While I was in NJ at the beginning of the month, ME pulled out her copy of a cookbook I’d never heard of before: German Baking Today. At a previous job, she made cakes by request for co-workers who were leaving, and this slim little book was thrust upon her by a colleague interested in the cherry crumb cake.
We’ve both been watching a lot of the Great British Bake Off, which recently featured the stunning and unusual Baumkuchen, a recipe that happened to be in this little book. So, obviously, after puzzling out how the baking process could possibly yield a tender cake, it was necessary to flip through the rest of the book. Since we were planning to go apple picking, and since the photo looked stunning, we decided to make, not the Baumkuchen, but this fancy apple cake.
You may notice that I have no process shots for this fancy apple cake. I wasn’t totally sold on the outcome being worth posting about, both because of ME’s experience with the cherry crumb cake and because I usually don’t like big pieces of apple in cake.
I altered the order of the process a little bit, electing to make the cake first and then thinly slice the apples, because I was worried they would brown too much if I let them sit like the book wanted me to. I’m glad I did that, because with the amount of time it took me to thinly slice these apple segments, the ones I did first were already brown when I got to the end.
The cake batter itself comes together really easily. It’s a simple, thick batter that barely covers the bottom of the 11-inch springform pan in a thin layer. This was some cause for more concern, because the picture shows a pretty tall cake, and neither Sophie nor I could figure out how that would happen with our cake.
The process of slicing the apples is pretty simple, but time-consuming. First you need to peel your apples, then cut each apple into approximately four big pieces by slicing out the core. Next, make paper-thin cuts vertically down each big piece of apple, without cutting all the way through at the bottom (but you need to come close to the bottom). That is how you achieve these gorgeous fan shapes. If you’re anything like me, this is also a significant investment of time. Fortunately, I can tell you from experience that you aren’t going to need all 4-5 apples called for in the original recipe. Three apples are about all that can fit in the pan while leaving some batter showing.
After placing a snug wrapper of foil around the base of the springform pan as a leak prevention measure, in the cake went to bake. I did bake this a little longer than the recipe suggested, as it didn’t look quite golden on top when the initial 60 minutes were up.
The apricot glaze is really easy to make. I was on the fancy about making it, but I’m really glad I did. Firstly, it adds a nice subtitle undertone of stone-fruit flavor to the cake, and secondly, the shine on top of the cake looks way better than the cake looks without it.
Several hours of impatient waiting and worry after the cake was finished baking, glazed, and left to cool, we removed the foil from the pan, extracted the cake carefully (okay, I almost dropped it on the floor), and sliced in. It didn’t rise as much as the cake in the cookbook, but this fancy apple cake is forgiven because it’s flavor is sublime and it’s crumb is incredibly tender.
My dislike of most apple cakes is having chunks of apple dispersed throughout the cake itself. Since the apple slices were relegated to the top here, and since they were perfectly cooked and caramelized, I was totally okay with having them as part of my cake.
Think of this fancy apple cake as an even better alternative to apple pie. You don’t have to go to the bother of making a fussy pie crust, chilling it, or rolling it. You have to go through basically the same amount of bother for the apples. At the end, you get a much better ratio of tender, faintly vanilla-y, hugely flavorful cake to lightly-sweetened, tender, but not mushy or liquidy, apple. Near the apples, the cake takes on an almost custard-y quality that makes it irresistible.
Original recipe from German Baking Today
Fancy Apple Cake
- 125 grams (4.5 ounces or 3/8 cup) butter softened
- 125 grams (4.5 ounces or 5/8 cup) granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract or 2 tablespoons vanilla sugar
- 2 pinches Kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon lemon extract or 2 teaspoons lemon juice (from 1/2 lemon)
- 3 large eggs room temperature
- 200 grams (7 ounces or 2 cups) all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 4 teaspoons milk
- 500-600 grams (1 lb or 3 medium) apples McIntosh, Cox, Elstar, Jonathan, etc
- 33 gram (1.5 ounce or 3 tablespoons) butter
- 1 tablespoon demerara or brown sugar
- 4 teaspoons apricot jam
- 2 teaspoons water
Preheat the oven to 350°F (325°F if using convection heat). Grease an 11-inch/28-cm springform pan*. Wrap the bottom of the pan in aluminum foil to prevent any potential batter leaking into the oven during baking.
Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or a hand mixer (or manual whisk), work the butter in the mixing bowl until it becomes smooth. Add the sugar, vanilla, salt, and lemon extract/juice and mix to combine. Beat or whisk at medium speed until the batter thickens. Add each egg one at a time, beating on high for 30 seconds after each addition.
Sift or whisk together the flour and baking powder. Add the dry ingredients to the mixing bowl in three parts, alternating with the milk, starting and ending with the dry ingredients. After each addition, beat on medium-low speed until just incorporated. Scrape down the bowl, then beat on medium-low speed for about 10-15 seconds.
Spoon the cake batter into the prepared springform pan and smooth out the top. It will likely look quite thin.
Melt the butter in a small pan or the microwave.
Wash the apples, peel them, cut each apple into quarters and remove the core. Make very thin lengthwise slits into each quartered apple piece, without extending the cut all the way through the apple.
Carefully arrange the sliced apple quarters in a decorative pattern on top of the cake batter in the springform pan. Drizzle the melted butter over the apples, sprinkle with the demerara or brown sugar, then place the pan in the oven.
Bake the cake for about 45-55 minutes, rotating the cake midway through, until a toothpick inserted in the center (not through an apple) comes out clean, the top is golden brown, and the apples are caramelized. If the cake is browning too quickly, cover it with foil about midway through to prevent the apples from burning.
While the cake is baking, prepare the apricot glaze. Rub the apricot jam through a sieve (if yours is chunky) and add it to a small saucepan together with the water. Bring the jam and water to a boil over high heat, reduce to a simmer for 1-2 minutes, then turn off the heat, and pour the glaze through a sieve into a small heatproof bowl. Set aside.
As soon as the cake is done baking, pour the apricot glaze over the top to coat as much of the surface as possible. Brush with a pastry brush to distribute the glaze as needed.
After 10-15 minutes, release the springform pan and place the cake on a rack to cool down.
This cake will keep for several days or can be frozen after cooking.
If you only have a 9 or 10-inch springform pan, proceed with that but plan to bake the cake a little longer and use slightly less apples.