Open the pages of Julie Paschkis’s charming new picture book, Apple Cake (Harcourt, 2012), and you’ll instantly fall in love.
That’s because Julie’s “Recipe for Love” contains the perfect ingredients: a dashing, ardent suitor named Alfonso, a beautiful, kind and brilliant bookworm named Ida, a sprinkling of magic, flights of fancy, and an irresistibly delicious made-from-the-heart cake.
Alfonso loves Ida but she never notices him despite his flamboyant bouquets and serenades:
So clever Alfonso makes Ida a special cake using butter from the sun, sugar scraped from a cloud, an egg from the highest tippy top nest, flour stars, and salt ladled from the sea. He stirs the batter by diving into the bowl himself, adds three wishes, and cooks the cake over fiery dragon’s breath. And Ida — nose-always-in-a-book Ida — smells the apple cake, takes a peek and finally looks at Alfonso!
I’ve always believed that love is the most important ingredient in any recipe, and in this story, your heart will soar for Alfonso’s grand gesture.
Love the nice counterpoint between the simple recipe steps vs. the fanciful way Alfonso actually executes them. How far would you go to profess your love?
Julie’s here to tell us more about her sweet valentine of a book and her great-grandmother Lily’s apple pudding cake, a cake that she says, “carries love through time.” She also graciously gave me permission to share the recipe, which I made over the weekend. So, so good!
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♥ APPLE CAKE CHAT WITH JULIE PASCHKIS ♥
Please tell us about the genesis of Apple Cake.
The seed for Apple Cake was a painting that I did when I was fooling around in my studio. I drew a little character and I wanted to make a story for him. It was easier for me to think of a recipe than a story. Then I had an aha moment: why couldn’t the recipe be a story? Everything sort of fell into place after that.
What do you love most about the way it turned out?
It was incredibly fun to paint, and it makes me happy to see the paintings in a book. It also makes me happy that my great grandmother’s recipe is going out into the world. And I’m happy that Alfonso and Ida found love.
In your 2008 7-Imp interview, you said, “Every book has something about it that is hard for me – there is always a moment when I am terrified that I can’t do it or there is some aspect that feels overwhelming.” What was your biggest challenge creating this book? How did you solve that problem?
I never felt terror with this book – maybe because everything about it was so close to me – the story and the art. There were times when I struggled with it and every time I struggled I would recite to myself: Choose The Simplest Solution. For example I wasn’t sure if the idea of butter coming from the sun made sense so I came up with other sketches. But they were too complicated and I went back to the simpler solution.
The art in Apple Cake is a stylistic departure from your other picture books. Why did you opt for a more open, minimalist feel for this story?
The art came first, so I never considered another style for this story.
Why so many butterflies? Do they symbolize anything in particular?
The butterflies just flew in there. Butterflies show movement and they symbolize the transitory nature of life. And they are pretty and happy!
How did you come to decide on the names Alfonso and Ida?
I chose the name Alfonso because it has a flourish to it and Ida because it is simple and straightforward. Those just seemed like their names to me — I didn’t consider other names.
How did you make the pictures? Please share sketches and final art for a few of your favorite spreads.
I painted the spreads on large pieces of off-white paper using ink and gouache. Usually I paint the illustrations for a book at exactly the same size as the final print. I wanted this book to feel spacious so I used bigger paper. Because the illustrations were fairly quick to paint I worked loosely and just repainted the whole picture if it didn’t look good to me.
I love the spread where he adds an egg. It was the first painting that I did for the book and there was no sketch.
I also like the spread where the stars are flour and the baking powder makes the buildings rise. I hope people catch that!
I love that you used your great-grandmother’s cake recipe! Please tell us more about what part it’s played in your family history.
My mother used to make this cake a lot. I have really good memories of having hot apple cake for breakfast. It’s been my go-to dessert recipe for as long as I can remember. I bake a lot but this is the only cake I make where I don’t need to refer to a recipe. It’s also a very flexible recipe. My sister recently made it with plums instead of apples, and she added a little cardamom. My other sister adds cranberries. Sometimes I have made it with rhubarb or pears, and I’ve also added nuts to the basic cake.
My great-grandmother had 9 children — 2 sons and 7 daughters. She cooked all of the meals and sewed all of their clothing and (according to my mother) could recite great swaths of Shakespeare and poetry.
When the children argued or talked too much at dinner my great-grandfather (William Powell) would say: “Girls, girls — tend to your vittles”.
Is any part of the story autobiographical?
My wonderful husband Joe is not a baker. But he is a gardener and a few years ago he planted two apple trees in our yard – one red and one green. Now they are fruitful enough that I can make cake with apples from those trees.
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♥ LILY JANE POWELL’S APPLE CAKE ♥
For the cake:
3 small apples
2 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
For the topping:
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
Grease a 9-inch square or a 9-inch round baking pan with butter. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Peel the apples and remove the core and seeds. Cut them into pieces that are about 3/4-inch big, and put them in cold water.
In a large bowl, beat the softened butter and sugar together until creamy. Add the egg and beat until the egg is completely mixed in.
In another bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add the flour mixture to the batter and mix well. The batter will be quite stiff.
Shake some of the water off the apples and gently mix them into the batter.
Put the batter into the greased baking pan and spread it evenly.
In a small bowl, mix together the 2 tablespoons sugar and 2 teaspoons cinnamon. Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar over the cake.
Bake the cake until it pulls away from the edges of the pan and the top looks golden brown and flaky, about 55 to 60 minutes. The cake will be soft and moist, almost like a pudding, and the cinnamon sugar will be a crispy layer on the top.
Let the cake cool for 10 minutes in the baking pan. Eat it warm or at room temperature. It is good plain or with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. It is also a good breakfast cake.
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Jama’s Note: When I made the recipe, I used two red apples and one green, just like Alfonso did. Even though I didn’t use a saber to peel and cut my apples, and didn’t get my sugar from a cloud, my cake baked up perfectly. It was flavored with my affection for Julie’s book and the sweet memory of when Len wooed me with gingerbread. I was just like Ida, a schoolteacher with my nose in a book, until the heavenly aroma of cinnamon, sugar, butter and flour wafting from the oven made me look up.
I surprised Len with this apple cake and we both loved it. The texture is just like bread pudding, it isn’t overly sweet, and the cinnamon-sugar crunch on the top is divine. I do think you should make this ASAP. It’s the perfect recipe to celebrate Fall and apple season.
Thanks for visiting today, Julie. Apple Cake is pure enchantment!
APPLE CAKE: A Recipe for Love
written and illustrated by Julie Paschkis
published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012
Picture Book for all ages, 32 pp.
Cool themes: love, friendship, cake, baking, family recipes
*Starred Review* from Publishers Weekly
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♥ ANOTHER BITE ♥
♥ Click here to visit Julie’s Official Website
♥ Don’t miss this post at Books Around the Table for more about Apple Cake.
P.S. Don’t you love that there’s a “kiss” in Julie’s last name?
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This post is being linked to Beth Fish Read’s Weekend Cooking, where all are invited to share their food-related posts (recipes, cookbook/movie/fiction/nonfiction reviews, photos, musings, etc.). Put on your bib and join us!
*Spreads from Apple Cake reproduced with permission of the publisher, copyright © 2012 Julie Paschkis, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.