High Country Baking: Marie Helene’s apple cake
High Country Baking
High altitudes makes cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall, and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column, published on Thursdays, presents recipes and tips that make baking in the mountains successful.
You’d never guess from its appearance, but this apple cake has quite a following. Created by French baker Marie Helene and transported to the U.S. in Dorie Greenspan’s “Around My French Table,” it has an impressive number of devoted American fans. Why has such an unpretentious pastry gotten so much attention? Because it’s a delight to eat: light, flavorful and utterly delicious. In truth, it’s barely a cake — just lots of apples lashed together in a sweet batter so moist it’s almost custard. It leaves you wondering how anything so simple could be so good.
The apples are key to the cake’s success, they must bake until they are completely soft while still holding their shape. The original recipe calls for a wide variety of apples, but I found that tart and crisp ones don’t soften sufficiently when baked at high altitude. I suggest using only sweet baking apples, like Golden Delicious. I also added an un-called-for topping of cinnamon-sugar. The French would frown, but I wanted a little more flavor.
Though you can make the cake with regular granulated sugar, superfine sugar creates a more tender texture, I highly recommend it. Make your own by whirling regular sugar in a food processor until it’s the texture of fine sand. The rum is an absolute necessity, adding a depth and sweetness that’s a major part of the dessert’s success.
Marie Helene’s Apple Cake
Adjusted for altitudes of 7,800 feet and above
Make in a 9 ½ inch shiny metal springform pan
- ¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons bleached all-purpose flour (spoon and level)
- ¼ teaspoon plus 1/8 teaspoon baking powder
- Pinch salt
- 4 Golden Delicious apples
- 2 large eggs, room temperature
- ¾ cup superfine granulated sugar, preferably Baker’s
- 3 tablespoons dark rum
- ¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 8 tablespoons (one stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
Cinnamon-sugar topping, optional
- ½ teaspoon granulated sugar
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon, or to taste
1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the center position. Unlock your springform pan, flip the bottom over, so the lip faces down (making removing and cutting the cake easier), relock it in place and generously grease the entire pan using a baking spray that contains flour.
2. Whisk the flour, baking powder and salt in a small bowl until well combined and set it aside. Peel and core the apples, then cut them into ½ to ¾ inch pieces (bigger ones won’t fully bake) and set them aside.
3. Place the eggs in a large mixing bowl and beat them with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until they’re very foamy, with thick bubbles covering the entire top. Drizzle in the sugar while beating/whisking, then add the rum and vanilla and beat/whisk to blend completely, keeping the mixture as light as possible. Whisk in half of the flour mixture, then gently stir in half of the melted butter and repeat, stirring only until a soft, smooth batter forms. Check the bottom of the bowl to make sure all butter and flour are fully incorporated. Gently fold in the apple pieces with a silicon or rubber spatula until each of them is thickly coated with batter and then scrape the mixture into the prepared pan, make sure to include all of the batter. Smooth and level the top. If using cinnamon sugar, mix the sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle lightly on top.
4. Put the pan on a cookie sheet (to catch drips) and place it in the oven. Bake until the top of the cake colors slightly and a knife inserted in the center slides easily though the fruit and batter and comes out clean, about 50-60 minutes. Remove the cake to a rack, cool it until it’s still soft and warm but no longer hot, about 15 minutes, carefully run a knife or offset spatula around the edge, pressing toward the pan, not the cake, and remove the pan side (do this gently, watching for apples stuck to it; if there are any, return them to the cake).
5. Let the cake cool completely. Cover it with a cake dome or over-turned bowl and refrigerate it for up to four days. The cake cuts most easily when chilled but is at its best served warm to the touch (but not hot). Re-warm slices in a microwave or 325 degree oven. Serve with vanilla or cinnamon ice cream, whipped cream, or crème fraiche.
This recipe is a variation of one published by David Lebovitz.
Vera Dawson’s column “High Country Baking” publishes biweekly on Thursdays in the Summit Daily News. Dawson is a high-elevation baking instructor and author of three high-altitude cookbooks. Her recipes have been tested in her kitchen in Frisco, where she’s lived since 1991, and altered until they work at elevation. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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