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Cake with potential needs a flavor boost. Any ideas?

r
rainey Sep 19, 2011 01:42 PM

This recipe arrived in the most recent edition of Penzey's catalogue. It's a pretty down home sort of cake so I gave it a whirl. It has nice texture and a good bit of promise but not the full punch of flavor that one could hope for. Does have all the homey, comfort food prettiness the catalogue suggests.

There's no vanilla or comparable extract but I'm hoping for more of the apple flavor. Is there an apple flavored liqueur? Or something with a caramel flavor? Something else I'm not thinking of that would enhance the apple flavor?

Apple Cake
Serves 12-16

Baking time: 90 minutes
Active Prep: 15 minutes
Start to finish: 1 hour, 45 minutes

• 4 cups flour
• 2 cups sugar
• 4 teaspoons baking powder
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 1 cup vegetable oil or olive oil (I used a roasted walnut oil -- La Nogalera if anyone knows it -- this stuff is *killer*!)
• 3/4 cup orange juice (I'm thinking 1/4 water + 1/2 frozen apple juice concentrate next time)
• 4 eggs
• 4 medium apples, sweet varieties such as Gala or Fuji, peeled and thinly sliced (attending to the warning that too much could interfer with the middle of the cake fully baking I didn't use 3 full apples but the apples I did use were large ones)
• 1/4 cup cinnamon sugar (I used at least twice that much including a generous sprinkle after it emerged from the oven)

Preheat the oven to 350˚.

In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add the oil, orange juice and eggs and mix well on low speed.

Pour half of the batter into a greased and floured tube pan. Add a thin layer of apple slices, going easy on the apples as too much will prevent the cake from baking in the middle. Generously sprinkle the apples with cinnamon sugar, trying not to hit the sides of the pan as the sugar will increase the potential for sticking and burning. Pour the rest of the batter on top of the apple layer. Arrange more apple slices on top and generously cover them with cinnamon sugar as well.

Bake at 350˚ for 1 1/2 hours or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. (My fully baked cake registered a 200˚ internal temperature measured with a digital probe)

Let the cake cool completely before removing from the pan onto a serving plate.

For each of 16 pieces (without any of the changes I suggested):

Calories 390
Calories from fat 140
Total fat 16g
Cholestrol 45mg
Sodium 150mg
Carbohydrates 60g
Dietary fiber 2g
Sugars 34g
Protein 5g

  1. r
    rizzo0904 Sep 19, 2011 01:49 PM

    i would do 1 cup brown sugar and 1 cup white. i would also add a bit of nutmeg.

    1 Reply
    1. re: rizzo0904
      iL Divo Sep 19, 2011 02:03 PM

      3/4 cup of applesauce 1/4 cup oil.
      for the sugar 1 cup white 1/2 cup brown 1/4 cup molasses

    2. c
      ChiliDude Sep 19, 2011 02:02 PM

      I second the nutmeg motion. Maybe ground cloves or ground allspice. Ground ginger may also help.

      However, take my suggestions with a grain of salt because I don't bake pastry. I only bake bread.

      1. TorontoJo Sep 19, 2011 02:06 PM

        Ditto on the suggestions above. I would also consider a glaze made with apple juice, cinnamon and powdered sugar to pour over after the cake comes out of the oven. Maybe poke a few holes into the top with a skewer before pouring the glaze over it.

        1. Kagemusha Sep 19, 2011 02:18 PM

          The expensive solution for apple flavor is calvados; the cheap one, if you're in apple country, is apple cider, preferably unfiltered. Orange juice doesn't cut it.

          5 Replies
          1. re: Kagemusha
            BananaBirkLarsen Sep 19, 2011 02:25 PM

            I was going to suggest unfiltered apple cider too. I could live off that stuff. If the flavour still isn't strong enough, maybe you could double the amount and reduce it by half on the stove, so it's more like an apple syrup.

            1. re: Kagemusha
              r
              rainey Sep 19, 2011 02:25 PM

              I agree that the orange juice doesn't fit.

              I've never used Calvados but I'm not indisposed to have it in my pantry. I like subbing liqueurs for extracts. I have recently heard (was it Alton Brown?) that Calvados can be subbed for vodka in the pastry for an apple pie. Since Thanksgiving is coming up it could be good to have it on hand.

              Alas! I grew up in apple country in the Hudson Valley of NYS. Now I'm in Los Angeles where we don't get real unpasturized cider. Every year at this time of year I start missing it even if it's been 40 years...

