from 3/4 cup to 1 full cup to counteract the bitterness.
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
5 Tablespoons cold butter, cut into a few pieces
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg, lightly beaten
3 large Honeycrisp apples, peeled, cored and sliced as thinly as you can into similar-shaped slices (if they’re too thick, they’ll be more noticeable in the finished cake, rather than soft and caramelized)
3 Tablespoons granulated sugar
3 Tablespoons butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 large egg
Preheat oven to 350°. Butter and flour a 9-inch springform pan.
Combine the sugar, flour and baking powder in the bowl of a food processor fitting with a steel blade attachment (did I tell you I got a food processor for my birthday?? I LOVE IT SO MUCH). Pulse to mix, then add the butter, and pulse until no large lumps remain. Add the vanilla and the egg, and blend well—mine looked a little like cookie dough, but the original recipe likens it to cornmeal, so I’d imagine either is fine. Plop this mixture into the prepared springform pan and spread it evenly around the bottom. Try to form the edges to curve up a little on the sides, like the rim of a very low pie crust.
Starting from the outsides (this is the only way that works for me, and yes, I’ve tried starting from the insides), arrange the apples in a tight, circular pattern. You will feel like there are way too many apples to fit, you really will, but just fit them in there as tightly as you can. It will work.
Slide the pan into the oven, and bake for 45 minutes. While the cake bakes, you can make the topping: Combine the ingredients in a small bowl, and whisk to blend well. Then set it aside.
After the cake has baked for 45 minutes, remove it from the oven and spoon the topping evenly over it. Bake for another 30 minutes or so, until the topping looks set. Transfer the pan to a wire rack, and cool for 20 minutes. Then run a thin knife around the edge to release any areas that may have stuck, and remove the sides of the pan. Feel free to swoon at how beautiful it looks—I sure did. Cool completely before serving.
Note: This cake is a perfect make-ahead recipe, which is what I did Friday night, planning for dinner with a friend Saturday. Just wrap it up tightly in plastic wrap and leave it at room temperature until you’re ready to eat it. Oh, and, by the way, it was wonderful with vanilla ice cream on top.
Yield: One cake, about 8 servings