Growing up in rural Vermont meant that visiting friends was not always a stroll next door. I used to trek up a big hill to visit one grade school friend, but it was always well worth the trip for the camaraderie and for her German grandmother's tea cake. It was a traditional German butter cake with McIntosh apples nestled in the batter and cinnamon sugar sprinkled on top.
Mimi (my friend's grandmother) taught me that scoring apples with a fork helps ensure they will be tender by the time the cake is baked to perfection. I have adapted the recipe by sprinkling turbinado sugar over the cake; I think it adds a nice texture. The recipe only takes fifteen minutes of prep time before it goes in the oven.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch round baking pan.
Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a bowl. Using a handheld mixer with beaters or a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, sugar, and lemon zest on medium-high speed for 3-5 minutes, until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition, then stir in the vanilla. Add the flour mixture all at once and mix on low speed just until incorporated. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.
Score the peeled side of the apples with the tines of a fork and arrange the apples atop the batter around the perimeter, with 1 slice in the center. Sprinkle the turbinado sugar over the cake and bake for about 40 minutes, or until the cake is lightly golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Sometimes the batter around the apples looks slightly underdone, but not to worry; it is just the moisture from the apples.