              1. re: Kagemusha
                chowser Sep 19, 2011 06:00 PM

                I agree w/ apple cider--I use it in pumpkin bread, instead of water and it adds a lot of flavor, though not a strong apple flavor. The OJ just seems wrong. If you want something cheaper than Calvados, apple jack would work. I'd also do rizzo's suggestion of brown sugar, and brown sugar for the cinnamon sugar. If you want a caramel flavor, I think a caramel drizzle would be good on top of it, after it cools.

                1. re: chowser
                  Vetter Sep 19, 2011 08:30 PM

                  I had some German apfelkorn (apple schnapps) this weekend that really was frighteningly tasty - and it's not that expensive. If you added that to a cider reduction, you'd have OOMPH.

                  1. re: Vetter
                    pinehurst Sep 21, 2011 12:16 PM

                    Love this suggestion.

              2. chefathome Sep 19, 2011 06:06 PM

                Perhaps in addition to Calvados or apple cider you could use some lemon juice and/or zest. Lemon goes very nicely with apple. As iL Divo mentioned I would add some molasses and dark brown sugar. I would do a caramel to drizzle over (I am fanatical about making caramel!). A gastrique would be wonderful, too, as would browned butter Calvados drizzle. So many delicious possibilities!

                Vanilla bean would be nice in this (not in addition to everything else, maybe, but vanilla beans really elevate other ingredients). You could even steep it in the cider or Calvados first to draw out all the flavour.

                1 Reply
                1. re: chefathome
                  chowser Sep 19, 2011 06:14 PM

                  Yes, a caramel drizzle, maybe like this one made w/ apple juice (though I'd use cider and am iffy about the star anise):

                  http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/th...

                2. c
                  cookingofjoy Sep 19, 2011 06:42 PM

                  I don't know how this might play out, but I made some apple scone, I think, where the apples were cooked first, and the apples themselves were more prominent in the baked good at the end. I think with the baked goods I've tried where I've just added raw apple, the apple turns to mush and doesn't have a lot of flavor.
                  The other was Dorie Greenspan's tourtely apple tart where she browns butter, adds cider, brown sugar and the spices and then adds the apples before they go into the tart. I would make this again just for how it made the kitchen smell! (Here's a copy of the recipe:
                  http://thewhimsicalcupcake.wordpress....

                  )

                  Anyway, my suggestion would be to try Dorie's approach with the apples, subbing some of the oil with butter to brown, and adding some vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon and cider. It's kind of the same idea already, except with cake instead of the the pie crust.

                  8 Replies
                  1. re: cookingofjoy
                    chowser Sep 20, 2011 04:48 AM

                    I like this idea, too. I've made a pineapple upside down cake where you caramelize the fresh pineapples first and it intensifies the flavor considerably and TK's Bouchon recipe for tarte tatin is great, and starts with that step. Huge difference in doing this step vs not.

                    1. re: chowser
                      sunshine842 Sep 20, 2011 10:01 AM

                      tarte tatin *must* be made with skillet-caramelized apples...otherwise it's not tarte Tatin as created by the sisters Tatin.

                      1. re: sunshine842
                        souschef Sep 20, 2011 10:09 AM

                        I agree. Also, you don't just throw the apples into caramel; you slow-cook them until they give up their juices, which then caramelize.

                        1. re: souschef
                          sunshine842 Sep 20, 2011 10:13 AM

                          yup....not a dish with which you can take shortcuts.

                        2. re: sunshine842
                          chowser Sep 20, 2011 12:35 PM

                          Okay, I only use the Bouchon recipe because it's excellent but I've seen ones like these (which apparently aren't tarte tatin but apple tarts). Anyway, the difference in the caramelized apples is worth the extra effort and would probably contribute to a better apple upside down cake.

                          http://www.bonjourlafrance.com/french-food/french-recipes/french-desserts/tarte-tatin.htm

                          http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/tarte-ta...

                          1. re: chowser
                            sunshine842 Sep 20, 2011 01:17 PM

                            the Bonjourlafrance site is what it should LOOK like -- right down to the gooey caramel sticking to the pan...but they inexplicably skip the caramelizing step...

                            The allrecipes site is approximately the right recipe, but also misses the whole point of caramelizing the apples.

                            1. re: sunshine842
                              chowser Sep 20, 2011 03:06 PM

                              Both are typical of recipes I've seen (as instructions) of just putting the apples in and baking so I thought TK's version was one way to do it (apparently not unique). I think caramelizing the fruit makes all the difference. It's why I love my pineapple upside down cake recipe that starts w/ caramelized pineapples. And, don't get me started on the goodness of caramelized bananas...

