From Cooks Illustrated: Finding a quick, simple cake with big apple flavor is a lot harder than it should be. We found that, more often than not, apple cakes are simply spice cakes studded with cubes of raw apple. Or they are as complicated as fine pastry. We wanted a simple, easy-to-make cake in which the sweet-tart flavor of the apples was the star of the show. Here’s what we discovered:
Test Kitchen Discoveries
The apples must be cooked before baking to bring out the best of their flavor and reduce the juices that would otherwise turn the cake mushy as they steam. Cooking the apples in butter and sugar until soft adds a deep, caramel flavor to the cake.
Not any apple will do. Tart Granny Smith apples provide the brightest, strongest apple flavor and most toothsome texture. Many other varieties turned bland and mushy once baked.
For the batter, we favor a simple sour cream-style cake above the rest. The crumb is tender and the slight tanginess of the sour cream cuts through the cake’s richness.
Lots of recipes use Bundt pans or high-sided cake pans, but we found a low 9-inch cake pan yields the best ratio of cake to apple.
Cooling the cake for five minutes before turning it out of the pan allows the caramel on the bottom of the pan time to harden just enough to stick to the apples, not the pan. "Granny Smiths are the best choice because they hold their shape nicely and are tart. Other apples that hold their shape when cooked, such as Cortlands, can also be used in this recipe. Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream."