I have read quite a few recipes for this very simple French apple cake over time, but never actually got around to making it until a few days ago. What an unexpected revelation! My expectations, as simple as this cake appears to be, were delightfully misconstrued. This cake is absolutely delicious in the best possible ways. Its moist buttery custard like texture surrounding tender chunks of apples is pure perfection. Neither too sweet nor fancy, this is a cake I, and hopefully you, will be baking again, and again, and again.
The secrets to success here are using a variety of absolutely fresh crisp apples and the best quality butter you can find, preferably a French butter or a full fat brand of butter in North America.
In my kitchen I like to keep on hand a serviceable butter for cooking and a French butter for baking and for spreading on bread and toast. The quality, flavor, and color of the butter you use when baking is going to significantly impact the overall flavor, texture, and indeed the aroma of all your baked goods. Fat content matters. French butter has maintained centuries old standards in how the cows are fed, the quality and culturing of the cream, and producing a higher butter fat content that supports flavor as well as a supple texture. President brand is a serviceable French butter that is widely available in grocery stores in the US and Europe and well worth the extra coins spent. Other brands to look for in the US are Plugra, Keller’s European Style, and Land O’Lakes extra creamy butter.
French Apple Cake
- 5 assorted large firm apples (about 1 ¾ pounds)
- 9 tablespoon unsalted butter, divided
- ¾ cup sugar plus 2 tablespoons, divided
- ¾ cup all purpose flour
- ¾ teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 2 large organic eggs, at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 3 tablespoons dark rum (or Calvados)
In a small saucepan melt 8 tablespoons of butter and set aside to cool.
Peel the apples, cut them into quarters, remove the cores, and cut into 3/4 inch chunks.
Place a large skillet over medium heat and add 1 tablespoon butter. When the butter is melted add the apples and toss until coated with butter. Then sprinkle 1 tablespoon sugar over the apples and cook for about 6 to 8 minutes or until the apples just begin to color. Transfer the apples to a large plate and set aside to cool.
Preheat the oven to 350F/180C with rack centered in the oven. Top the rack with the baking sheet.
For this recipe I would suggest using an oven thermometer to be sure the oven temperature is spot on.
Generously butter and lightly flour an 8 or 9 inch springform pan.
In a small bowl whisk together the flour, baking power, and salt and set aside.
In a mixing bowl whisk the eggs until foamy. Add ¾ cup of sugar and whisk vigorously until well combined. Add the vanilla and rum (or Calvados) and whisk until combined.
Then whisk in half the flour mixture until combined. Then add half the melted butter and whisk. Add the remaining flour mixture and melted butter and whisk until the batter is smooth and thick. Then add the apples and, using a silicon spatula, fold them into the batter until evenly coated.
Scrape the mixture into the springform pan and level out the top a bit. Sprinkle the top with a tablespoon of sugar and transfer to the oven.
Monitor your temperature and baking time carefully. Total baking time will be between 50 and 60 minutes. You want to rotate the cake after 25 minutes for even baking.
Be careful not to over bake this cake as you want the texture of the cake to be very moist with an almost custardy texture. The cake will be done when a knife inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. The batter should be just set as it will firm up a bit once taken out of the oven.
When the cake is finished set it out on a cooling rack. After about five minutes run a small flexible pastry spatula around the sides of the baking pan, open the side the pan, and remove it.
Best to let the cake cool completely before transferring it to a cake platter. The easiest way to do this is to run a small flexible pastry spatula around the edges of the cake. Then slide a long pasty spatula under the cake to gently release it and then slide it onto a cake platter.
This cake should be served either warm from the oven or at room temperature. The cake is just perfect served as it is, but if you like add a dollop of whipped cream or crème fraiche, or a small scoop of vanilla ice cream. Less is more in this case.