World’s Best Apple Cake (The best dessert that’s not chocolate or ice cream)

  • World's Best Apple Cake topped with Confectioner's SUgar
    The World’s Best Apple Cake, baked, and topped with confectioner’s sugar

    World's Best Apple Cake with Streusel Filling and Topping
    Apple Cake before baking–bundt pan and streusel showing

Of all the things people ask me to make, and I oblige, the World’s Best Apple Cake is at the top of the list (second only to the World’s Best Chocolate Cake).   Many apple baked goods suffer from a lack of cohesion— apple pies (and their ilk) often feature hard or brittle crusts with soft sugary apples in them.   When the crust and pie filling aren’t married (but crash into each other) there is a discordancy that I find highly unsatisfying.    On the other hand, the term apple cake brings up the idea of some kind of bad grandmotherly offering– some kind of dry, crumbly thing that has as much apple flavor as a dry martini has vermouth.

On the other hand, this cake has it all– deliciousness, moistness, crunchy yummy streusel topping, and of course, rich and real apple flavor. It comes from the The Cookie Shop and the original recipe is here.  Many recipes called “the best” aren’t even close, but this one really takes the cake (:]).  Seems like that recipe was adapted from an original Martha Stewart recipe (who got it from someone else) which confirms that everything has been done, but still it’s a great recipe.

However, as always, I found it necessary to make a few tweaks.

  1. I use slightly less cinnamon and more vanilla, salt and sugar.
  2. I only use Honey Crisp apples (in a pinch I’ll use Pink Lady or Fuji, but I try to stay on Honey Crisp).
  3. I added a streusel layer that I added to the bottom, the middle and the top (see recipe below).
  4. I have consistently found that baking time maximum is 75 minutes (the original recipe says 75-90 minutes).

Ingredients

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon (the original recipe calls for 1 tablespoon but I can’t fit the tablespoon measure in the bottle of cinnamon, so I just take the easy way out).
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/3 cups canola oil
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3-4 honey crisp apples (you can substitute your favorite apple, but HCs are the perfect balance of sweet-tart), chopped. [Editor’s note: probably three or four cups of chopped apples is the right amount]
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

Recipe

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 12-cup Bundt pan with cooking spray; set aside (you’ll have to empty it out after a while if it pools on the bottom)
  2. In a separate bowl, sift together flour, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt.
  3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream vegetable oil, sugar, and eggs; mix on high speed until satiny and lemon-colored, about five minutes.
  4. Add dry ingredients until just incorporated.
  5. Chop the apples by cutting the apple’s sides off and then dicing finely; you should end up with three-five cups of diced apple. (I leave the pieces rather large, but the size is up to you and your knife skills.   The apples cook all the way through so don’t worry about crunch factor).
  6. Add apples to batter; mix to combine. Add vanilla, mixing until incorporated.
  7. Pour batter into prepared pan, and bake until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 75 to 90 minutes.
  8. Remove from oven, and cool slightly on a wire rack.
  9. Invert cake onto rack; turn cake right-side up to cool completely on rack
  10. When cool, sift powdered sugar on top.  (Cookie shop shows the cake with sugar on top but doesn’t list it as a step or an ingredient; I have been asked to top the cake with cream cheese frosting but so far have refused).
Streusel Topping*:
1/4-1/2 cup pecans
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons flour
1/8 cup butter
pinch of salt
1/4-1/2 tsp vanilla
1/8-1/4 tsp cinnamon
Combine pecans, flour, brown sugar, vanilla and unsalted butter and salt, to taste, in the Cuisinart or equivalent.
Grind to till combined, paste-like but not paste.
Lay in the bottom of the bundt pan; pour on batter about 1/3 full.  Add another “stripe” of streusel.”  Fill the bundt pan with the remaining batter, then top with the rest of the streusel topping.
*This is totally improvisational, and all amounts are approximate.  I usually don’t measure at this part, so you’ll have to find the amounts that work for you.  I find it hard to get it wrong.

Isabel’s Perfect Holiday New York Style Cheesecake: Sinful and Gluten-Free

Cheesecake, Cream Cheese Cake, Perfect Cheesecake, Springform Cheesecake
Take your time with cheesecake; it will pay off with no cracks, a perfect texture, and a need to run at least 10 extra minutes on the treadmill.

