When my friend Meredith was battling cancer, she asked for just one favor: that I bake an apple custard cake her mother, Thelma, had made every autumn in the small Quincy, Massachusetts, apartment where she raised seven children. I had recently published a book on apples but had no custard cakes in my repertoire, and Meredith didn’t have the original recipe. Luckily, a bit of Googling revealed some promising leads.
The fact that Meredith lived in San Francisco, where we had once been neighbors, was a small inconvenience: My husband had an upcoming trip there and was happy to act as courier. So I packed up my best attempt at apple custard cake, and she called to thank me when it arrived. Yet something in her voice said it wasn’t quite what she had been craving. It was good, but it didn’t bring the memory back to life.
Since that first version five years ago, I’ve circled back to the custard cake, trying to achieve the exact right mix of custardy top and tender interior. With this recipe, I finally got what I was looking for. And even if it still isn’t identical to her mother’s, I send it out to Meredith, now cancer-free, with love.