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Cake with potential needs a flavor boost. Any ideas?

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

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

    1 Reply
    1. re: rizzo0904

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

    2. 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. 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. 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

            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

              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

                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

                  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.

              2. 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

                  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. 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

                    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

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

                      1. re: sunshine842

                        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

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

                        2. re: sunshine842

                          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...

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

                          1. re: chowser

                            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

                              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

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

                    2. 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

                        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

                          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. 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

                            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. 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

                              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

                                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

                                  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

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

                              2. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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...

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

                                        1. How about infusing the cake with some Hard Apple Cider?

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: PotatoHouse

                                            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. 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

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

                                              1. re: BangorDin

                                                I *am* curious about that walnut oil now.

                                            2. maybe a hot butter rum sauce?

                                              1. 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

                                                  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

                                                    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.