Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Apfelkuchen: authentic Bavarian apple cake

This recipe for apfelkuchen was created by Franziska of Greiling, Bavaria, a long time friend of my husband's family. We stayed with her family for a few days while we honeymooned in Germany. Though there was a language barrier between us (I know about 5 words of German), she and her husband made me feel like I was part of their family. I immediately felt welcome in their home even though we'd never met before.

Bavarian hospitality is remarkable for its deep, genuine generosity. Food culture is a very important part of it -- Bavarians particularly love to create baked goods to share with others. We were showered with many such homemade delights while we stayed in Franziska's home. Holiday cookies, fruit tortes, and strudels are to the Bavarians what puff pastries are to the French: an important source of cultural identity. Bavarian desserts are marked by a subtle sweetness, often relying on fruit and other natural flavorings rather than just sugar. This light apple cake would be traditionally served with afternoon coffee, but it could also be served as an after-dinner dessert, or even as a breakfast dish.

Vanilla sugar is a staple in Bavarian baking, and gives this cake its truly authentic flavor. Vanilla sugar is usually sold in little packets that can sometimes be found in specialty stores in the States. If you cannot find it, half a teaspoon of vanilla extract may be substituted for a packet of vanilla sugar, but the flavor won't have quite the same character.

True to the cultural heritage that makes them the best precision machinists in the world, the Germans are very precise in their baking. Dry ingredients are measured by metric weight (number of grams) rather than volume (cups, spoonfuls, etc). My proudly German husband has proved to me that this measurement approach is in fact more precise. My imprecise nature concedes defeat on this point, but stubbornly maintains that precision is sometimes unnecessary. So, I have converted the original recipe to approximate volume measurements for ease of use, but also included the weight measurements to stay true to German form. Use a springform cake pan for this recipe if you have one. Avoid nonstick pans, or line them with parchment paper to prevent scorching the edges of this delicate cake.


100 grams unsalted butter, softened (1 stick)
150 grams granulated sugar (3/4 cup)
1 packet (7.5 grams) vanilla sugar (may sub 1/2 tsp vanilla extract)
2 large eggs
250 grams flour (2 1/4 cups)
8 grams baking powder (1 1/2 tsp)
1/8 liter of milk (2/3 cup)
3 medium baking apples, peeled, quartered, cored, and sliced into fan shapes (e.g. Granny Smith, Rome)
squeeze fresh lemon juice


1. Preheat the oven to 375 F. Lightly grease and flour a springform cake pan.

2. In a large bowl, cream the butter, sugar, and vanilla sugar together using a stand mixer or a handheld mixer.

3. Add the eggs one at a time and beat to incorporate.

4. Add the flour and baking powder and mix in to the batter, then add the milk and fully incorporate it.

5. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and level it out.

6. Prepare the apples. A "fan shape" means cutting many slits into an apple quarter to create very thin but still attached slices. Drip lemon juice over the cut apples.

7. Press the apple sections into the cake batter.

8. Bake for approximately 60 minutes, until lightly golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.


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