A cornmeal cake is well suited to the autumn, and I like the rustic texture it adds. The lemon zest brightens the cake up a bit and keeps it from being too cloying from the caramel topping. The brandy-soaked raisins are optional, but are a nice touch. I used Pink Lady apples, though Golden Delicious apples would also work well. —Kristin
Soak the raisins in the brandy for at least 2 hours before you bake the cake.
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
To make the apple topping, cut each apple quarter lengthwise into 3 wedges. Melt the butter in a 10-inch cast iron or nonstick skillet over a medium heat. Add in the brown sugar and cinnamon and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring, until the mixture is smooth. Remove the skillet from the heat. Neatly arrange the apple slices in circles in the sugar mixture, starting at the outer edge and working your way to the center of the pan. (You might not need all the apple slices.)
To make the cake, whisk the flour, cornmeal, lemon zest, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in a bowl. Using a hand-held mixer or stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition. Stir in the vanilla. Add in the flour mixture in three additions, alternating with the buttermilk (beginning and ending with the dry ingredients). Gently fold in the chopped pecans and raisins, along with any brandy still left in the bowl.
Gently pour the batter evenly on top of the fruit in the skillet, being careful not to move the apple slices too much. Bake in the middle of the oven for 40 to 45 minutes, until the center of the cake springs back lightly when touched and a knife inserted into the middle comes out clean. Allow the cake to cool for 15 minutes in the skillet before carefully inverting it onto a plate.