                              1. re: chowser
                                souschef Sep 21, 2011 11:28 AM

                                Okay, we won't get you started on the goodness of caramelized bananas... :)

                    2. j
                      jessinEC Sep 19, 2011 07:52 PM

                      I am not an expert -- but I'd love to hear more experienced bakers weigh in on the issue of the kind of apples. I would think that Gala & Fujis, while delicious for eating out of hand, might be too sweet. I usually bake with at least some Granny Smiths or other tart apple. Thoughts?

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: jessinEC
                        r
                        rainey Sep 19, 2011 08:05 PM

                        When I bake pies I always use a variety of apples including Granny Smiths. When I make applesauce I use Fujis because of their great flavor.

                        I'm not sure how Granny Smiths would taste in this recipe. I used both Galas and Fujis because they were specified. It's possible they didn't have as much flavor as the cake really needed but it's also possible that there isn't enough apple of any variety to do the deal. I may push the amount in the next one I bake attempting to get a second layer of fruit embedded in the batter but I was more conservative this time around to avoid the tendency the recipe warns of of producing a center that doesn't fully bake. This is one of the reasons I intend to replace the orange juice with a combo of frozen apple juice concentrate, water and liqueur in the next cake.

                        Here's a pic of the cake so you can get an idea of the fruit relative to the cake. http://www.flickr.com/photos/75667634...

                        1. re: jessinEC
                          b
                          BangorDin Sep 19, 2011 09:06 PM

                          I chop, small dice, apples without even peeling them for an apple cake. For apple flavor in a cake there's nothing wrong with plain old Red Delicious. But be aware that quality varies, if you find some truly good Reds this fall try a cake.

                        2. sarahjay Sep 19, 2011 08:45 PM

                          King Arthur Flour makes a boiled cider that works pretty well to punch up apple flavor. It's a syrup. I would also suggest part brown sugar to warm up the flavor.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: sarahjay
                            r
                            rainey Sep 19, 2011 09:12 PM

                            You know, I have some of that boiled cider on the shelf in my pantry. Why didn't I think of that?! ::smacks head::

                            Thanks. That may be exactly the ticket!

                          2. b
                            BangorDin Sep 19, 2011 09:01 PM

                            The walnut oil used could be too flavorful for this cake, and is competing with the apple. When I googled it, it said you can use it for an ice cream topping, so the flavor must stand out.

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: BangorDin
                              r
                              rainey Sep 19, 2011 09:11 PM

                              It *is* one tasty oil to be sure, but I don't think it's too much at all. There's a note of nuts about the cake but not more than I think is appropriate.

                              On ice cream? I may have to check that out one day when I'm not on a diet. I guess I should check out the website and see what other opportunities I'm missing. I just discovered the oil at a tasting at the local farmers' market.

                              1. re: BangorDin
                                sunshine842 Sep 20, 2011 03:39 AM

                                Walnut oil is also usually not heat-stable -- it's great for salad dressings and drizzling over other dishes, but heat breaks it down fairly quickly.

                                I *love* walnut oil, but better to use something more heat-stable in a cake, but you could regain the flavor by subbing some finely-ground walnuts for some of the flour, adding chopped walnuts, or a dash of some walnut liqueur

                                1. re: sunshine842
                                  r
                                  rainey Sep 20, 2011 08:44 AM

                                  The website (that I've just discovered thanks to BangorDin) says that it's stable to 400˚ which means that at 350˚ it should be just fine.

                                  I also use it on the cooktop at probably a higher temp when I make oatmeal with it and I've never experienced any smoking. Meanwhile, this oil packs a wallop of flavor! I don't sauté with it. It's partly a temperature issue but also an expense one. This oil is NOT cheap! But for the right application it's well worth the cost. I use it for simple things that will let the flavor emerge.

                                  1. re: rainey
                                    sunshine842 Sep 20, 2011 10:03 AM

                                    all depends on how refined it is -- unrefined smokes at 320F, thus my comment.

                              2. r
                                rainey Sep 19, 2011 09:15 PM

                                Thank you to everyone for great suggestions.

                                We've got a cake to finish and then I will start incorporating as many ideas as I'm able to to fine tune this interesting cake.

                                1. Hank Hanover Sep 20, 2011 12:00 AM

                                  You could mimic America's Test Kitchen technique for banana bread. Fro more flavor, they take banana juice and reduce it so they still have a proper liquid ratio.

                                  Would think you could do that with apple juice or cider. They nuked there bananas in the microwave to get the juice out. Perhaps you could do that to your apples.

                                  1. p
                                    pine time Sep 20, 2011 07:52 AM

                                    Recently ordered from here:

                                    http://www.bickfordflavors.com/pdfs/2...

                                    they have caramel and apple flavorings; also thought that the maple walnut could be good with that cake. I've been pleased with everything I've tried from here, so far. Any one else order from them?

