So. I have now tried to write about this apple cake five times. Maybe six. Anyway, a lot.
And I thought I had it down the other night. Then I went to bed and when I came back to check on my apple cake story I found that, in fact, none of my cake witticisms and baking enticements had stuck around on the page and I just about gave up. Actually, I grrrr’d in frustration and then I just about gave up.
But this cake is really good. Special occasion good. Too good to give up on because then it may slip into oblivion, the place cakes go to be forgotten about when new shinies come along, and I don’t think I can cope with that happening here. So instead I am going to talk about my day, and then I am going to tell you to make cake.
Today I went back to formal education, the kind I have eschewed for the last four years in favour of freedom and backpacks. But I thought it was maybe time to give it another go (especially when that go only requires me to stay put for six months in order to complete something I have started). So I started my short stint back at school.
I collected forms and listened to instructions, I bought a uniform and a suitcase full of equipment. I took a test (and by the way, if you don’t like maths at high school, you are REALLY not going to like it ten years later when you have forgotten even the tiny amount that you actually understood then), I had a lunch break and I remembered why I feel claustrophobic when I am required to spend time in formal institutions.
But if I ignore my itchy feet and general distrust of anything formal for a moment, I am a little bit excited about school. It’s pastry school! I get to learn about treats for six months and can use all the butter I want, leaving all the guilt behind.
When I think back to these six months, later on in the future, I want to remember days laden with butter and sprinkled with flour and sugar. Days where I spent hours making pastries and thinking about what the future holds. And about how odd I looked in my chef’s uniform and skull cap.
And what I want you to remember from this post is how to make this cake. This cake which is as happy being a wedding cake as it is being an eightieth birthday cake. As happy styled with succulents as it is covered in rosemary flowers (my current food crush). This is a cake that won me serious grandma brownie points when it took first prize at a local cake competition and won over all of the taste buds that have been in its vicinity.
Whether you cloak this cake in salted caramel or burnt honey, whether you create a tower or keep it simple, whether you go crazy with decorations- which is one of my favourite things to do… there just aren’t enough birthdays in the year- or do the bare minimum and scoff it down with a grin on your lips and crumbs all over your face, this is a cake you won’t regret being introduced to.
Put the oven on 180 and crank up the kitchen-aid: this cake needs to be made.
Meanwhile I will be prancing around in the kitchen feeling fancy in my new uniform.
brown butter apple cake- adapted from the MomoFuku Milk Bar book created by the inimitable Christina Tosi (I kiiiinnnnd of want to be her…)
for the cake
55g butter, room temp
40g butter to brown
250g white sugar
60g light brown sugar
65g grapeseed oil
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
185g plain (or baker’s) flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
for the apples
2 medium (about 300g) grannsy smith apples
150g light brown sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
for the soak
1/4 cup apple cider/granny smith apple juice
1 tsp light brown sugar
pinch of cinnamon
for the icing
1 pkt cream cheese, room temp
about 3/4 cup salted caramel/burnt honey (but this is really to taste)
icing sugar, optional
Butter and line a cake tin- this recipe is for a 6 inch layer cake to serve 6-8 people using a 25 X 33 cm rectangular cake tin. Feel free to adjust. I have made it in a smaller, higher round cake tin which took longer to cook but made a wider finished cake.
To make brown butter, put the butter in a microwave safe container and microwave for 2 1/2-3 minutes. You want it to be a nice nutty colour and smell amazing. Check after 2 1/2 minutes, you don’t want to take it too far- to burning. When it’s ready put it in the fridge to hasten the cooling process, stirring it every so often to evenly distribute the caramelised milk solids. You have to wait til it’s cold before you use it.
Now combine the butters and sugars in the mixer and beat on medium high for 2-3 minutes. Scrape the sides of the bowl, add the eggs and repeat. Scrape the bowl again.
With the mixer on low, stream in the buttermilk, oil and vanilla. Increase the speed to medium high and mix for 5-10 minutes until the mixture is smooth and completely homogenised. You cannot over-mix at this stage.
Scrape the sides of the bowl and with the mixer on very low, add the flour, baking powder and salt. Mix for 45 seconds til the batter is just combined, scrape the bowl and mix for another 30 seconds to make sure it is all incorporated.
Pour into your prepared tin and bake for 30-35 minutes until the edge of the cake bounces back slightly at a poke from your finger tip and the centre is no longer jiggly.
While the cake is cooking, make your fillings.
Set yourself up with a small bowl of lemon water- this is for your apples to prevent them browning. Peel, core and slice your apples into 1 inch-ish pieces, popping them into the lemon water as you go.
Drain the apples and put them in a small saucepan with the rest of the ingredients. Slowly bring to the boil over a medium heat and simmer gently for 3-5 minutes. You want to cook the apples until they are soft but retain their shape- no mush!
Set aside to cool. (The apples can be refrigerated for up to a week at this point.)
For the soak, combine all the ingredients in a small bowl and whisk to combine. Set aside til needed.
To make the icing you just need to beat all the ingredients together until smooth and creamy. Add the caramel or honey a half cup at a time until you reach a flavour you are happy with. I like quite a bitter edge here, to offset the rich sweetness of the finished cake. The icing sugar is optional because the cake is already quite sweet- I don’t think it needs the extra sugar but everyone has a different sweet tooth.
I am not going to tell you how to make salted caramel- google that shit. But for burnt honey: put about a cup of honey in a saucepan and cook over medium heat until the honey is dark and smoky. You can take the honey quite far without it tasting ‘burnt’, just don’t walk away from it! And if you take it off too soon and want to brown it further, just whack it back on the heat for a little longer.
Assembly! Depending on what cake pan you used, cut your cake in half to end up with two rounds or cut two even shaped rounds out of a rectangle cake. You can use the scrappy uneven pieces for the middle layer- nobody will know.
Get a nice piece of cake round for the bottom layer and use a pastry brush to drench it in apple soak. Spread with a layer of cream cheese icing and top with half of the apple mix. Get your next layer (your crap layer) and do the same thing, using the rest of the apples.
Get your final, nicest looking layer and paint with the remaining soak. Cloak the entire cake with icing (or, if you prefer a naked cake, use more icing in between the layers and leave the outside plain) and decorate decorate decorate! Or just eat.