How do you multitask in French? If you are a home baker, you might make G-teau aux Pommes, a simple apple cake that can be served after dinner and then eaten for breakfast or packed in a lunchbox the next day.
The combination of the words "French" and "cake" conjure up images of a towering croquembouche, an intricately layered dacquoise, a Napoleon. These are the desserts that the French purchase at patisseries to serve at home on special occasions. But there is a different category of French sweets, a repertoire of everyday recipes, including chocolate mousse, fruit clafouti and pain perdu, that are unfussy and easy to make.
Apple cake belongs in this category. If you have a paring knife, a couple of bowls and a spoon, you have all of the necessary equipment. If you have 15 minutes, you have the time to put it together. Mix a simple batter, scrape it into a pan and top it with sliced fruit. As the cake bakes, the apples flavor the batter with their juices. The finished cake has a moist, custard-like consistency, punctuated by distinct-yet-tender chunks of fruit.
Now is the time to bake an apple cake. Farm markets are offering dozens of varieties of freshly picked fruit. When choosing apples for baking, keep both texture and taste in mind. Fruit that stays firm when baked is essential, since you want your cake topped with apples, not apple sauce. An apple with a balance of sweet and tart flavors will give your cake some complexity. Jonagold, Granny Smith, Honeycrisp, and empire apples all have a nice sweet-tart taste and will hold their shape in the oven. Ask before buying if you are unfamiliar with what's available. Chances are good you will be offered samples upon which to base your choice.
You don't need an electric mixer for this recipe. In fact, it's better to mix the batter by hand, so you don't overmix it, leading to a gummy result. I used tart apricot jam, pushed through a fine strainer so it is smooth, to glaze my cake. If you prefer, you could use apple jelly for a sweeter finish. If you'd like, substitute pears for apples, and use ginger preserves instead of apricot to add some spice. Serve warm slices of cake with ice cream, whipped cream, or crème fraîche. You could bake this cake in a 9-inch round cake pan, but I prefer a square pan for square or rectangular slices. It is easier to wrap and pack a square piece of leftover cake than a pointy wedge for lunch the next day.
EASY FRENCH APPLE CAKE
2 large eggs
1/3 cup milk
3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
6 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/4-inch slices
1/3 cup apricot preserves, strained
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray an 8-inch square baking pan with nonstick cooking spray.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs and milk. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the flour, brown sugar, baking powder and salt. Stir the flour mixture into the egg mixture. Stir the butter and vanilla into the batter. Scrape into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a spatula.
3. Arrange the apple slices in three rows, overlapping them slightly, on top of the cake. Bake until golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out dry, 25 to 30 minutes. Gently spread the preserves over the apples, and then continue to bake another 5 minutes. Let cake cool in pan on a wire rack before cutting into squares and serving warm or at room temperature. Makes 6 to 9 servings.