                                    1. ChefJune Sep 20, 2011 01:22 PM

                                      I wouldn't sub for the orange juice, and I would add the grated zest of one orange. I MIGHT increase the salt to 1/2 teaspoon (and ONLY use fine sea salt in any case. - It's more intense).

                                      1. r
                                        rainey Sep 21, 2011 09:47 AM

                                        I made another one last night incorporating several of the suggestions people made. If I'm anything it does NOT include patient or methodical...

                                        The batter was much more aromatic even going into the pan. My husband's verdict is much more flavor but not necessarily a more fruity flavor.

                                        The revised ingredients were:

                                        4 cups flour
                                        • 1 cup granulated sugar
                                        • 1 cup brown sugar
                                        4 teaspoons baking powder
                                        • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
                                        1/4 teaspoon salt
                                        1 cup roasted walnut oil
                                        • 1/4 cup boiled cider syrup
                                        • 1/2 cup buttermilk
                                        • 2 tablespoons Godiva Caramel liqueur
                                        4 eggs
                                        • 3 large apples, sweet varieties such as Gala or Fuji, peeled and sliced into pieces about 1/2" deep at their thickest point
                                        1/2 cup cinnamon sugar
                                        • 1/4 teaspoon cardamom
                                        • 1/8 teaspoon mace

                                        I highlighted the changes with bullets. One of the changes included slicing the apples thicker so that I could get more of the actual fruit into the cake.

                                        Here are pix of the darker, more flavorful cake:

                                        http://www.flickr.com/photos/75667634@N00/6169299949/in/photostream

                                        http://www.flickr.com/photos/75667634...

                                        1. PotatoHouse Sep 21, 2011 10:42 AM

                                          How about infusing the cake with some Hard Apple Cider?

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: PotatoHouse
                                            r
                                            rainey Sep 21, 2011 11:21 AM

                                            Alas! Too late. The first cake went to the office with my husband yesterday.

                                            I liked the version that I reworked tho I think the next one will have even thicker slices of apple in the batter and more apple -- probably halves that are sliced and fanned more densely than slices individually placed -- on the top.

                                          2. almond tree Sep 21, 2011 12:19 PM

                                            I have been making apple cakes from a similar recipe for years, with some very simple tweaks: Like you, I use walnut oil. I replace the orange juice with an equal amount of apple concentrate. I also add 1/2 tsp ginger to the batter and 3 TBSP cinnamon to the fruit.
                                            One difference in our approaches is that I bake this as a sheet cake with all the apples heaped on top, to ensure that it will be cooked all the way through. (Doesn't look nearly as pretty as yours, though.) I slice the apples very thin with my food processor; during baking, the very top ones get a chewy dried-apple texture that I really enjoy.
                                            Next time I might try replacing the sugar sprinkle with a generous drizzle of maple syrup.

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: almond tree
                                              b
                                              BangorDin Sep 21, 2011 12:40 PM

                                              Ah, now you're talkin'! Great improvements.

                                              1. re: BangorDin
                                                b
                                                BangorDin Sep 21, 2011 03:01 PM

                                                I *am* curious about that walnut oil now.

                                            2. danionavenue Sep 21, 2011 03:19 PM

                                              maybe a hot butter rum sauce?

                                              1. visciole Sep 21, 2011 03:35 PM

                                                I would:

                                                1) Use tart apples! I know others have said this and I think it's a great idea. With 2 entire cups of sugar you need tart apples.

                                                2) In fact, I'd also cut the sugar by about 1/2 cup.

                                                3) Increase salt. 1/4 teaspoon for 4 cups of flour is not very much, and salt will definitely up the flavor factor. I'd try 1/2 teaspoon.

                                                4) Use some butter in place of some of the oil! That will also up the flavor. You don't need a ton -- maybe 1/4 cup butter instead of all oil.

                                                5) I like many spices with my apples, and, as others have suggested I'd use cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and allspice.

                                                6) Sub apple juice plus some lemon juice for the OJ.

                                                2 Replies
                                                1. re: visciole
                                                  blue room Sep 21, 2011 04:53 PM

                                                  You know, I saw that 1/4 teaspoon of salt too -- but then I saw the 4 teaspoons of baking powder. Would that have lots of sodium in it? Is that why so little salt?

                                                  1. re: blue room
                                                    visciole Sep 21, 2011 06:00 PM

                                                    Good point, but I think baking soda is the one that has sodium, and besides, I don't think it adds much in the way of salty flavor (though someone else might know more and say otherwise.) Anyway, in my experience fruit-flavored baked goods benefit from adequate salt.

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