For better or for worse, I had a painfully romantic childhood. My parents had met young and left home early, growing up together and creating the life they always imagined. Dreamers beget dreamers, of course, and when we settled on the tiny border of New England and Westchester, it was the perfect pastoral backdrop to host my wanderlust.
Summer reigned supreme for my aqueous adventures, but it was autumn that held my heart. Leaves turned slowly here, and the Housatonic and Hudson Valleys were glorious seas of golds, reds, and oranges for months. We were apple pickers, perfect pumpkin seekers, and fall vegetable roasters. And there were Friday nights when I'd rather sit near the fireplace and watch my parents dance eyes-closed to Elvis Costello's "Toledo" with wineglasses in hand than be anywhere else in the world.
The Idyllic Apple is an apple pecan cupcake with a vanilla-nutmeg cream cheese buttercream and cinnamon sugar sprinkled atop. It's reminiscent of the orchards we still travel to every year and the cider donuts that never make it past the car.
I have this memory of driving in our first Jeep years ago, top down in early October, my brother and I are in the back. Django Reinhardt is playing gypsy jazz and I am facing back as we drive through Westchester roads past churches converted into homes and pastures. We walked rows of a vineyard in wool sweaters, chased a surprised pheasant and watched as the sun squeaked the last golden light of the Indian Summer.
I always wonder if it ruined me, to look back so fondly on these years and question if I'll have it as good someday. And then I remember who I come from, and I already do.
The Idyllic Apple (Adapted from my mother's Och's Orchard Apple Cake, 1976), makes 1 dozen cupcakes
1 c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. sugar
1/4 c. butter
2-3 apples, minced
1 cup nuts (pecans or walnuts), chopped finely
1. Set the oven at 350º and line a one-dozen cupcake pan, sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt.
2. Cream the sugar and butter together in a bowl until combined and fluffy, roughly 3 minutes.
3. Add the egg and mix until combined.
4. Blend in the apples. Add the dry ingredients in 3 parts until combined and fold in the nuts.
5. Fill the cupcake pan and bake 20-22 minutes, cupcakes will be dark brown.
Vanilla Nutmeg Cream Cheese Buttercream
1 c. butter
1/2 c. cream cheese
1 tsp. vanilla
1 pinch freshly grated nutmeg
4-5 cups confectioner's sugar
1. Combine the butter and cream cheese with a mixer on a medium speed, 3 minutes.
2. Mix in the vanilla and nutmeg.
3. Gradually blend in the confectioner's sugar. If it becomes to dense, cut with 1-2 tsp. milk.
4. Frost cupcakes generously, and enjoy with fond thoughts of autumn.