Try This Amazing French Apple Cake
After waxing on last week about the glories of Tarte Tatin, and tempting you with baked apple deliciousness that you quite possibly did not have time for, I thought I’d offer something laughingly simple this week. This dessert is also full of delicious apples and hints at caramelized butter gooiness with the simple addition of browned butter.
It is a lot less fussy than Tarte Tatin, yet every bit as wonderful. I didn’t actually set out to bake another French apple dessert and I sure didn’t have big expectations for something that came together so quickly, but oh my, was I wrong. I should have known better, after all it came from Dorie Greenspan’s magnificent tome, Around My French Table. Its recipes always exceed my expectations and it really is perfect for cooks like me, who are always in a hurry and love amazing, uncomplicated food. I tweaked it ever so slightly, gently browning the butter to a lovely caramelized state and adding just a smidge of warm spice.
The best thing is that it is one of those desserts you can whip up on a whim, with whatever apples you have, even if they are different – actually, all the better if they are. The first time I made this it was a birthday request for something “not overly sweet or too rich.” A simple heirloom apple cake ought to fit that bill nicely and sounded like a fine finale to an early autumn fête.
It only takes a few apples and the other ingredients are basic baking staples, which in my kitchen include dark rum. While the kids may give me a hard time for frequently adding a little booze to desserts, they never notice anything once they are baked. (Except for one memorable chocolate mousse that may or may not have had a tad too much Cognac in it.) What can I say? I spent my formative years working in a French restaurant gleaning all I could from the chef there. He put booze in darned near everything and it was always divine.
The original recipe really needed no adapting at all – I just couldn’t resist a couple of small changes. When it comes to melting butter for an apple or pear dessert, I see no reason not to take the extra few minutes it takes to brown it. I also like a little spice in my apple desserts, but didn’t want this to taste like apple pie so opted for just a touch of cinnamon and a bit more of my favorite spice, cardamom.
- ¾ cup all-purpose flour
- ¾ teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground cardamom (from 4-5 seed pods)
- Pinch of salt
- 4 large apples (if you can, choose 4 different kinds)
- 2 large eggs
- ¾ cup sugar
- 3 tablespoons dark rum
- ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, browned and cooled* see note
- Center a rack in the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Generously butter an 8-inch springform pan and put it on a baking sheet.
- Whisk the flour, baking powder, spices and salt together in small bowl.
- Peel the apples, cut them in half and remove the cores. Cut the apples into 1- to 2-inch chunks.
- In a medium bowl, beat the eggs with a whisk until they’re foamy. Pour in the sugar and whisk for a minute or so to blend. Whisk in the rum and vanilla. Whisk in half the flour and when it is incorporated, add half the melted butter, followed by the rest of the flour and the remaining butter, mixing gently after each addition so that you have a smooth, rather thick batter. Switch to a rubber spatula and fold in the apples, turning the fruit so that it’s coated with batter. Scrape the mix into the pan and poke it around a little with the spatula so that it’s evenish.
- Slide the pan into the oven and bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the top of the cake is golden brown and a knife inserted deep into the center comes out clean; the cake may pull away from the sides of the pan. Transfer to a cooling rack and let rest for 5 minutes.
- Carefully run a knife around the edges of the cake and remove the sides of the springform pan. (Open the springform slowly, and before it’s fully opened, make sure there aren’t any apples stuck to it.) Allow the cake to cool until it is just slightly warm or at room temperature.
- The cake can be served warm or at room temperature, with or without a little softly whipped, barely sweetened heavy cream or ice cream. I made some cinnamon ice cream to go with this the first time and it was pretty heavenly.
Note: To brown butter, melt over medium heat and cook until the milk solids become golden brown and the melted butter is amber-colored. Remove from heat and scrape butter into a shallow bowl to stop it from continuing to cook and accelerate cooling.