Skillet apple cake: Fast, easy, tasty, FRESH

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Oh, boy!

I was driving by the farmstand on the way to work this morning, and what to my wondering eyes should appear but my favorite sign of autumn:

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A quick glance as I sped by showed me that yes, the buckets of just-picked corn had been rearranged to make room for wooden apple crates.

I stopped after work to see which early apples are ready.

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Early-bearing Paulared and McIntosh are the only ones out so far. But Pommes Grise, Ginger Gold, Zesta – all the heirloom varietals so different from the run-of-the-mill Granny Smiths and Red Delicious we make do with the rest of the year – are surely on their way.

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These might not be the prettiest apples. Sometimes quite small, sometimes a bit misshapen, they look like they came off someone’s backyard apple tree.

Which is the nice thing about these apples with their sweet, fleetingly short season: they really did come off a neighbor’s tree.

Our local orchards are small family businesses, one generation passing the land and trees on to the next. They serve only the surrounding communities; their apples may be shipped as far as the town grocery store, but don’t get trucked to California. They’re literally just-picked when I fill my bag at the farmstand.

If you ever thought of joining the localvore movement, there’s no better time and place to start than your favorite apple orchard in September.

And, if you haven’t eaten all the apples before you get around to baking, no better dish to start with than a simple cake, one that showcases your local apples in all their sweet simplicity.

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First it’s sweet. Then, as it sits on your tongue, it gets a definite tang, like an apple that’s mild at first taste, then finishes with some bite. Boiled cider is pure essence of apple, and enhances any apple dish you bake. A few tablespoons drizzled into pie or crisp, atop muffins or cake, mixed with confectioners’ sugar to make a tasty, golden glaze…This is one of my pantry staples.

Since it’s just cider, boiled till thick, can you make your own? You can try; it’s a bit tricky, as it tends to burn at the end, and it’s hard to figure when it’s thick enough. But if you’re adventurous, and don’t mind perhaps having a failure or two first, go for it.

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And here’s our favorite complementary spice for apples: apple pie spice, a perfectly balanced blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice. Can you make your own? Sure; common enough ingredients. I don’t know the formula, but make small batches till you hit on a mixture you like.

OK, let’s begin. First step: preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9 ½” to 10” (2” deep) cast-iron skillet; or a 9” square cake pan.

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Now let’s prepare the apples: 4 or 5 large, firm apples. I’m using Granny Smiths here, because they hold up well in baking; and when I was testing this recipe a month ago, our local apples weren’t in yet.

First, peel and core. Our apple peeler/corer/slicer makes fast work of this task – like, 10 seconds per apple, start to finish.

You can choose to peel, core, and slice apples…

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…or simply peel, as I’ve done here. Why didn’t I do all three? Because I wanted slightly thicker pieces of apple than the usual pie-style slice.

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So I grabbed a peeled apple, pressed it with my handy-dandy apple corer/slicer, and bingo!

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Perfect apple slices.

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Place the apple slices in a bowl.

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Now add the following:

1/3 cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons boiled cider
1 teaspoon Apple Pie Spice, or your favorite combination of sweet spices
¼ teaspoon salt

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Stir to coat the apples, and set aside while you make the cake batter.

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Combine the following:

1 1/3 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Set aside.

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Whisk together the following:

2/3 cup warm milk
1 large egg
6 tablespoons melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

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Add to the flour mixture.

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Stir till well combined…

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…and pour into the prepared skillet.

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Spoon the apple mixture onto the batter. For the best appearance, make sure the apples are distributed a little more heavily towards the edges of the pan.


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Next, get out your coarse sparkling sugar, if you have some. Above you see sparkling sugar on the left, granulated on the right – can you see the difference in crystal size?

I’ll tell you, this is one pantry item I wouldn’t be without. It’s the BEST appearance enhancer out there. A sprinkle atop muffins, scones, cookies, pie crust… or a cake like this, really makes everything sparkle and shine.

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Sprinkle on the sugar. Be generous.

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The sugar won’t melt as the cake bakes. Really, you’ll see.

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Bake the cake for about 50 to 60 minutes, till it’s light brown and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean.

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The apples will be nicely browned.

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And see that sugar?

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Serve right from the pan.

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Ice cream is always welcome – I just didn’t have any on hand!

Read, rate, and review (please!) our recipe for Easy Fresh Apple Cake.

