Pages

Sunday, 3 August 2014

A Strory About French Apple Cake





I have not been this excited about a cake in a long time.


Not that I have not been baking. There was the somewhat disappointing cinnamon cake I baked a few weeks ago. Even though everyone else around me swore that they couldn't taste the extra virgin olive oil that went into the cake, I most certainly could. There are dozens of cake recipes which rely on the fruity flavour of olive oil, as I discovered while trawling through recipe website Epicurious some weeks ago. But with my cinnamon cake escapade, I discovered that as far as I am concerned, olive oil, although delicious with crusty bread or drizzled over hummus, does not work that same magic inside a cake, especially when one is hoping for the perfume of cinnamon instead.

Before that, in another bout of adventurism, I tried a relatively healthy chocolate avocado cupcake recipe, which substituted avocado for butter. The cupcakes were nice enough, but I could taste the faint yet unmistakable, indescribable flavor of avocado which I love, but not in my cake.

It was in this gloomy season  that I came across Dorie Greenspan's French Apple Cake recipe. The name made me sit up and take note. French Apple Cake has a very special place in my heart. Many years ago, when I was poorer, younger, and a few pounds lighter, I was in Bangalore attending college. For sustenance, I relied on a hostel mess that wasn't quite known for gourmet cuisine. With little to look forward to in my daily meals, there were some things that never failed to brighten my day.

Most of these things were, of course, edible. Somewhere on the top of that list sat smugly the French Apple Cake. I was introduced to this elegant piece of genius at Corner House Cafe. Corner House, as we called it, was one of our favorite haunts in the city. If it was something sweet we were after, we instinctively turned (or asked the auto-rickshaw driver to turn) in the direction of Corner House. No meal in the city was complete without a visit to this shrine of sweet things. There were times when a kind soul who had been to the city for a meal returned to the hostel with a Corner House treat for the unfortunate ones left behind, which would be devoured silently, and alarmingly quickly, in our hostel room.




Of the many delightful things that Corner House served, French Apple Cake was among my favourites. Corner House did two versions - French Apple Cake with Cream, which was deliciously rich, and French Apple Cake with Cream and Ice-Cream, which was criminally so.

Since I graduated in 2008, I have not had the chance to return to Bangalore. College was a magical time, not only because I made some of my closest friends there, but also because it was where so many of us came of age, far away from our families. Many apple based desserts have sat on my dessert plate in the years since, but I have not had the good fortune of an encounter with French Apple Cake in all these years.

And so, as Dorie Greenspan's recipe for French Apple Cake stared back at me from my computer screen, I knew that I had to give it a shot. Because it called for an alarming quantity of butter, I decided to reserve it for a worthy enough occasion. With a dear friend visiting tomorrow, I decided that the time was ripe for French Apple Cake.

8 tablespoons of butter have never made me happier. I have just dug into a somewhat large slice of French Apple Cake, and cannot urge you strongly enough to try the recipe out in your own kitchen. It is moist, flavorful and altogether delicious. Corner House Cafe and Dorie Greenspan must have been the warmest of friends at some point in their lives, for I have in my kitchen the very same cake of my long gone college days.
   
Dorie Greenspan's French Apple Cake (recipe adapted from this link)
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • 4 large apples (ideally, choose 4 different kinds) (I used only three medium sized apples)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons dark rum (I substituted with 2 tbsp. vanilla extract and left out the 1/2 tsp below)
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled (I used unsalted butter)
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Generously butter an 8-inch springform pan and put it on a baking sheet lined with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper and put the springform on it.            

Whisk the flour, baking powder, 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. At this point, your cake batter will look like apples coated with a little batter, but that's fine.
           
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. For me, baking time was close to 70 minutes, but that may be because I used an 8 x 8 square tin. Transfer to a cooling rack and let rest for 5 minutes.

Carefully run a blunt 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. If you want to remove the cake from the bottom of the springform pan, wait until the cake is almost cooled, then run a long spatula between the cake and the pan, cover the top of the cake with a piece of parchment or wax paper, and invert it onto a rack. Carefully remove the bottom of the pan and turn the cake over onto a serving dish. Serve with barely sweetened whipped cream or ice cream.

Note: I did feel that the cake was a little too rich. Next time, I will try cutting back on the butter slightly.