The apple is the star of this dish, or rather, the “apples” of different varieties!
I’ve made apple cakes for years, and they are always a hit. When we head out to the orchard to pick, I know there will be a special dessert sometime in the near future, most likely served after Sunday dinner. Often I make an apple upside cake, it’s fun, but does take a little time, but I love to make it when I feel like fussing in the kitchen with the music turned up and the kitchen to myself.
A French Apple Tart is also time consuming, making a crust, custard, and topping with carefully sliced apples. But, sometimes we want something quicker, and the apple cake is quick and easy to make.
When we lived in the mountains in our log cabin, my kitchen was equipped with a fabulous wood stove. How I loved to stoke that baby up in the fall and winter and play. Its cast-iron design using radiant heat created the best baked goods from bread to cakes, but you couldn’t do much baking in the summer!
Part of the ritual of the apple cake bake, was plating it on this old platter I found at a flea market. It was sturdy, nice and wide, and had a beautiful apple blossom design! Of course, once the cake was plated, you couldn’t see the blossom, but I knew it was there.
This cake is a variation on a traditional French Apple Cake, but with a few twists – I can never leave a recipe alone. In many of the traditional recipes, dark rum is used, but I thought this overpowered the delicate flavor of the apples. They were really good, but more rum than apple. Instead, intensify the apple flavor itself with a little Calvados or apple brandy.
Just a hint of spice
Most of the French versions use no spices, but I felt they lacked something. So I experimented and ended up with just a touch of cinnamon and cardamom which added to the flavor without detracting from the star of the dish. Use restraint, or do without if you like – a really light hand with the spices is best.
I also decided to brown the butter to add an additional layer of subtle flavor. I highly recommend doing this, and I swapped out some of the white sugar for brown sugar for the tiniest molasses note.
A variety of apples
Apple cider makers blend sweet, sharp, and bitter apples to create a flavor that is well rounded and more interesting than just one type. This is a good rule to follow whether making an apple pie, applesauce, or apple cake or bread.
Pick a firm apple, a sweet one, a tart one, and a favorite one, of course! It doesn’t matter which kinds, just pick four different ones that you like with a range of sweetness, you really can’t go wrong if you mix them up. At this time of year, many of the farm stands have little samples for you to try, so take advantage of this. You can also buy just what you want as well, not a whole bag.
More apple than cake
This cake is more apple than cake forward! It is good served hot or cold, by itself, or with a little whipped cream or ice cream on the side. It is a Sunday dinner treat after all. And if you can find a little cake plate shaped like an apple at the flea markets, all the better! Little rituals.
French Apple Cake
4 large apples, different varieties
1 stick unsalted butter
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. cardamom
2 large eggs, and 1 egg yolk
½ cup white sugar
¼ cup packed brown sugar
3 tbsp. Calvados or apple brandy, divided
1 tsp. vanilla extract or paste
2 tbsp. apricot jam
1 tsp. Calvados
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Grease and flour a springform or false bottom pan. An eight- or nine-inch cake pan will do as well. A parchment or waxed paper disc will give you extra no-stick insurance. Grease and flour that too. That’s what my mother did, and her cakes never stuck. Sometimes they broke apart, but they didn’t stick!
Peel and core the apples and cut into chunks. Sprinkle with one tablespoon of the Calvados. Set aside.
Make the brown butter. Place the butter in a small saucepan and melt it over medium high heat. Keep swirling the pan until you start to see the butter solids brown. Keep swirling. You will notice a nutty aroma. Don’t let it go too far and burn, you want browned butter, not burnt. Pour into a small metal or glass bowl to stop the cooking and set aside. Get all the bits out of the pan.
Whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and spices.
In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and yolk until foamy. Add the sugars, and whisk again until the sugar starts to melt.
Add the brandy and vanilla extract, mix again.
Sprinkle in the flour, then add the browned butter, slowly stirring to incorporate and getting all the browned solids.
Add the apples and combine until everything is coated.
Turn out into the prepared pan. Place the pan on a baking sheet and place in the oven on the middle rack.
Set your timer for 50 minutes and check. The cake should be golden brown, and a toothpick inserted in the middle will come out clean. If not, give it a couple more minutes.
Let the cake sit for about five minutes, then use a paring knife to gently release the sides of the pan. Let the pan continue to cool for 15 minutes, then remove the outer ring.
To glaze the cake, gently warm the jam and Calvados. Spread this thinly on top of the cake after it has cooled.
Serve as is, or top with a little whipped cream.
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