At long last, apple season is in full swing! It’s been a wonderful excuse to start up my fall baking and on the top of my list were these delicious apple pound cake muffins inspired by Starbucks’ Apple Pound Cakes. With a wonderfully flavorful crumb and a lightly sweet, robust apple topping, these beauties offer all the best in fall eating. I opted for more portable muffins instead of the 4-inch cakes sold at Starbucks. Of course, if you’ve got a few 4-inch cake molds on hand, by all means, go with those; otherwise, I think you’ll find these muffin pound cakes just as irresistible. The cakes sold at Starbucks have the familiar tang of Granny Smith apples, but for my recipe, I decided to change things up and use local heirloom varieties instead. If you’re new to the world of heirloom apples, head below for a quick guide on seeking out and selecting the best varieties your own region has to offer!
While many of us rely on the well-known types of apples found in the produce aisle — varieties like McIntosh, Gala, or Granny Smith — chances are high that your local area features a broad range of heirloom and regional varieties, too. In the Charlottesville, Virginia area, we have local specialties like the Albemarle Pippin (favored by Queen Victoria), the Arkansas Black, and the Gravenstein. Back in New York City, we enjoyed regional varieties like the Idared, Macoun, and Jonamac. Why not change things up this fall and try some new kinds of apples?
If you’re feeling adventurous, but unsure of where to begin, head out to a local farmer’s market, specialty market, or apple orchard. Growers and apple lovers are usually glad to discuss their varieties; after all, they know each one well. Often, sellers will offer samples of more unusual apples. Get in there and taste away! I look for a crisp, well-balanced apple with both tart and sweet notes. If I’m making an apple pie, I might look for something more flavorful, whereas I opt for a softer, sweeter apple to serve my kids.
Note that many small apple producers are not certified organic because the certification process can be a long one when you’re talking about slow-growing trees and large orchards. If organics are a concern, research low spray options. Once you start talking with local growers, you’ll find that many treat their apples at the beginning of the season only, use integrated pest management, or use other less toxic pest control techniques. As with many aspects of sourcing foods locally, a quick talk with a grower can be incredibly educational.
Starbucks’ Apple Pound Cakes
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 20 – 25 minutes
Makes: 4 4-inch cakes or 12 muffins
6 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
4 crisp apples, cored and cut into a 1/4-inch dices
1/2 cup brown sugar
zest of 2 lemons, divided
1/2 teaspoon plus a large pinch of sea salt, divided
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Melt the butter and set aside to cool. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Grease and flour 4 4-inch cake pans or line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners.
2. Prep the apples and toss with brown sugar, the zest of 1 lemon, cinnamon, and a large pinch of sea salt.
3. In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and 1/2 teaspoon sea salt, and set aside.
4. In a medium-sized bowl, use a fork to whisk the eggs. Stir in the sugar, sour cream, and zest of 1 lemon. Next, stir in the cooled butter and vanilla extract.
5. Fold the wet ingredients into the dry, stirring just until everything is well-combined.
6. Spoon batter into cake pans or muffin tin, filling 2/3 full. Divide the apple mixture between the cake pans or muffin cups, gently pressing apples into the batter. Slide into oven and cook 4-inch cakes for 25 to 30 minutes or 20 to 25 minutes for muffins. Remove cakes from oven when tops are a light golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with just a few crumbs attached.
7. Cool for 30 minutes and serve.