♥ an apple cake chat with julie paschkis ♥

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.

Lily Jane Powell’s Apple Cake

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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Julie with her husband Joe Max Emminger, fellow artist and champion apple tree planter.


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.

The painting that inspired Julie’s book.

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.

Early sketch that Julie rejected as being too complicated for making the butter (the fan would whip the butter).
Final art for butter from the sun.

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!

A painting where a butterfly just flew in!

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!

Sketch for flour stars and baking powder.

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.

Great-grandmother Lily Lane Powell

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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(serves 8)

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.

* * *

“Ida looked right at Alfonso. She smiled. He smiled.”

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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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.


54 thoughts on “♥ an apple cake chat with julie paschkis ♥

  1. This book looks absolutely delicious (and so does the apple cake!). Julie, I’ve long admired your work, and can’t wait to read this latest addition. And Ida . . . I mean, Jama . . . what a sweet story about Len and the gingerbread.


    1. This is definitely one of my fave books of the Fall season! It’s like an old fashioned valentine that’ll never go out of style. Knowing the story behind the apple cake just makes it that much sweeter.


  2. Beautiful illustrations! Love! Also, Lily Jane looks adorable. My hat is off to L.J. for her various accomplishments, ranging from raising nine kids to reciting poetry to inspiring this book!


  3. Jama, what a perfect book for you! Julie, this seems like such a different style for you. Even though the folk art feel is still there, each image is surrounded by wonderful white space letting your amazing colors fly. Hooray!


    1. I agree, it’s perfect for me! 🙂

      And you’re right, Anna — the folk art feel is still there, seemingly liberated by the “cloud nine” sentiment. Fly with the butterflies, hearts lifted by joy :).


  4. Thanks so much for this post, Jama. I am glad that you made the cake too -looks exactly right. Yum.
    And thank you to the other commenters for liking the book.


  5. I have to be personal with this-I love apples, eat one every day, so this is the perfect recipe, and book, for me! Usually I think of others, but not today. Thank you Julie for such a wonderful story created and shared for all of us! And Jama, thank you for another yummy post. Just perfection!


  6. Cannot wait to get my hands on this book – I love Julie’s work, and the whimsical folk-art quality of this one looks very appealing! And I will have to try that apple cake. I even have sufficient red and green apples on hand, so it’s a must for today!


  7. I think I can’t wait to get this book. Oh, my…a love story revolving around a recipe makes this absolutely perfect. The illustrations are so light, airy and warm. And Jama….your reviews are so upbeat and….delicious to the very last bite/letter. Thanks for sharing another new book.


  8. I’ve become a fan of Julie Paschkis since you featured her on your blog, Jama 🙂 Butter from the sun, that is very imaginative, I’d never have thought of that!


    1. Apple Cake is sheer delight from beginning to end. Hope you get a copy and take a look at Julie’s other books. Last year’s Pablo Neruda: Poet of the People is just gorgeous!!


  9. I bought this book as a gift for a woman named Ida . . . Buy 5 pounds of apples and place this book in the middle for a fun “gift for no reason”!


  10. P.S. Good call to get butter from the sun, Julie. If you’d gone with the original sketch, parents everywhere would be scolding their children: “You thought you could pour MILK on our FAN and get BUTTER?!” (Go tend to your vittles!)


    1. Yes, I love FAT CAT too! Hmmm, there’s an idea — my gingerbread version would take place in a little flat in Wimbledon . . .


  11. Oh, I have just so, so much to say about this post. First I remember that 7 Imps interview and I fell in love with Paschkis’s work then. I later reviewed two of her sister’s books (illustrated by Julie) and interviewed Janet. Anyway .. back to the post at hand.

    What is there not to love here? As always, Julie’s illustrations are fantastic and I love seeing the sketches and the then the paintings and learning how she works. Oh and the red and green apple trees planted by her husband! And of course apple cake (I make my grandmother’s version too, but it’s slightly different).

    Now that I’m getting fresh from the orchard apples (I live in apple country!), I am going to have to give this recipe a try … and I *must* buy the book.

    P.S. I was in Hawaii in the late 70s; I worked at the Bishop Museum for two 4-month stints when I was in graduate school.


    1. Yes, I too remember the great Julie Paschkis interview(s) at 7-Imp! It was my first introduction to Julie’s work. Blown away right from the start.

      Oh, I envy your living in apple country! ‘Tis the season for all good apple-y things. I’m craving an apple pie this weekend. The book is a beautiful keepsake and friendship gift — and children will love all of Alfonso’s antics. I’m thinking of surprising a few people on Valentine’s Day with it :).

      Oh, Bishop Museum! What a small world. Wonderful place — you’re so lucky to have worked there. What did you study in graduate school?

      Also curious: why did you name your blog Beth Fish Reads?


  12. This just made me smile and smile. The pictures are so cheerful! And the stories about how this recipe has passed down through the author’s family are just wonderful.


  13. What a lovely book, story, recipe and post! I am sitting here smiling to myself, and making notes that I should purchase this book for a couple of friends this holiday season. Thank you for sharing!


  14. What a gorgeous looking book! I have just had a look at my library catalogue and it looks as though they have one book that this author has illustrated.


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