Why does one of my favorite apples have such a bad rap?
All crab apples come from the genus Malus. The compound that gives crab apples their strong, extremely tart flavor is malic acid. Both words are derived from the Latin word malum, which means evil or wicked. Evil apples? Yikes!
While crab apples tend to be pretty tart, they come in various ranges of acidity, sweetness, and texture. Some will taste great when eaten out of hand, while others are better suited for cooking. The high level of natural pectin makes them excellent candidates for jellies and jams.
Many varieties of crab apples grown today are American heirloom varieties, meaning they were developed or discovered between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries. We have carried the Hewe's Virginia Crab, a variety cultivated by Thomas Jefferson for the production of hard cider. If you visit Monticello in Virginia, you will find those trees still standing today.
My favorite way to use crab apples is in baking. While the flavor and texture of some sweeter apples can get lost in a batter, the crab apple retains its character. The Hewe's Virginia Crab is one of the apples I use in my Spiced Apple Cake. Another popular option is the Chestnut Crab. Can't find crab apples? Try other heirloom apples with high levels of tartness and acidity, like Cox's Orange Pippin and Karmijn de Sonneville. A nice blend of different apples will allow the flavors of each to combine in harmony!
Anna Lisa's Spiced Apple Cake
Best enjoyed with a cup of strong black tea with milk and honey.
- 3 eggs
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 1 cup vegetable oil
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 2 tsp cinnamon
- 2 tsp ground ginger
- 2 tsp ground black pepper
- 2 tsp ground cardamom
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts (optional)
- 2 cups thinly sliced apples (peels intact, with core and seeds removed)
Preheat oven to 350°. Lightly grease a Bundt pan and set aside.
In a large bowl, beat eggs until light and frothy. Slowly add sugar, beating constantly until mixture is smooth and glossy. Add oil and vanilla extract.
Combine flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, black pepper, cardamom, and salt in a separate bowl. Add to wet ingredients, 1 cup at at a time and mix until just incorporated. The batter will be very dense and sticky at this point. With a spatula, fold in the walnuts and apples. Scoop the batter into the pan and bake for 45-50 minutes, until a knife inserted into the center come out moist, but not crumby. Allow the cake to completely cool before applying glaze.
Apple Cider Glaze
- 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
- 2-4 tbsp apple cider
- 1 tbsp finely chopped walnuts (optional)
In a small bowl, mix powdered sugar with 2 tablespoons of apple cider. Gradually add more cider until the mixture achieves the consistency of corn syrup. Spoon glaze over the top of the cake, spreading it gently with the back of the spoon if needed. Sprinkle the top with chopped walnuts, if desired.