Yesterday morning, I saw a teensy orange spider crawling up an invisible ladder through the air, speeding toward the edge of my kitchen counter. Just when he reached the underneath corner, he fell down about four inches and bounced a little, right in midair. He climbed again, and dropped again, over and over. He tumbled enough times that I found myself staring at him, coffee cup caught halfway to my lips, saying, “Buddy, I get it. I’m right there with you.” I laughed a little. Then I caught myself having a heart-to heart with a spider, so I drank my coffee.
It’s been a fall-and-climb-back-up-again kind of time around here. It’s been shingles and coughs and sad family times, mixed with summer and Not Summer and snails eating my strawberries. The spider reminded me that we’re not always climbing up. We have to fall sometimes. That’s nature. But a few hours after my wildlife encounter, my sketchy biology knowledge came screaming in, and I realized Mr. Spider had been building a web. I don’t typically take my life lessons from eight-legged creatures, but in my desperate attempt to make sense of his daily endeavors, it occurred to me that maybe I should think of life as more of a web than a one-way trajectory. We build, then we fall, and someday, the pattern supports us when we need it.
That cake up there has had some up and down days, too. First, it was an apricot upside-down cake, still made with yogurt, but crowned with a swath of fire. It looked nice enough, until we ate it, and discovered that with apricots just on the top, there wasn’t nearly enough fruit flavor for the thickness of the cake itself. So I toyed with it, and gently folded the apricots right into the batter—and used more of them. I guess in name, the dessert was demoted from upside-down cake, which sounds somehow special, to just cake with fruit (not to be confused with fruitcake). So it’s no wonder it didn’t look quite as spiffy. In fact, when it came out of the oven, all puffed up about the apricot slices being inside, I could see it sort of pouting, despite the extra sparkle I put on top. It’s hard to tell a cake it was never meant to be prom queen.
But she is what she is. This is not a cake that struts across the table. And as I learned, this is not a birthday cake. (Although I should have known better, I’d hoped to put fancy candles in it for my sister’s birthday, but when it came out of the oven, I knew it wouldn’t be right.) This is the cake that stands quietly in the corner while the pretty girls get picked, until someone realizes that under humble crumb and awkward flecks of orange, there’s a bite that pits the tang of the season’s first apricots and tart plain yogurt against the sweetness of sugar in just the right way. This is the cake that eats just as well after two days as it did after two hours—whether you’re up or down or somewhere in between. It’s made with whole-wheat pastry flour, but it’s not dry or too, uh, healthy tasting. You could use regular all-purpose flour, of course. Either way, she’s the kind of cake you make when other things just aren’t going all that well, because you know she’ll be there for you.
The next time I feel like I’m on the downside of web building, I’ll make it again—maybe with raspberries, or blueberries, or plums. I’ll spoon a mascarpone whipped cream on top, because I’ll remember it, next time. Then I’ll sit down with a fork, and a cup of coffee, and watch for spiders.
But for now, I’m up, because an advance copy of my first cookbook just arrived on my doorstep. And the cover is puffy, people.
Topped with a flurry of turbinado sugar, this cake has a bit of a crunchy top, like a muffin—the perfect counterpoint to its moist, tender texture. The apricots make it rather delicate, so be gentle as you flip it out of the pan (or scoop the slices right out when the cake is still hot). This cake would love a scoop of mascarpone cheese-spiked whipped cream.
Active time: 15 minutes
Makes one 8-inch cake
Butter and flour for the pan
2 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 medium firm-ripe apricots, pitted and cut into 8 slices each
1/4 cup turbinado sugar
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8-inch cake pan with the butter and coat with a thin layer of flour. Set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and sugar until blended. In a small bowl, whisk the yogurt, melted butter, and vanilla, then stir it into the egg mixture.
In another bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add the dry mixture to the wet ingredients, and fold them in until all the flour has been incorporated. Gently fold in the fruit.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and pat down any wayward apricots. Sprinkle the turbinado sugar in an even layer over the batter. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes on the middle rack, or until the cake is puffed, golden, and beginning to brown at the edges. Let cool for 10 minutes in the pan, then carefully transfer the cake to a serving platter, and serve warm.