Maple-Almond Sunken Apple Cake
Choosing what to bake is always a tug-of-war between my eagerness to try new recipes and the comfort of returning to old favorites, perhaps with a small twist or two. I made the Smitten Kitchen sunken apple and honey cake for the first time a couple of years ago and was instantly, well, smitten. It’s a variation on the traditional German versunkener apfelkuchen (translation: sunken apple cake), which features apple halves sliced partway through like hasselback potatoes, which dot the surface of a not-too-sweet, egg-white-lightened cake batter. The visual effect is pretty and whimsical. I’m a sucker for whimsy.
The Smitten Kitchen innovation was the addition of honey in the batter and a salted honey glaze (which is awesome), and while I love that version, I decided to experiment with replacing the honey with maple syrup. That worked nicely. However, the one quibble I had with the original recipe was that, for me, the cake always turned out ever so slightly dry, which also happened with the maple syrup variation. This year, it occurred to me that I might resolve that issue, and add additional layers of flavor and texture, if I made it a maple-almond sunken apple cake–specifically, if I replaced some of the flour with blanched almond meal, added a dash of almond extract, and sprinkled flaked almonds on top in between the apples.
Well, I tried it, and I have to admit, I was pretty pleased with myself. The resulting cake is slightly moister than the original, and the almond pairs pairs beautifully with the maple and apples. For the cake you see here, I used the last of the precious “pink-a-boo” apples I found at a Farmers’ Marker in NYC, but you can use any type of crisp, flavorful apple. Just choose small- to medium-sized specimens. The cake is perfect with an afternoon tea or coffee, for a slightly indulgent breakfast, or as a not-too-sweet dessert.
Maple-Almond Sunken Apple Cake
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen.
- 4 smallish apples
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 125 g unsalted butter at room temperature
- 75 g sugar
- 1/4 c. maple syrup (preferably "robust" or "extra dark")
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/4 tsp almond extract
- 3 large eggs separated
- 1/4 tsp table salt or fine sea salt
- 2 tsp baking powder (preferably "aluminum free")
- 120 g all-purpose flour
- 30 g blanched almond flour
- 2-4 tbsp flaked almonds
- powdered sugar
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease a 9-inch springform pan, and line the bottom and sides with baking parchment.
Peel, halve, and core the apples. Place each apple half cut-side down on a cutting board and use a sharp knife to cut parallel thin slices halfway through–in other words, you want to "score" the apple half but not actually create slices that will separate. It can be helpful to place a chopstick or similar item against one side of the apple, to help stop you from slicing too far down. (If you do cut all the way through, however, no worries, you can just place the smaller pieces together on top of the batter.)
Transfer the scored apple halves to a medium bowl and toss with the lemon juice and 2 tablespoons sugar.
In another medium bowl, whisk together the all-purpose flour and almond flour. Set aside.
In a large bowl, use electric beaters to cream together the butter and 75 g sugar until light and fluffy. Add the maple syrup and beat until incorporated. Now add the egg yolks, vanilla, and almond extract, beating until just combined. Sprinkle over the baking powder and salt, and beat until they just disappear. Now add the flour mixture, half at a time, mixing in until just combined.
In a separate bowl with clean beaters, whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks form.
Add 1/4 of the whisked egg whites to the batter, to lighten it, then add the remainder, using a rubber or silicone spatula to fold them in until just *barely* combined. (A couple faint streaks of egg white are okay.)
Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Arrange the apple halves over the batter–no need to press them down; they'll sink naturally as the cake bakes. If there is any sugary lemon juice left in the apple bowl, you can drizzle it over the apples. Sprinkle flaked almonds around the apples.
Bake the cake 45 to 50 minutes, until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.
Remove the cake from the oven, and allow it to cool in the pan on a wire rack. After 10-15 minutes, if you wish, you can release the sides of the springform pan. Either way, however, wait until the cake is completely cool before transfering it to a serving plate. Dust the cooled cake with powdered sugar.
- Most recently, I’ve made this cake with beautiful pink-fleshed apples I found at a Farmers’ Market in New York, but any crisp, flavorful apple will work. You want an apple that will hold its shape fairly well when baked.
- Though the original recipe calls for 4 “tiny” apples, I’ve found that I can fit even 4 small- to medium- apples (i.e., 8 apple halves) on top of the cake, and I like the relatively high apple-to-cake ratio.
- “Robust” or “extra dark” maple syrup was formerly known as “Grade B” maple syrup. If you can’t find it, feel free to use regular maple syrup, just know that the maple flavor will be less distinct.
- If you don’t have two sets of beaters, and don’t feel like cleaning your beaters in the middle of the recipe, just beat the egg whites first, using clean beaters, then place them in the fridge until you finish mixing the rest of the batter using those same beaters–no need to wash. (I’ve done this before, and it didn’t seem to cause a problem.)
- The original recipe calls for baking the cake for 35-40 minutes. It has never, ever, been done for me in that time. However, if you have a great oven, it wouldn’t hurt to begin checking the cake at 35 minutes. (You’ll probably be able to tell without even inserting a tester if it’s clearly underbaked–if it is pale in color and has a slight wobble as you pull out the oven rack, it’s not done.)