French Apple Cake

French Apple Cake
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.

Serves 10-12.

17 comments

  1. Thanks for trying out this recipe and switching to butter – I was curious about this cake when I saw it in the magazine, but don’t like really oily cakes. Looking forward to trying out your version.

  2. This looks amazing! I’d been searching for something for my mom’s birthday, and this might be it. Thanks!

  3. Me encanta!!! Voy a probar esta receta.
    Gracias por compartirla.
    Flor

  4. So glad I saw this post! I immediately made this cake too and had exactly the same impression – not just moist but downright oily. My health-fiend husband loves the idea that he can have cake without butter, so I’ll probably try it with just oil at least once more, but definitely the reduced version. My only question: is reducing it by only a quarter cup sufficient? I had been toying with the idea of going to half a cup, but perhaps that’s too drastic.

    Also, to make this cake I pulled out a kitchen tool I’d bought years ago and never used: one of those gizmos that cores, peels and slices apples all in one go. I feared it couldn’t live up to its advertising, but it was fantastic and so quick that I’m much more likely to make this cake a staple in our kitchen.

  5. This recipe looks great, can’t wait to try it.

  6. Elsie – I would not reduce the oil by more than that because the topping for the cake (the layer of reserved cake batter that you pour on before baking) will be too dry to pour or even to spread over the thinner cake batter if there isn’t enough moisture in it. You could try reducing the oil even further and replacing it with extra liquid, such as extra milk, but you may lose a little of the original cake’s consistency if you cut back too far. It’s worth a shot – but I think that you and your husband will be happy with 3/4 cup oil in this cake!

  7. A delicious looking French Apple Cake. This is one of those heavier looking and tasting cakes that is great for company and a nice cup of hot coffee.. :)

  8. I made this cake a couple of weeks ago and totally agree with others about how greasy it was. I liked the flavor but there was so much oil that there were little puddles of it on the bottom of the springform pan after cutting pieces. I’m surprised that it got passed out of the ATK with what I think is a major flaw.

  9. How bout a replacement with apple sauce instead of oil? The mix of the two?

  10. I made the cake on Sunday 10/14/12.
    The only change I made was using half butter, half oil.
    My cake didn’t have the height I expected.
    It sort of deflated when I took it out of the oven.
    Also my apples disintegrated.
    I expected to see & get the texture of the apples in the cake.
    I didn’t find the cake oily. It was very buttery.
    If I make it again I will not pre cook the apples in the microwave.
    And I may use a smaller springform pan.
    I will also use parchment paper to line the pan instead of aluminum foil. And I will play with the amount of butter used.

  11. I made this with pears and homemade pear brandy and 1C. oil…very yummy but think i will try the reduced oil version… loved the crunch on top with the custardy bottom.

  12. I just made this cake and the amount of oil that seeped from the springform pan was discouraging. The apples rose to the top so the cake layer was indistinguishable from the rest. Overall, I think the suggestion of switching to 8 oz. of melted butter (Dorie Greenspan) may be the way to go. I was very disappointed in this cake.

  13. I just made this cake yesterday and agree with everyone- way too oily. I like the cinnamon sugar on top idea as I thought the cake lacked in flavor. I even added some boiled cider for extra flavor- didn’t seem to make a difference. I’ll try it one more time with 1 cup of butter and maybe a little cinnamon in with the apples.

  14. Your recipe is excellent although while your adaptation ingredients did not mention the apple brandy – I did use 1 Tbsp amoretto + 1 Tsp lemon juice to toss the microwaved apples.
    I also used 1/2 canola oil 1/2 melted butter for total = 3/4 cup total of oil/butter
    I used just slightly less than a full cup of sugar (I ran short)
    Otherwise I followed as you described with fantastic non oilly results. I almost ate 1/4 of it before anyone else had a chance to taste
    Yours puts all the eggs in the batter at once – not the 2 yolks in the bottom layer as CI’s version (which I think results in slightly less of an eggy custard taste.
    Perfectly cooked at 70 minutes baked at 350 per your instructions not 325 as CI’s version. Barely any leakage.
    Thanks I will definitely be making this again just as I described above.

  15. I used 3/4 c. melted butter and reduced the sugar to 1/2 c. The cake is certainly sweet enough. I did not add the sugar, cinnamon coating on top, either. Instead, I place some half moon thin slices of apple on the top in a random fashion. I did bake the cake more slowly at 325 degrees for 1 hour and 10 minutes. Came out perfect. Thanks for the reduction of butter or oil. Certainly contains enough at 3/4 c. I will try the canola oil, next time.

  16. Gina-
    I had the same problem with the apples rising to the top of the cake, and the top cake layer being melded in with the rest. Were you able to resolve it, and if so, how? This is my 2nd attempt at this cake, using the ATK recipe (though I didn’t weigh my dry ingredients, only measured them)…

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