Custard, cake and apples all come together into one spectacular dessert in this French Apple Cake. The recipe was featured in a recent issue of Cook’s Illustrated (Sept/Oct 2012). Often, the test kitchen remakes recipes that I am already familiar with, looking for a better way to approach them. This time, I hadn’t heard of this particular kind of cake before, but it sounded too good to resist and I gave it a try as soon as I had a chance.
The cake is rich, eggy and custardy, with 1 1/2 pounds of thinly sliced apples packed into it. On top of that custardy layer is a thin layer of tender, fluffy cake. It’s a very unique combination of elements in this cake, but everything works together beautifully. The vanilla in the cake batter really comes through and is a nice compliment to the apples. I added a cinnamon sugar mixture to the top before baking, which made a fragrant and crisp topping. Making a layered cake like this one may sound like a daunting task when you’re looking at the picture of it, but it is surprisingly easy to make. The most difficult part of the recipe is peeling and slicing 1 1/2 pounds of sweet-tart Granny Smith apples when you start out!
The apples for this cake are cut into very small pieces that are cooked in the microwave prior to being incorporated into the cake batter. They’re cooked covered, so they actually steam in the microwave. This tenderizes the apples and helps them meld a little better into the finished cake, so that you get apple slices that still have some texture but aren’t too hard compared to the custard.
After my own testing, baking the cake several times, I found that I had a few changes over the test kitchen’s version of the recipe. First, I found that their recipe called for so much oil that while the cake was “moist” it was also greasy. I reduced the fat in the recipe by almost 25%. I also compared a cake made with melted butter one made with the oil they called for. While the oil version of the cake did taste good, I felt that the butter cake was just as moist and had a little bit better flavor overall. My taste testers couldn’t really tell the difference, however, so go ahead and use the oil if you want to keep things easy and you won’t miss out.
French Apple Cake
(adapted from a Cook’s Illustrated recipe)
1 1/2 pounds Granny Smith apples, peeled and cored
1 cup + 2 tbsp all purpose flour
1 cup sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 large egg + 2 large egg yolks
3/4 cup melted butter or vegetable oil
1 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp sugar + 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon, for topping
Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly grease a 9-inch springform pan. Wrap the base of the pan in aluminum foil.
Slice the apples into 1/8-inch thick slices, then cut all of the slices in half so your apple pieces are about 1 or 1 1/2-inches long. Place apples into microwave-save dish or bowl and cover (plastic wrap or another bowl work well). Cook on high heat for 3 minutes. Set aside and allow to cool slightly.
In a large bowl, whisk together 1 cup flour, 1 cup sugar, baking powder and salt.
In a medium bowl, whisk together egg, egg yolks, melted butter (or oil), milk and vanilla.
Pour into dry ingredients and whisk until just combined. Transfer 1 cup of batter back into the medium bowl.
Add apple slices to the cake batter in the large bowl and fold in. Pour into prepared cake pan.
Whisk remaining 2 tbsp flour into the medium bowl with the batter that was set aside. Drizzle the batter evenly (or pour very slowly) over the apple batter already in the pan. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar mixture.
Bake cake for 70-75 minutes, until cake is dark golden brown. Allow to cool completely on a wire rack before removing the springform ring and slicing.