I don’t have a daughter, but I do have teen sons, which made Jane Shemilt’s novel The Daughter hit pretty close to home. It’s hard to imagine losing a child, but the fact that Jenny, the heroine of the story, had no idea what had become of her child through most of it, kept me on edge well after I’d turned the last page. It was extremely difficult to watch Jenny agonize through her search for answers.
When she began to learn in the months following her daughter’s disappearance that things were just not right, even before disaster hit her busy family, Jenny was shocked to realize just how dysfunctional her family’s life had really always been, from an unfaithful husband to a resentful son. But until the horrible night Naomi disappeared, the day-to-day job of parenting, making sure all her children were safe, happy, and fed, was comforting to Jenny. And when all three of her children were locked safely indoors at the end of each day, even while her husband might not be, Jenny could finally relax and feel peace settle over her.
“Four ounces of butter and four ounces of sugar, soft drift of flour, brilliant yellow egg yolks. Sharp white apple flesh cut into the baking pan, batter poured on top, into the oven. Another kind of automatic…”
I was curious about the apple cake Jenny seemed to effortlessly toss together for her family, as if she’d done it a thousand times. What exactly is “a soft drift of flour,” I wondered. So I set out to see if I could finish the parts of the recipe that weren’t spelled out in the book to make a moist and sweet apple cake of my own, with apple slices on the bottom and batter poured over the top, like Jenny’s. I used raw sugar in the recipe because the freckles on Naomi’s arms always reminded her mother of “light gold…grains of demerara sugar.”
4 oz. salted butter (1 stick or 1/2 c.)
4 oz. demerara sugar (a little more than half a cup for those without a kitchen scale)
2 eggs yolks
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
“Soft drift of flour…” (I used 1 cup of all-purpose flour)
1/2 tsp. pink Himalayan salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 c. cream
App. 2 cups peeled, cored, sliced apples
3 T salted butter
1/2 c. demerara sugar
Confectioner’s sugar or cinnamon for garnish
Heat oven to 350 F.
Melt the 3 T butter in a 9″ round cake pan. I put mine under a broiler. Sprinkle in 1/2 c. demerara sugar. Spread around the bottom of the pan.
Line the buttered and sugared pan with apple slices. Set aside.
Cream the 4 oz. of butter. Add the 4 oz. demerara sugar and whip to combine. Beat in the eggs and vanilla.
Sift together the flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda.
Add the sifted dry ingredients, alternately with cream to the creamed mixture.
Pour the batter over the apples, butter, and sugar in the pan.
Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until a toothpick comes out of the center clean, and the top is puffed and golden brown.
Immediately invert onto a cake plate.
Let it cool a bit before dusting with confectioner’s sugar or cinnamon.
Yield: 8 to 16 servings