In another life, I was a Frenchwoman.
I lived on a crooked and cobbled street en provence, and wore a faded and flour-stained apron while I cooked things like coq au vin, madeleines, and cassoulet de canard. My kitchen overlooked my petit jardin which was cheerfully bursting with fines herbes, tomates rouges, haricots verts, et aubergines. I ate butter, butter, and more butter, took my coffee with cream and real sugar, and spent my mornings reading books in the sun with a French pug to my left and my Monsieur to my right.
Besides the words just sounding *so* much nicer, the French have a knack for hitting even the most ordinary things out of the park every time. The food is brutally honest and unapologetic; real, simple ingredients are cleverly manipulated in ways that showcase the absolute best that they have to offer. There is nary a Snackwell’s box in sight, as the French sensibly prefer to eat one flakey and buttery palmier cookie over seventeen chemical and preservative laden fat-free whoopee pies. Forget the unsatisfying 100 calorie packs, and bring on the real afternoon snacks of creamy camembert and fresh figs, or cured ham and mustard on a baguette.
In this life I still live on a crooked and cobbled street, I wear my flour stained apron and watch over some mint I barely keep alive in our ‘back yard.’ I eat lots of butter and spend my mornings with one pug and one monsieur – and to be honest, I could not be more full of a certain joie de vivre.
This Apple cake embodies all of what I admire so much about French cooking. You essentially have apples, flour, sugar, butter and eggs, and orchestrate them in just such a manner that in an hour you have the most wonderfully light and gorgeous cake. This is not a ‘cake-cake’ – that is, not the dense crumbly type one slathers with an overly sweet frosting. It is almost more like a very thick crepe, light but eggy, with more apple than binder and a lightly sweet rum finish. It is the kind of cake that is perfect with coffee for breakfast, as an afternoon snack with tea, or when you want something refined yet simple to wrap up a more decadent dinner.
I love this cake. I really, really do. I whipped some heavy cream until it was just beyond holding stiff peaks (but not quite yet butter) and tinged it with a hint of cinnamon and a tiny bit of powdered sugar to play on the light and sweet spice of the rum, and it was a home run.
Marie-Helenes Apple Cake
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
4 large apples (I used a Pink Lady, a Gala, a Granny Smith, and a Cortlandt)
2 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons dark rum (I used Meyer’s)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350F.
Generously butter (and I mean generously) an 8-inch springform pan and put it on a baking sheet lined with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper. Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a small bowl.
Peel the apples, cut them in half and remove the cores (or, if you have an apple corer, core the apples first and then peel them, and cut in half vertically). Cut the apples into thin 1/4″ slices horizontally, and then cut those slices in half vertically. You should have pieces of apple that are 1.5-2″ wide and 1/4″ thick.
In a medium bowl, beat the eggs with a whisk until they’re foamy, about one minute. 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 just 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 (it will be similar to pancake batter).
Switch to a rubber spatula and fold in the apples, turning the fruit so that it’s coated with batter. You will have more apple than batter, and you want the batter to evenly blanket each piece of apple. Scrape the mix into the pan and poke it around with the spatula until it is basically even.
Slide the pan into the oven and bake for 50 to 60 minutes (I baked mine closer to 60 minutes), or until the top of the cake is golden brown and a knife inserted deep into the center comes out clean (with no raw batter on it); the cake might pull away a little from the sides of the pan, which is fine.
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, which would rip chunks off the side of your cake). 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.
The cake can be served warm or at room temperature (I personally love it room temp), with or without a little whipped and barely sweetened heavy cream or a spoonful of ice cream.
The cake will keep, covered in plastic wrap but unrefrigerated, for 3 to 4 days (IF you can resist eating it for that long….but I can guarantee you that will not happen).