If you are still searching for that perfect holiday dessert, I have one for you.   For both religious and secular celebrations (Christmas, Thanksgiving, Chanukah), this cheesecake is a winner.  Why? It’s a dairy dessert, served cold and it’s gluten-free (if you make it with corn starch, not flour). It  can be served with fruit or fruit topping or whipped cream.  It can be drizzled with chocolate or caramel. It pleases those who like something a little savory and those who like something a little sweet.  And as the un-ironically named Cheesecake Factory has discovered, you can throw nearly ANY other sweet ingredient in the wold into it without ruining it (well, almost). It’s a desert associated with NY (for lovers and haters) and also associated with luxury— often found at expensive restaurants and steak houses.

That makes sense, because as a make-at-home dessert, it’s a bit labor-intensive.

Although it likely originated in Greece, I grew up eating cheesecake at Junior’s in Brooklyn, NY, and in other places around the NYC area in the 70s.  Those velvety, creamy and hint-of-lemony cheesecakes were so perfect—in flavor, texture and appearance, that I never ever thought I could replicate it at my home.  I just assumed that was something you had to have a factory replete with big steaming pots and viking stoves to make.   That, and lots of mysterious-as-to-how-to-fold boxes and of course, a giant floor-to-ceiling spool of red and white string.

Then, years later, BFF Jill gave me her Mom (Isabel)’s cheesecake recipe.   It was authentic 70s and NEARLY perfect.   Like a lot of recipes from that time period, it suggests that you toss everything together (including—gasp—corn starch). It suggests you mix the ingredients on HIGH.  And it doesn’t tell you anything about how finicky Springform® pans really are. (If you bend one, you might as well throw it out IMHO).  Reportedly there are national and international variations on Cheesecake, but the recipe below produces a Cheesecake of the New York variety—dense, creamy and full of sour cream.

So after making it several times, I have concluded a few things that you might not know from the recipe.

1. Springform® Pans are not waterproof.  If you’re going to make a cheesecake, you should protect it.   There are a myriad of ways for you do this, with foil, inside, outside or both.   Either way, your goal is to make sure the water you are putting the cheesecake in to cook stays outside of the pan where you want it, not inside your cake, where it can nearly ruinous as water is for chocolate. You’ll thank me.

2. Cheesecakes and their ingredients  are sensitive.   For this reason, I don’t recommend you beat the ingredients on “High” in your mixer.  After you pour the mix into your greased Springform pan, knock it a few times to get out the air bubbles.  But after that, don’t run or jump near the oven, as it can lead to cracks in your Cheesecake.  If you kids, tell them not to run or jump near the oven either.

3. Do not throw unsifted corn starch into a full complement of dairy products.  Instead, add it to the lemon juice (or vanilla) and whisk it to create a slurry.  Corn starch likes to be in a liquid, and mixes better with the other ingredients that way.

4. This recipe doesn’t have a crust.  Jill and her Mom did not favor a crust.  I like a graham cracker crust. You have to find the one that works for you, but if you can’t find one, here’s a start.

5. It’s all about NOT cracking.  As you may learn, over-mixing, overcooking, under-greasing, and a host of rookie mistakes (some detailed here) will cause the top of your cheesecake to crack.  Now that obviously doesn’t change the taste at all, and if you’re wise, you’ll cut a cracked cheesecake out of sight of your guests.  But eventually it will become a point of pride to produce seamlessly crack-free top.   Until then, it’s still worth all the fuss.

Ingredients

  • 4 8-oz containers of whipped cream cheese  (as long as you bring it to room temperature it probably doesn’t matter whether you use bricks or tubs).
  • 16 oz sour cream
  • 1 stick sweet butter
  • 5 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 and 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon + vanilla
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice

Directions
Let cream cheese, sour cream, butter and eggs stand at room temperature for approximately 1 hour.  (I take them out in the morning and make the cake in the afternoon.   Don’t start the cake too late, it has a multiple hour progression— it’s not 12 minute chocolate chip cookies).

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Using a stand mixer, blend cream cheese, butter and sour cream together with sugar and vanilla.

Beat in one egg at a time. Continue beating until mixture is very smooth.

In a separate bowl, create a slurry with the lemon juice and corn starch.  Add to the other ingredients.

Pour mixture into a greased 9 1/2 inch springform pan. (I use butter, but use PAM if you like).  Place the Springform® in larger roasting pan filled with water about hallway up its side.

Bake for 1 hour until the top is golden brown. Turn off oven; let cake cool in oven for one hour.   Then cool on the countertop for an hour (but really until cool); store in refrigerator overnight if possible (and  24 hours wouldn’t kill you, either).  I cover it with plastic wrap.

Take out of the refrigerator at least 15 minutes before serving, unless you really like cold cake.   Celebrate your New York cred.   Enjoy the luxury life. And if celebrating a holiday, have a great one.