The Best Dutch Apple Cake
Apple Pie or Apple Cake?
There is simply nothing more like the taste of home than a slice of apple cake. Or apple pie. Or apple tart/ crisp / buckle/ flan/ crumble or cobbler if you will. With early autumn comes the apple harvest, so there was no other choice for Autumn than to feature apples, and the Dutch apple cake in our cakes around the world series.
But the next step was to try and find the true godfather of apple cakes. And on my journey into apple cakes/pies I discovered so many iterations of this dessert with so many cultures laying claim, I was a little lost as to where to start.
Which Country Holds Claim to Apple Cake?
Mom’s Apple Pie is as American as they come. US Soldiers in WWII would tell journalists at the time that they were fighting “mom and apple pie”, but despite being as American as apple pie the desert did not originate there.
In fact the earliest recorded recipe for apple cake came from good old Blighty (no surprise given our heritage for apple production) and was written down by none less than Geoffrey Chaucer in 1381. This early apple pie did not include sugar and called for the addition of figs, raisins and pears as natural sweeteners. The pastry crust was intended to be an inedible “coffin pastry” which was designed as a container for the contents rather than to be eaten.
So whilst England holds the historical heritage there are many other countries that took the concept and made it their own. In the 1800’s a French version of apple cake or “Tarte Tatin” was invented ( and subsequently named after) the Tatin sisters who accidentally created the famous apple dish by burning the apples and sugar when making an apple cake. They flipped it upside down, placed it in the oven and the caramelised apples over pastry became an instant success.
“Apfelkuchen” in Germany sees a whole variety of cake pastry and apples, with the sunken apple cake (seasoned apples are placed on top of a rich buttery cake dough and sink into it during baking) being one of the most popular. Poland is one the world’s largest exporters of apples and their “szarlotka” is made up of a layer of buttery shortcrust pastry, filled with spiced sweetened apples and topped with crumble, pastry or even meringue. It’s a Polish staple.
But despite all these countries showing serious apple credentials there was really only one country that to my mind defined the quintessential apple dessert.
Dutch Apple Pie is actually much more like a cake. It is a seriously deep filled apple confection, marked by blending the apples with an aromatic and sweet spice blend (Speculaaskruiden) and encasing them in a rich buttery crust which falls between pastry and cake.
Recipes for these apple cakes date back to the Middle Ages and the basis for the pie is a crust on the bottom and sides, with an option for a lattice or solid top above the spiced apple interior. Iterations see the addition of alcohol, nuts and raisins to the apples with some adding in layers of almond between the cake like pastry.
There is no doubt that the star in this Dutch recipe is the apple. Dutch Apple Cake may have originated in the UK, and spawned many cousins around the world but for me this recipe defines the spirit and heritage of apple cake, and this is the recipe I share here.
RECIPE: Dutch Apple Cake
Makes one 9 inch deep filled cake
FOR THE CRUST
340g unsalted soft butter
250g soft brown (light or dark) sugar
2 large eggs ( beaten)
1 teaspoon vanilla paste ( or 2 teaspoons of extract)
550g plain flour
1 ½ teaspoon baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
10 apples – 3 soft apples (Pink Lady/ Cox/ Golden Delicious) ) and 7 crisp apples ( such as Gala/Jazz/ Braeburn)
100g soft brown sugar
2/ 3 tsps of Speculaaskruiden (Dutch Spice Mix – see below for blend)
Zest half lemon
Zest half an orange
Juice from half a lemon
100g finely chopped walnuts (optional)
1 tablespoon corn flour
Egg wash and chopped walnuts. Sprinkle of brown sugar to glaze the top
DUTCH SPICE BLEND
Combine the spices well and store in an airtight jar
4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp grated nutmeg
½ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp ground cardamom
¼ tsp white pepper
¼ tsp ground coriander
¼ tso ground anise seeds
Cake Mixer with Paddle attachment
9 inch spring release baking pan
Begin by preparing the dough crust for the cake. Combine and sift together all the dry ingredients for the crust.
In the cake mixer beat together the butter and sugar until creamy. Next beat in the eggs, reserving a tablespoon behind for the egg wash before baking. Beat until well combined and fluffy and then add the vanilla.
Finally with the mixer on a low setting add in the flour until a sticky dough combines. This should have the contingency of a soft cookie dough. Tip it into some cling film, shape into a flattened disc and then refrigerate for a couple of hours.
While the dough is chilling, prepare the apples. Peel, core and cut the apples into small inch chunks.
In a large bowl combine the chopped apples, sugar, spice mix, zests and lemon juice (Calvados if you want to add) and stir well. Now transfer into a large pan and cook gently for about 10 minutes to begin to soften the apples slightly. Take off the heat and stir in the cornflour (and chopped walnuts) if using. Leave to cool to room temperature.
Preheat the oven to 180 C and grease and flour a 9 inch springform pan, lining the bottom with a circle of greaseproof paper.
Take the chilled dough and cut off about a third and place to one side. With the rest, roll it out on a heavily floured surface large enough to be able to cut a 9 inch circle out of it plus leaving extra to fill the sides of the cake pan.
Use a template (or the tin itself) to cut a 9 inch circle from the dough and carefully transfer to the base of the cake pan. Don’t worry if it tears, you can patch it with your fingers. Now using your fingers take pieces of dough and press them to the sides of the cake pan, overlapping each piece as you go so there are no gaps. It doesn’t matter if it looks rough and rustic as long as the dough crust reaches the top of the cake pan and is well joined to the bottom to prevent any leaks.
Now fill the crust lined pan with the cooled apple mixture and press down.
Finally roll out the reserved piece of dough and place it on top of the cake pan, sealing all the way round and trimming off any excess.
Brush the top with the reserved egg wash and sprinkle with chopped walnuts and brown sugar. Bake for 50 – 60 minutes. Check after 45 minutes by inserting a skewer into the cake. If the apple pieces feel hard then continue to bake and cover the top of the cake with foil if it is browning too much.
Remove the cake from the oven and leave to cool in the tin for 30 minutes. Then remove from the tin and allow to cool overnight (or at least 4-6 hours) on a cooling rack until it is fully set.
Serve with cream or icecream. Enjoy!