Eating The Neighborhood Recipe This Month Vol. 27 No. 10

It’s Apple Season! It is time for cake and Finger Lakes Riesling


Cake and Wine? When you live in the great Northeast, I say yes!

Pairing cake and wine is not recommended in most situations. The sweetness of fillings and frostings can truly smash the nuances of wine. Wine and chocolate? Very tricky. Wine and apple desserts? Even trickier. However, in my 30 years of creating wine and food pairings my biggest successes have been when a white wine is served with an apple dessert. Being an upstate New York resident, our Finger Lakes rieslings can be the perfect apple dessert wine.

The Finger Lakes region produces some of America’s finest rieslings. Though dry and off dry rieslings are the current trend and are delicious quaffing wines, the semi-sweet and sweet rieslings are a revelation to those who claim to not like sweet wine. I’m going to give you my favorite fresh apple cake recipe later in this article, and I urge you to try it with one of the Finger Lakes sweet rieslings I suggest here. It’s. A. Wow.

The best Finger lakes sweet rieslings are amazing paired with cooked apple and the crumb of a well structured cake. They offer the three basic rules of wine and food pairing all at once. That is a rare thing to experience.

Rule one: Contrast.

A well made riesling will have characteristics of tart apple, and a bit of citrus, contrasting with the soft sweetness of the cooked apple itself.

Rule Two: Compliment.

The balanced sweetness and mineral undertones of the wine will compliment the sweetness of the moist cake and its caramelized crust.

Rule three: Extend

The best wine pairings are when the wine extends the flavor of the dish, and the dish does the same in return. Finger Lakes rieslings are known for lovely floral aromas and a hint of petrol with soft acidity which extend the cozy baked aromas of the flour, spices, and apples for a heady experience.

Before I get to the story of the cake, let me suggest some of my favorite Finger Lakes sweet and semi-sweet rieslings here.

Hermann J. Wiemer Winery Riesling: Hermann J. Wiemer’s Late Harvest Riesling among the region’s best. It has lusciously sweet, honeyed flavors and balanced acidity.

Dr. Konstantin Frank Wine Cellars Riesling: Dr. Konstantin Frank produces a sparkling cremant style riesling called Celebre. You must try this with the apple cake below, cheese cake, or even apple pie with ice cream. The crispy bubbles, the apple aromas and the distinct riesling nose will mesmerize you.

Boundary Breaks Vineyard: The No. 198 Single Clone Riesling is pleasantly sweet with tropical fruit and citrus notes, along with a lovely minerality.

Weis Vineyards: Weis makes very authentic German style rieslings. Their Semi Dry, which is more Semi Sweet, is honeyed, with minerality and a delicate acidity.

Ok, now that we have discussed the wine, let’s talk about Apple Cake. This is the ONLY apple cake in my opinion.

This is NOT my own recipe. I am not ashamed to admit that. But it is the BEST apple cake recipe I have ever encountered. I found it about 40 years ago in the New James Beard cookbook and it is called Don Farmer’s Fresh Apple Cake. I have tried to find out who Don Farmer is to no avail. Was he a friend, colleague, lover? If you have a lead on this, message me.

I served this simple cake all gussied up at the James Beard House “Hudson Valley in the Big Apple” dinner that I cooked back in 2012. That is what chefs do. We gussy stuff up. We feel this need to reinterpret an otherwise perfect dish. In the case of this dish, it is not the best idea. The cake is too perfectly delectable to f*** with. When I gussied it up I added garnishes; apple cider compote and aged cheddar ice cream, but I did not alter the recipe. Who am I to edit James Beard?

Back in my early kitchen days, if my chef assigned me to make something I may have been unsure of, I snuck off to the cluttered little alcove between the staff bathroom and the cleaning supply storage room called the chef’s office and pulled a book from the makeshift milk crate shelves to get the answer I needed. Many of the books were grease stained, some had stringy torn binders, pages were dog-eared or notated with pencil. The cookbooks I searched in to most often JAmes Beard’s Books. For all of the talk of my reputation for being an innovator, I am only able to innovate successfully because I learned the fundamentals, and many of those came from James Beard.

So here is the recipe. You can make it in a Bundt pan, a 9 or 10 inch cake pan, in a 9×14 Pyrex rectangle pan, or a muffin pan. 

The glaze below is great, but you can make it without it too. 

Don Farmer’s Fresh Apple Cake

Whatever pan you use, prepare it by dabbing a paper towel in some oil and wiping the interior surface to leave a very thin coating of oil. Add ¼ cup of sugar and shake the pan around until there is a light coating of sugar on the interior of the pan. Discard any sugar that didn’t stick. Set aside. Preheat oven to 325F. Conventional bake setting, not convection.


  • 2 cups cane sugar plus ¼ cup for the pan
  • 1 ½ cup neutral flavored oil ( I recommend sunflower or safflower)
  • 3 large eggs, room temperature
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract 
  • 3 cups all purpose flour, unbleached is best
  • 2  tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 3 cups tart-sweet apples, Cortland, Granny Smith and Fujis are perfect
  • Optional- 1 cup chopped walnuts, black walnuts or pecans


  1. Peel and chunk the apples into roughly 1 inch pieces, reserve.
  2. In a stand mixer or with a hand beater whip the sugar and oil until fully emulsified, about 5 minutes. 
  3. With the mixer running, add the eggs one at a time until each disappears into the sugar-oil mix. 
  4. Add the vanilla and let the machine mix at medium high speed until it begins to appear fluffy. 
  5. Meanwhile sift the flour, baking soda, salt and spices. This is important.
  6. Turn the mixer off and add the sifted flour mix. 
  7. Turn the machine back to medium low and incorporate the flour, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed,  until it is fully integrated. 
  8. With the machine still running add the apples a little bit at a time to mix in well. If adding nuts, now is the time to do it. 
  9. Pour into the prepared pan, tap the sides to settle it in well and bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  10. Let the cake cook for about 15 minutes then apply the glaze. Allow to cool fully before cutting

While the cake is baking, make the topping.


  • ¼ cup butter
  • ¼ cup heavy cream
  • ¼ cup sweet riesling
  • ¼ cup cane sugar
  • ¼ cup brown sugar


  1. Put all ingredients in a small pot and bring to a simmer, stirring as needed to make a smooth caramel like glaze. 
  2. Pour over the cake, using a spatula to smear it around to cover the top completely.
  3. Enjoy after dinner, or mid afternoon!

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