I actually baked my first apple cake about seven years ago. And I mean cake, not a crumble or pie or some kind of brown betty-thing (nothing against brown betties, by the way — my mom has been making them for forever and i am a huge fan). No, I made cake — this apple cake with toffee crust to be exact and it was good, but not life-changing. Of course, while working for Matt and Nato, I baked a lot of their apple cake, and assisted in getting it “book-ready/home-cook accessible” by testing it before it made its way into Baked Explorations. But their particular apple cake is apple sauce-based, and I’m here to tell you about apple sheet cake that is made apple-y with chunks of apple coated in sugar and cinnamon (much like pie).
I stumbled upon such an apple cake at my mother-in-law’s kitchen table. It was sublime: A super moist cake with sweet/tart apples suspended throughout, and a crunchy, lightly browned exterior. She served it with freshly whipped cream and I refused to get out of my seat until she shared the recipe with me. The recipe turned out to be my most favorite kind. First, it was a cake recipe calling for oil as its fat (like a carrot cake or Martha Stewart’s one bowl chocolate cake) — and I love an oil-based cake. And, second, it contained a short list of simple ingredients. The technique was not included in the recipe (when you are as fine a baker as my mother-in-law, technique is assumed).
When I perused the internet in anticipation of developing my own sublime apple cake recipe, I came across (essentially) my mother-in-law’s exact recipe on Smitten Kitchen. I was a little disappointed, but hardly surprised (I’m convinced there is a Smitten Kitchen blog post about literally every dessert I have ever even thought about making or eating). There were some variations in amounts of ingredients between the two apple cake recipes, but the ingredients themselves were identical. A bit more apple cake research turned up this apple cake recipe, from a 1973 New York Times article. Again, a recipe very similar to my mother-in-law’s (and to Smitten’s) and finally I found this (French) take on an apple cake.
With these recipes in hand, I began on my own. I substituted yolks for some of the eggs (I’m not kidding when I say i like a moist cake), brown sugar for some of the granulated (see above note on me and moist cakes), and buttermilk for the OJ because I love buttermilk and it smells amazing when it is incorporated into this particular cake batter (both my mother-in-law’s recipe and Smitten Kitchen’s call for OJ; the NYT recipe and Dorie Greenspan’s call for no additional liquid). I made the cake as I would a carrot cake (using a simple, one bowl(ish) technique) and baked it in a 13x9x2″ pan, cause i’m partial to sheet cakes (which read picnic/snack cake to me in the best way). And the cake is amazing — moist and apple-y and comforting and picnic-y (although, truth be told, i ate mine indoors). The cake is so moist, in fact, that I do not recommend doing what I did: covering it with saran wrap when storing it. Instead, leave it exposed to the elements and put a piece of parchment paper only over the cut surface (Dorie Greenspan’s recipe recommends such storage and i’m grateful to her for that tidbit).
Apple Sheet Cake
- 5 large or 6 small apples (use a variety)
- 1 1/2 tsp freshly ground cinnamon
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 2 1/4 cups flour sifted
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp baking soda
- 1 cup canola oil
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup light brown sugar packed
- 1 tbsp pure vanilla extract
- 2 large eggs
- 2 large yolks
- 1/3 cup buttermilk
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and spray a 13x9x2" pan with cooking spray. Set aside.
- To prepare the apples: Peel, core, and cut them into 1/2" to 1" chunks. Place in a small bowl and add the cinnamon and sugar. Toss to coat with your hands or a wooden spoon. Set aside.
- To prepare the cake batter: In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda and set aside.
- Whisk together the oil, sugars, and vanilla in another medium-sized bowl. Add the eggs, yolks, and buttermilk and whisk again until incorporated. Add the dry ingredients to the wet, and, using a rubber spatula, gently fold the dry into the wet, until almost totally incorporated (a few little visible flour pockets is a good thing).
- To assemble the cake: Add about half of the batter to the prepared pan and smooth it out with an offset spatula. Add the apples (optional: drain some of the liquid, if a lot has accumulated in the bottom of the apple bowl) and use a rubber spatula to spread them evenly over the first layer of batter. Add the rest of the batter and smooth the top of the cake (as best you can) with an offset spatula.
- Transfer the cake to the oven and bake for 55 to 60 minutes, rotating the pan after 30 minutes, and checking the cake after about 45 minutes. The cake is done when a tester inserted into the cake (not an apple-chunk, ideally) comes out with a few moist, but not wet, crumbs.
- Cool to room temperature before slicing the cake and serving with lightly sweetened whipped cream.
- To store, do not cover the cake. Instead, simply cover any exposed sides with a strip of parchment paper. and don't cover it at all prior to serving. it will keep at room temp for up to 3 days.