High Altitude Baking: Staub’s apple cake with cream sauce (recipe)
February 14, 2017
Editor's note: High altitudes make cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column presents recipes and tips that make baking in the mountains successful.
When you think of great pastries, what countries come to mind? I immediately name those in Western Europe, where this recipe originated. A vanilla-and-butter cake with a tender crumb is topped with sweet apples and served with rich cream sauce — simple, elegant and delicious. It's reminiscent of a classic German apple kuchen, with some added twists for the Rocky Mountains.
To make sure the apples are flavorful and fully cooked when the cake is done (a frequent problem at high altitudes), I macerate them in cider or rum and sugar, which softens them so they bake more quickly. I also glaze the baked fruit with apricot jelly to add more flavor and deepen its color.
Tips for success: The cake ingredients should be at room temperature, and once flour is added to the batter, stir only until it's incorporated (don't overmix). Slice the apple wedges no more than a quarter of an inch thick or they may not be done when the cake is fully baked; if you want them to form a pretty design, make sure the ones for the outer edge of the cake are all the same length.
The cream sauce can be made up to two days ahead of serving. The cake is best the day it's made but still good on the second day.
Staub's apple cake
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(Adjusted for altitudes of 7,900 feet and above. Make in an 8½-inch springform pan.)
1 tablespoon apple cider or dark rum
2 tablespoons dark-brown sugar
3 medium Golden Delicious apples
1 ½ cups plus 3 tablespoons bleached, all-purpose flour (spoon and level)
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
Scant ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
¾ cup superfine granulated sugar, preferably Baker's
1 large egg, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
½ cup light cream, room temperature
3 blueberries, optional
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ cup apricot jam, optional
1 teaspoon water or rum
Cream sauce, optional
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup heavy cream
¼ cup superfine sugar
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the center position. Flip over the bottom of your springform pan, so the rim faces down (this will allow easier cutting of the cake), and lock it in. Grease the pan (sides and bottom) with a flour-vegetable oil spray.
Combine the cider/rum and brown sugar in a large bowl, and whisk until blended. Peel and core the apples, and then cut them into ¼-inch thick wedges. Place them in the bowl, and toss until all are coated with cider/rum-sugar mixture. Cover bowl loosely, and let apples macerate while making cake.
Whisk the flour, baking powder, salt and nutmeg in a bowl until thoroughly combined. Set aside. In another large mixing bowl, use an electric mixer to beat the butter and granulated sugar until lightened, add the egg and vanilla, and beat again until light. Add the flour mixture alternately with the cream (4 additions of flour, 3 of cream), mixing on low speed only until combined after each addition. Don't overbeat.
Scrape batter into prepared pan, smoothing and leveling the top. Start at the outside edge and lightly press the apple slices, core side down, into the batter. Cut them, if necessary, so they're the same length, and space them about 1/8-inch apart. Use shorter slices to make a circle in the center, and if using, place the blueberries in the middle. Combine the 1 tablespoon sugar and the cinnamon, and sprinkle evenly over the top.
Bake until the apple slices are soft and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes. Remove to a rack. If using glaze, warm the apricot jam slightly, add water/rum, and stir to combine. If lumpy, puree until smooth, and brush lightly over the warm apples. Run an offset spatula or knife between the pan and the side of the cake, pressing toward the pan. Let cake cool, and then carefully remove pan sides.
Make cream sauce, if using: Melt the butter in a saucepan, add the cream and sugar, and bring to a boil while stirring. Reduce heat, and simmer, stirring, until sauce thickens slightly (to the consistency of thick eggnog) and reduces. Serve or store, up to two days, covered in the refrigerator. Reheat and drizzle generously over slices of cake.
This recipe is inspired by one created by Sally Schmitt. Vera Dawson is a baking instructor and author of the high-altitude cookbooks "Cookies in the Clouds" and "Baking Above It All" (available at The Bookworm of Edwards). Her recipes have been tested in her Summit County kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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