Apple Tart Cake

Cupcakes are all the rage now. Or at least they are in Seattle. I see the visceral attraction – who can turn down a good cupcake? They’re perfectly portioned, decorated for a party, and one bite takes you back to the days of elementary school birthdays. Unfortunately, I think that regular old cake has suffered in popularity as it’s taken the brunt of this new cupcake infatuation. So I’m doing my part to keep cake alive and cooking one for pretty much any excuse I can think of.

For me, special events are defined by cake. It’s almost as if the cake takes on the characteristics of the particular event. For instance, my brother’s birthday is July 4th, we’d have a big American flag sheet cake with blueberry stars and raspberry stripes. Instead of candles, we had those fun tall sparklers. Just thinking about that cake takes me back to the warm July evenings out on the side lawn, lightning bugs flickering in the distance, and each cousin with a sparkler in hand tracing circles in the air as we all sang happy birthday.

Dad’s favorite is coconut cake; his mother used to make it. While I don’t have her secret recipe, and I make a mean replica. It’s a tall layer cake with creme of coconut and cream cheese icing topped with toasted coconut flakes. It sort of looks like a giant white Hostess Sno Ball. Oh it’s a good cake. We celebrate my Dad’s birthday every year at the Jersey Shore with the extended family, and as I sit here dreaming about that cake, I can smell the briny sea air and hear the crunch of cruiser bicycle tires on the sand-scattered Ocean Boulevard.

My own birthday was always celebrated with a pineapple upside down cake. I remember being so amazed by how perfect the cake looked with the caramelized pineapple rings dotted with maraschino cherries. My birthday is in early april, and the mere thought of that cake evokes memories of the hundreds of daffodils that bloomed around the farm, perhaps right on cue for my big day.

Fast forward to present day, and I’m on my cake-promotion operation. The apples are just coming into season in Washington, and the farmers market is a block-long tribute. Clearly when you have fresh apples, you must make cake. I’ve had this apple cake tart recipe tucked in my “to-make” folder for months, so when our friends recently adopted a dog, I jumped at this cake-worthy opportunity. It was delicious. Then another set of friends had a little party this past weekend, and I thought they’d like nothing better than to enjoy some morning-after-cake to celebrate their successful soiree. This time I used a mixture of apples and pears. Unfortunately for our friends, someone discovered the cake on the counter during the party and I’m not sure it lasted until the next morning. Sitting in the next room over, I could tell that someone was cutting into the cake in the kitchen because the house instantly filled with the wonderful aroma of baked apples and cinnamon. I got a text message at 1:30 in the morning from a cell number that I didn’t recognize that simply said, “your cake kicks ass.”

I found this recipe on the Orangette blog, and made it in the stand mixer instead of the food processor since mine is awful. I’m not sure how it turns out in the processor, but I can tell you that when I made it, it turned out pretty delicious. The bottom is a dense cake consistency, and the edges bake into a wonderfully chewy crust, much like a blondie. The topping bakes into the apples and the top of the cake keeping it moist, and forms a very light crisp along the top. It’s heavenly. And it’s wonderfully easy to make, with the small exception of the part where you arrange the apple slices thinly like a fancy pastry chef would. Don’t stress over it – they will look lovely when they bake down. I stressed over it. But honestly, everyone was so impressed by how yummy the cake was that no one even noticed what it actually looked like. Still worried about it? Slap a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top.

Join the crusade to bring back cake – make this one for your next occasion. I’ll leave it up to you to decide how “special” the excuse needs to be. Enjoy!

Apple Tart Cake

Click here to print this recipe.
Adapted from Orangette, who adapted it from Judy Amster’s friend
Serves: 8 for dessert, 16 for a snack.
Time: 20 minutes to prep, 1 1/2 hours to cook and cool.

1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into a small pieces
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg, lightly beaten
3 large apples, peeled and sliced very thin (preferably a tart-er apple) or a mixture of apples and asian pears

Topping:
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (preferably fresh)
1 large egg, lightly beaten

Preheat oven to 350°. Butter and flour a 9-inch spring form pan.

In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, combine sugar, flour, and baking powder, stir to mix.

Add the butter, cover the mixer with a towel to contain the flour, and mix on medium until no large lumps remain.

Add the vanilla and the egg, cover with towel again, and mix on medium until it resembles cornmeal – about 2 minutes.

Dump the dough into the prepared pan, and shake gently to distribute evenly. Press gently into the pan, forming a slight raised lip around the edges. (I used a flat-bottomed measuring cup that was lightly dusted with flour to achieve uniform thickness and clean edges.) You don’t want to smash the dough down into the pan, just compact it to form the cake.

Arrange the apple slices on top. If you’re feeling particularly fancy – in a tight circular pattern. Use all the slices from the 3 apples – even if it seems like there are too many. Use the extra slices to fill in the holes once you’ve finished.

Bake for 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the topping: melt the butter in the microwave and cool slightly (or else you risk scrambled eggs). Combine the cinnamon, sugar, beaten egg and butter and whisk to blend well.

After 45 minutes of baking, remove the cake and spoon the topping evenly over the cake. Bake for another 25 minutes, until the topping has set. Cool the cake on a wire rack for 20 minutes, then run a knife around the edge of the cake and remove the sides of the pan. Cool completely before serving.

Store at room temperature covered by plastic wrap (in the rare event that you have leftovers).

Notes:
Making all the apple slices the same size will help immensely in the decorating phase. The simplest way to do this is to first peel the apple with a vegetable peeler. Then stand the apple on it’s end with the core perpendicular to the cutting board. Cut straight down, as if cutting it in half – only slightly to the side so you miss all of the core. Then rotate the apple and make the same cut perpendicular to the first, again avoiding the core. Turn again and cut, and then one last time again. The seeds should be encased in a square of apple core when you’ve finished. Then lay the last (smallest) slice on the cutting board, flat end down. Slice straight down to yield a thin half-circle slice with uniform thickness from core edge to outside edge. Continue slicing pieces the same width. With the pieces that have ends that aren’t cut, slice the smallest quarter or so off to give yourself a 90 degree corner to start with, then slice as before. (Eat the ends immediately.)

Just came across this online article on Fine Cooking.com – it has a great photo journal showing how to cut apples easily using the above method.
As with most baking endeavors, make sure your oven temperature is accurate. Most grocery stores carry oven thermometers that attach to the inside oven racks, and they are worth every penny.

As with most baking endeavors, make sure your oven temperature is accurate. Most grocery stores carry oven thermometers that attach to the inside oven racks, and they are worth every penny.

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Comments: 3

  1. Gretchen October 22, 2009 at 6:31 am Reply

    Amy – this sounds (and looks) wonderful, too. I have to say, though, you need to get an apple/corer/peeler/slicer! It’s such a handy thing to have, and the best part about it is that it actually works! I’d never heard of this contraption until a friend of mine in Colorado busted it out as if it were no big deal one time when we were making a pie together at her house. Amazing!

  2. seattlepalate October 26, 2009 at 12:41 pm Reply

    Gretchen – I know, seriously! It would make the cake a snap to prepare. I do use the veggie peeler and mandoline which makes it go pretty fast. When I have more cabinet space I’ll invest in the corer/peeler/slicer. I’ve seen them in action and they’re definitely pretty cool!

  3. Gretchen October 26, 2009 at 2:28 pm Reply

    I made it today! The house smells HEAVENLY! Paul will be excited when he gets home because I’m sure it will still smell good when he arrives. Thanks for inspiring me to do some new and fun things in the kitchen, Amy!

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