Buy vs. Bake

Buy: Dante’s Restaurants, Inc., State College, PA: 10″ Apple Cake with Caramel Sauce, $17.00

Bake at home: Easy Fresh Apple Cake, 9 1/2″, $4.90

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!

comments

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Looking to bake gluten-free? We can help! You can use our Gluten-Free Measure for Measure Flour in place of the all-purpose flour in the recipe. You’ll also want to be sure that all the other ingredients you use (apple pie spice, baking powder, etc.) are certified gluten-free, if necessary. Happy GF baking! Kye@KAF

  1. Leslie

    Absolutely delicious! I ran out of regular flour so I used 1/3 Gluten-Free flour and it still worked perfectly. It was a big hit for Easter brunch.

    Reply
  2. cwolfpack3

    Thanks, PJ! I did not expect such a quick response. So, now I’m also kicking myself for giving away an entire bag of schnitz to my dad. After I posted, it hit me to try some combination of the instant cider with a few tablespoons of applesauce (which is also a form of concentrated apple). I’m making this tonight and will report back.

    Reply
  3. cwolfpack3

    A baker’s desperation is often the mother of creativity … no cider syrup or apple juice concentrate here. I’m wondering if opening up a K-cup of “hot cider” and dumping the powdered cider in with the apples would achieve something of the same kind of flavor enhancement? Anyone?

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Well, here are the ingredients in the K-cup: Dried Apples, Brown Sugar, Natural Flavors, Organic Malic Acid, Reb A (Stevia Extract). So the addition of dried apples should help enhance the apple flavor, though you might also want to add some honey or another liquid for consistency, OK? Good luck – PJH

  4. Margie S

    I have made this several times. It really depends on the amount of moisture in the apples- juicy apples = moist tasty cake. We have our own apple tree (Granny Smiths) and the apples in storage are getting dry this time of year. Had the idea of adding several tablespoons of apple butter to the apple mix. Came out REALLY good. Suggest people who are having problems add apple butter to the apple mix.

    Reply
  5. Sweet T (T. Moore)

    So, after reading about the recipe I decided to try it. I bought honey crisp and granny smith apples. I ordered from KA the boiled cider, dial a slicer and apple pie spice. I used two granny smith and one really large honey crisp apple. I also re-sliced them a little thinner. I added a little extra spice and a spice mix from Pampered Chef that had a orange, ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon blend. Lastly, I added the sugar on top and sprinkled chopped pecans on one half of the cake. I baked it at 350 for about 40 minutes in a Lodge 10″ cast iron skillet that I bought from Target. The cake came out great!!! I couldn’t wait to cut it and taste it. I think the next time I may double the cake batter portion of the recipe to give the cake more height and more cake in proportion to the large amount of apple slices. I will also drizzle the top of the cake with caramel to add a little praline touch. Yummy! Will definitely make again. Thanks for the recipe!

    Reply
  6. laoxinat51

    I lost my last post, but this is the one I want to put up!
    The first time I made this, I used 5 medium Granny Smiths, and followed the recipe exactly. I did use my own boiled cider – more about that in a moment! The second time, I used 4 medium Gala apples, and put them under the batter. I used my Progressive International Apple machine (which boast two rods, one that produces 1/4 in slices, and one that produces 1/8 in slices) with the 1/8 in rod, then cut the slices in halves. I prefer my apples ‘done’ and have found that simply slicing them thin helps them cook faster and more evenly. I also cut down the brown sugar in the filling to 1 Tb, as Galas are quite a bit sweeter than Grannies. This cake was much more to my liking.
    I make my own boiled cider by taking a gallon of good quality apple cider (it can be from concentrate, but no preservatives such as sodium bezoate. Guess who returned a gallon because she didn’t think to read the label???) and pouring it into a large pot. I bring the cider to a rolling boil, then turn it down to a fairly high simmer. I stir occasionally and note the rate of reduction. Once it gets down to a 6th or 7th of its original volume, it’s done! This can take a long time, but is well worth the effort, and it makes the house smell wonderful.
    Thanks for this awesome recipe, PJ! I will be making the Apple Cake with Brown Sugar Frosting later today, though I may have to leave off the frosting. My poor husband is complaining of sugar overload!

    Thanks for the feedback – I found your original post (just hadn’t been approved yet), so will delete and keep this one. I just recently made my own boiled cider. 1 gallon boiled for 6 hours to make 1 pint. A bit tricky at the end; it was hard to know just how much to boil it, and I let it go a tad too long and it was a bit charred tasting, and too thick. But tasty nonetheless- PJH

    Reply
  7. laoxinat51

    Mmmmm! The first time I made this, I used 5 medium Granny Smith apples, and followed the recipe to the ‘T’. I did ue my own boiled cider – more about the later. The second time, I used 4 medium Gala apples and cut the sugar in the filling to 1Tablespoon and put the apples in the skillet before adding the batter. I prefer apples cooked through, and I also found when following the recipe, the apples that baked on top of the cake resembled dried apples a bit too much for my taste.

    Reply

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