I am counting down the days until this upcoming weekend. It’s my boyfriend Alex’s birthday on Saturday and to celebrate, we’re heading out of town for a little getaway to Big Bear Lake. Although it only takes a couple of hours to drive there, every time we’re in Big Bear we feel like we’re much further away from home with all the plentiful fresh air and beautiful scenery. Alex and I have made a tradition by going to Big Bear once every winter, and we honestly have the best time when we visit even though we’re only there for one night. On each trip we always drive around the lake, wander through the Village, eat dinner at Himalayan, and bar hop for the rest of the night. It’s the perfect dose of relaxation and fun that we need.
This will be the first time going to Big Bear for Alex’s birthday and I can’t wait to celebrate him on his special day. Even though Alex isn’t a huge “birthday person” he still lets me plan things for him and of course, gladly accepts all gifts and desserts that come his way. He does so much for me and makes me happy every single day that we’re together, and I just think I would be doing him a disservice if I didn’t shower him with love on his birthday.
This Saturday is not only Alex’s birthday, but also marks the first day of fall. The recipe I’m providing you with today is not what I’m baking for Alex’s birthday (which will be this lemon coconut cake - YUM) but is more of a reflection of the new season. We’re making a buckle, which essentially is when you top a cake-like batter with any fruit of your choosing, and then top it with a streusel/crumble topping. When the buckle bakes, the fruit will try to make it’s way to the bottom of your skillet or baking pan, and therefore the topping will “buckle”.
Since we’re working with fall flavors, today’s buckle features delicious ripe apples, and you have the option to use any variety of your choosing. I used Pink Lady, Gala, and Kanzi, but Granny Smith, Honeycrisp, and Braeburn will all work beautifully as well. You can mix it up like I did to get a more interesting appearance with different shapes and colors, or you can concentrate on using your one favorite apple variety. The choice is yours!
The other component that is vital to today’s dish is the brown butter, which is something that I haven’t shared on the blog yet. Even though brown butter can be added to mostly all desserts, I feel like it shines brightest in recipes made in the fall and winter months when we’re all cold and indulging more. Brown butter to me is a pretty decadent ingredient and I think you should be choosy as to when you should use it in a recipe as your secret ingredient. This apple buckle is most definitely a prime example of when to incorporate brown butter. The nutty flavor it brings adds such an amazing taste to the cake and just gives it more of a cozy fall feeling. Also, not only will the cake portion of the buckle have brown butter in it, but the streusel will as well. You’ll definitely notice the difference brown butter makes in the best way possible.
I also want to add that the cake batter for the buckle is quite possibly the best batter I’ve ever consumed. I’m not one to lick the spatula or clean out the mixing bowl - that is Alex’s job - but I couldn't help myself with this recipe. You just know that your final product is going to be amazing if the batter is seriously addicting. So I’m warning you: try not to eat all the batter before baking it off!
Brown Butter Apple Buckle
Recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen
For the cake:
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, plus more for greasing pan
1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. cinnamon
3/4 tsp. nutmeg
Pinch of allspice
3/4 tsp. salt
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
2/3 cup buttermilk or milk
3-4 large apples, halved, cored, and sliced
For the streusel
Reserved butter from above apple cake
1/2 lightly packed brown sugar, light or dark
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
Pinch of salt
Make the brown butter: In a medium saucepan, melt 3/4 cup butter over medium-low heat. Once melted, the butter will begin to foam and turn to a golden color. Stir frequently and soon there will be a nutty smell and the butter will brown. Immediately take off the heat once browned and transfer to a bowl to cool.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Generously butter your 9 or 10 inch cast iron skillet (a round cake or springform pan works as well).
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, spices, and salt. Set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk 1/2 cup of the brown butter with the sugar - save the remaining 1/4 cup butter for the streusel. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing until well incorporated. Add the buttermilk/milk.
Stir the flour mixture into the wet ingredients and mix until just combined - try not to over mix it. Spread the batter evenly into prepared pan and top with apple slices in a single layer.
Make the streusel: mix the remaining 1/4 cup of brown butter with the brown sugar, flour, spices, and salt until large clumps are formed. Spread the streusel over the slices evenly and press down just slightly.
Bake in the oven for about 40-45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out fairly clean, with only a few crumbs and the top is golden brown.