It’s a sure sign you probably have too many cookbooks: You happen upon a blog post, eyes wide open as you try to take in the amazing pictures of ingredients, technique, and final product (cake!). You scroll to the end, to see if it’s a recipe you can pull off, and you realize that it’s from a cookbook you’ve owned for ages. Yup.
On the other hand, at least you don’t have to kill a tree to print out the recipe.
This happened to me most recently when I read Rosa’s post on Norwegian Apple Cake. There it was–straight from one of my favorite baking books, Beatrice Ojakangas’s The Great Scandinavian Baking Book. Have a look–how could you not want to make this? (And how could I have missed this for so long?)
Last weekend, friends of ours (whose younger son is the same age as little H) invited us to their Danish Christmas open house. The dad of the family is Danish, and this is part of his tradition they keep going here in Massachusetts. When I asked if I could bring anything, my friend said she wouldn’t mind something sweet. My thoughts immediately turned to that apple cake. Opening my cookbook I saw that there wasn’t just a Norwegian version, but also a Swedish and Danish interpretation. While I could say that I chose the Danish variation, just to keep with the theme, the decision was really made by the fact that the Danish recipe didn’t include nuts: if you have little ones like me, you know that any baking for lots of kids means the nut-free option is always the way to go.
While I’m no opponent of frosting, homey, “everyday” cakes like these are what I like best. Simple, easy to put together, sweet but without leaving you feeling that you’ve overindulged. (You know that sickly feeling and the attendant crash after eating something too laden with sugar? We know it well…) But even though there’s nothing ornate about this cake, it’s still lovely to look at. The thinly sliced apples decorating the surface, painted with melted butter, sink and nestle in while the batter rises. The result is a fragrant and incredibly moist cake.
I made one alteration to the basic recipe, using a vanilla bean instead of extract. Vanilla beans are painfully expensive in the grocery store–something like $10 for three beans? I buy my vanilla beans on ebay, where you can get some truly amazing deals. (It sounded bizarre to me too, buying bulk beans on ebay, and if I hadn’t gotten the suggestion from Mark Bittman I don’t know if I would have taken it seriously). Even so, they still feel like a splurge to me, and only to be used when necessary. This is one of the instances that was worth it (and also worth the marginally extra effort it takes to remove the seeds from the bean). Unlike a recipe for, say, chocolate chip or oatmeal cookies, where the vanilla plays a supporting role, bringing out the best of the principal flavors, here it co-stars with the apples, and using a vanilla bean instead of extract means it can carry its weight. The aroma suffusing the house let me know I was heading down the right path.
And if you’re wondering what a Danish open house is, unfortunately I can’t tell you. Little E had a 24 hour fever so we stayed home. Again, those of you with kids will certainly be no stranger to these kinds of last minute cancellations. But fortunately E recovered quickly, and at least with this cake we were able to imagine a little bit of a Danish Christmas celebration. And I could feel a little less bad about having a few too many cookbooks.
Adapted from Beatrice Ojakangas’ The Great Scandinavian Baking Book
Note: tea towels from Dutch Door on etsy.
- ½c butter at room temperature, + 2T butter, melted
- ¾c + 2T sugar, divided
- 3 eggs
- 1 vanilla bean
- ¼c milk
- 1½c all-purpose flour
- 1½ t baking powder
- 5 Granny Smith apples, peeled and cored
- Preheat the oven to 375F.
- Butter a 9 inch square cake pan and line the base with a square of parchment paper cut to fit.
- Cut the vanilla bean open down the center lengthwise (without cutting all the way through) and use the back of the knife to scrape out the seeds.
- Cream the butter and sugar together in a large bowl until well-combined. Beat in the vanilla bean seeds. Beat in the eggs one by one until fluffy, then beat in the milk.
- Stir the flour and baking powder together in a small bowl, then stir this into the liquid mixture. The batter will be rather thick. With a rubber scraper, spread this into your pan.
- Cut each peeled and cored apple in half and then make thin (1/4 to ½ inch) crosswise cuts (perpendicular to the way the apple core runs). Hold the slices together as you transfer the entire half to the pan, keeping the shape together. Place the halves flat side down into the batter, arranging decoratively as you work.
- Brush with the melted butter and then sprinkle with the reserved sugar. (You will have extra butter running off of the apples onto the batter).
- Bake about 40 minutes until golden brown and until the apples are tender and baked through.