French Apple Cake

French Apple Cake

First the backstory. My husband’s Idaho grandmother baked an apple cake that he remembers with great fondness. We have spent years attempting to replicate it with varying levels of success. We may never reach the pinnacle of his grandmother’s achievement (local apples and a woodfired oven may have played a role) but this cake approaches greatness.

Yes, it is French. A dear friend from the region around Toulouse gave us the recipe. Yes, we had to translate and work on some ingredient changes. Did you know that the French use a different leavening agent than we do? But I think it is worth it. And once you get the hang of it, it’s very easy. Or as they say in French, “trop facile.” 

If you are deciding whether or not to try it (and we suggest you do) watch this video first. It is quick. Ignore the French (unless you speak it of course) and just watch the process. There are few ingredients, and the cake comes together fast. As a bonus I think the chef is super cute.

Here is the blessedly short ingredient list:
 Apples (we like smaller Honeycrisps, 3 to 4 will do it) in big dice
 Peanut oil (canola will work too)
 Baking Powder (see note below) *

*This the only wrinkle, everything else is easy. The recipe calls for French baking powder. You can buy Alsa. Or you can make it yourself (2 tsp. cream of tartar, 1 tsp. baking soda and 1 tsp. cornstarch.) We made our own and it worked great. We have been told you can use American baking powder, but it will change texture. If you try that I’d do 1 tsp. Baking Powder and ½ tsp. Cream of Tartar. We love this cake recipe and have made it multiple times now, so I have some Alsa on order. 

Here we go. If you haven’t watched the video, I really recommend you do. If you do, you can probably skim/skip my obsessively thorough instructions. 

First be sure you have a nine-inch pan, a spring form is best. Grease and flour the pan including the sides. Set aside. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

There are two different batters to mix. The first is for the basic cake, which will bake a bit before you add a custard batter (la crème) layer to finish the baking. To help with that I will lay this out as one pre-measuring job (“mise en place” in French) but two steps. 

We suggest you have everything measured, cut and ready before you mix the first batter. The French baking powder is “single acting.” That means it only rises in the bowl not in the oven. Once you start mixing you want to move expeditiously to get it into the oven to keep it as fluffy as possible.

First the dry ingredients for the basic cake:

In a bowl mix:
2/3 cup sugar
1 cup flour
2 tsp (or 1 packet) of French style baking powder (see above)
Pinch of salt

Once these dry ingredients are combined, make a well, then wait. 

In another small bowl:
Crack 2 eggs and mix them a bit
Have ready: 
¼ cup oil
½ cup milk

For the second batter pull out and set aside: 
1 egg
½ cup sugar
1/3 cup butter (we use regular salted butter) 
Pinch of salt 

Let’s mix. You will want to use a whisk if you have one. First toss on the two eggs in and whisk. Then the oil, then the milk. It should not take too long to come together. Pour into pan then dot it with apple pieces. Place in the oven for 20 minutes. 

While that cake is pre-baking make the cream. Melt the 1/3 cup butter and cool slightly. Mix the ½ cup sugar and egg in a bowl then add the melted butter.  

Once the cake has baked 20 minutes pull it out and pour the egg/sugar/butter mixture over it. We like to sprinkle a bit of salt on at this time. If you have French sea salt (fleur du sel), that is lovely. Then back in the oven for 10 minutes. It should brown up a bit. Pull it out and put in on a rack to cool. We take off the spring form while it is a bit warm as the cake is sticky.  

It is fantastic with no accompaniment, but vanilla ice cream or whipped cream would be nice. Left over (if there is any) for breakfast is lovely. Cake and café au lait anyone? Or Kona coffee if you have it!

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