Spiced Apple Molasses Cake

12 . 04 . 11

Muscle memory. By definition it’s synonymous with motor learning, a form of procedural memory that involves consolidating a specific motor task into memory through repetition. The idea is when a movement or thought process is repeated over time, a “long-term muscle memory” is created so that with practice that task can be performed without a conscious effort. It’s a concept that’s been on my mind lately. With the end of another semester upon me, I’ve begun to feel the usual stresses that accompany it.

With three and a half years practice, the muscle memory is pretty reliable by now. My mind and body quickly get with the program, summoning my emotion, faculty, and willpower to engage at full speed. In some ways this is great. Things get done. Books get read. Term papers get written. But what trappings have my conditioned mind led me into again? Unnecessary stress? Check. Anxiety? Check. Emotional highs and lows? Check. Silly stuff in the big picture.

I think the whole muscle memory concept is amazing when you step back and look at how it works in so many aspects of our lives. On the physiological level, a person can teach her legs, her heart, and her lungs to run, jump, skip, swim — and with time she can be active without a conscious effort. In the same way I think there is a sort of psychological muscle memory that exists too. We can program our thoughts and responses to variety of situations through repeated practice to a point where these things too can be performed without conscious effort. Over time instead of stopping and thinking, our brains skip thinking and our muscles just “do,” or react. In some ways, this can be incredibly powerful. We can condition positivity, optimism, and non-judgment to inherently color our intentions and actions. On the flip side, it also means we fall into traps of repeated emotions and behaviors that we’ve been programmed for so long to experience the condition in a certain way.

Here’s the awesome part: we can totally reprogram our muscle memory. It takes one conscious second to check yourself and say, “Hey, experience X, so we’ve been here before, how has my programmed response been working out? What if we tried this a little differently?” With enough practice (and a bit of patience and self-love) we can rewire our responses to certain experiences and situations to better serve us. There will be slips. We’ll fall back into those old habits and thoughts. It’s okay. We’re human. But in time those yucky, dark spots that we find ourselves falling into in certain situations will be obsolete.

I’m practicing, in oh so many ways. Final exam preparations included. It’s working. Start with a piece of Spiced Apple Molasses Cake.

Spiced Apple Molasses Cake 

Slightly adapted from Real Simple 

  • 1/2 cup grapeseed oil
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 cup blackstrap molasses
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tbsp fresh grated ginger
  • 5 apples (I used fuji) peeled and cut into 1/2 inch chunks

Heat oven to 350° F. In a mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, and salt. Set aside. In a mixing bowl or stand mixer, whisk together the oil, molasses, brown sugar, egg, ginger, vanilla and ½ cup boiling water. Slowly stir in the flour mixture until just combined. Add the apples last, folding generously to disperse evenly throughout the mixture. Pour batter into an oiled and floured cake pan, or cast iron skillet. Bake for 45 minutes (closer to 55 with the cast iron) until it passes the toothpick test. Let cool for at least 10 minutes. Enjoy as a dessert or breakfast cake with a cup of french pressed coffee.

  • everything about this post is absolutely beautiful. it’s funny how appropriate this was for me to read at this very moment. thank you.

  • It’s a little strange really, realizing you go through the same anxiety and stress routinely… and for what ends? To create reliable muscle memories with writing essays and taking tests? I’m there with you right now. Maybe I need to go make a cake- thanks for this post Kelsey. And good luck this last stretch of school!

  • Muscle memory can be reprogrammed, you’re right — and I’m just learning this. And just like any other muscle, the only way to grow or improve is through exercise. That’s “exercise,” not perfection — if there were perfection, there’d be no reason to change the memory. And so all of life and all of living is a work in progress.

    Beautiful post, and enjoy the gorgeous cake while you prep for exams. I can practically smell its spicy sweetness baking right now…

  • My husband would adore this cake. Thanks for sharing and good luck as you make your way through exams.

  • During my undergrad years I would get so amazingly stressed during every exam period and by the time I reached grad school, I couldn’t do it anymore. I was able step back from the situation and say, “listen, this isn’t stressful. You know how to do this without freaking out!”

    Great post and I’ll be wishing you good luck on your exams as I torcher my own students :)

    PS- can’t wait to make this cake!

  • Mmmmm, I love how molassesy that looks. Beautiful! And it looks delicious with apples :)

  • I love how dark and romantic this cake looks! I’ve been craving something sweet and spicy and this cake seems to fit the bill perfectly. Good luck with your exams, Kelsey, and be sure to take lots of study breaks!! :)

  • I’ve been thinking on this exact topic lately. Both for physical and emotional habits. I’ve been analyzing the habits that I fall back into, no matter how healthy or unhealthy, and wondering why? And I completely agree that we can reprogram ourselves – so, when I notice these habits, the negative effects of muscle memory, I can turn them around.

    And I made and posted about this cake earlier this season. It was just so good and I’ve been thinking about it ever since :)

  • Good luck with your finals! This cake sounds like a perfect comforting treat to help you get through everything.

  • Chloe

    I always enjoy reading your posts, and this one was no exception. Thank you.

  • sarah

    Lovely photos. And, I always appreciate your positive and uplifting blog posts.

  • It’s amazing how we condition ourselves, both physically and emotionally. Thankfully, we can retrain. I love the idea of improving myself while eating some of your delicious cake. Molasses? You make New England proud ;>)

  • Enchantingly comforting…

  • Lovely as ever. That cake looks delicious!

  • This looks sublime. The molasses really tips this. Wonderful photos.

  • beautiful photos!! that spice cake looks amazing. love molasses :)
    Great post, always inspiring!

  • This with a cup of tea (spiked with some whiskey) and I’m a happy camper :-)

  • This is beautiful; love it! Such beautiful pictures, too; so happy I just found your lovely blog. Happy Holidays!

  • that looks so moist and delicious!

  • I love the color of this cake, and the ingredients — I’ve been on a molasses kick lately and can’t get enough of the slow sticky stuff. And hurrah for apples — we still have some local ones available and I’m trying to put them in everything to sweeten things up.

  • Ohhh I am a muscle memory stresser. I worry, even though I KNOW that in the end, it will get done. On occasion, I’ve tried to retrained myself to not get so anxious. To think of the big picture. Reading this post makes me think, Yes, yes, I can! Good luck with your exams! Oh, and yes, now I have some use for that molasses ;)

  • As always—so beautifully written with pictures that compliment. Hope the end of the semester goes well and quickly.

  • Looks delicious!

  • This looks absolutely wonderful!

  • I just discovered your blog… so gorgeous. This cake looks to die for!

  • julia

    i tried this recipe this morning with white whole wheat flour, added a handful of walnuts, used tart apples, and 1.5 tsp dried ginger ( i didn’t have any fresh). i also added in an extra .5 cup of applesauce. it was amazing and hearty and delicious. thanks for the great recipe! :)

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