September has always meant apples to me ever since I had my first job at Bloomingcamp Apple Ranch some 24 years ago (could it really be that long…gasp!). Part of my job was to help customers select the right variety of apple for the job. Did they want to make them into pies, or eat them out of hand? Were they canning a big batch of applesauce, or did they want to through some in with their pork roast? Did they like their apples sweet, crisp, or tart? Whatever their plans were, I could help them pick the very best apples.
I remember the bracing air in the cold storage room where we stored apples by the bushel. I can still hear the cha-ching of the old fashioned register when me made a sale. But my most present memory, the one that still comes to me in my dreams, is the painfully persistent aroma of pies baking in the back. We swept and sold, advised and lugged bushels, always in a haze of cinnamon, sugar, and baking apples. Now I consider it the most beautiful scent known to man, that of pies, especially apple, in the oven. But back then, when one of my jobs was to muscle off the apple goo, deeply caramelized and fiercely clinging to the huge sheet pans on which the pies baked, the fragrance was too much for me. It was an assault on the senses.
Happily, I’ve outgrown that particular olfactory overload and each fall I cook with apples often, both in sweet and savory applications. A year ago, when I received my Cook’s Illustrated Magazine, I swooned over their recipe for French Apple Cake. The bottom layer is moist with sliced apples and custard, the top layer is more cakey and the whole thing is sprinkled with a generous topping of sugar. It took me a year to try and make a gluten-free version. I’m not quite sure why I waited so long because the results were outstanding.
It is a beautiful confection–perfect for fall picnics. Because it is naturally light on flour, it converted amazingly well using my gluten-free flour blend and a little almond flour for flavor and structure. I think you will LOVE it. And yes, it smells so good when it’s baking in the oven.
If you are looking for a great visual on what variety of apples are best for this cake (besides the Granny Smith), or for that applesauce you were planning on making this weekend, check out this amazing infographic created by Sean Seidell, one of my friends from high school. I wish we had it hanging for reference at the apple ranch where I worked!
This French Apple Cake, adapted from Cook's Illustrated, has a rich custardy bottom, a light cake layer and a crisp sugary topping. Serve it warm, or at room temperature--either way with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream or a dollop of whipped cream.
- 1 1/2 pounds Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and cut into 8 wedges, and sliced 1/8 inch thick crosswise
- 1 tablespoon brandy
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- 3/4 cup, plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose gluten-free flour blend
- 1/4 cup almond flour or coconut flour
- 1 cup, plus 2 tablespoons organic granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum, omit if your flour blend already contains it
- 1 large egg plus 2 large yolks
- 1 cup canola oil or coconut oil
- 1 cup whole milk, or dairy free milk of your choosing
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- Place the oven rack in the lower third of the oven and set the temperature to 325 degrees. Spray a 9-inch springform pan with gluten-free cooking spray and place on a foil lined, rimed baking sheet.
- Place apple slices on a microwave safe plate or pie dish, cover and microwave on high for 3 minutes, or until apples are slightly tender and pliable. Drizzle with brandy and lemon juice and let cool for 15 minutes.
- Place 3/4 cup of gluten-free flour blend, almond flour, 1 cup of sugar, baking powder, salt and xanthan gum in a large mixing bowl. Whisk to combine. Add one egg, oil, milk and vanilla extract and whisk until smooth. Scoop out one cup of the batter and place in another medium bowl.
- Add egg yolks to the larger portion of the batter and whisk to combine. Fold in the cooled apple slices and pour mixture into the prepared pan, smoothing the top with an offset (or rubber) spatula.
- Whisk remaining 2 tablespoons of gluten-free flour blend into the remaining batter and smooth batter evenly over the apple mixture in the pan, taking care to spread it all the way to the edges.
- Sprinkle the top with the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar and bake until the center of the cake is set, about 1 hour and 15 minutes.
- Transfer pan to a wire rack and allow to cool for 5 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the cake along the sides of the pan and let cool completely, about 2 hours more (if you can). Cut into wedges and serve.