~ ~ ~That evening's plate-scraping was due to this simple-but-soulful apple cake; the recipe borrowed and improvised from my prized copy of Thomas Keller's The French Laundry Cookbook. The recipe originates from Sally Schmitt, who owned and ran the kitchen at The French Laundry restaurant before chef Thomas Keller bought it in 1994 and brought it to its current re-known. The recipe pays homage to their relationship, which still continues to this day: Chef Keller gets his apples for The French Laundry from The Philo Apple Farm, where Sally and her husband, Don, have retired.
This cake echoes the Schmitts' transition from restaurant kitchen to family orchard, and evokes the season simply: with notes of nutmeg, cinnamon, and an apple-y aroma. To accompany this humble cake, a swirl of thickened cream is ceremoniously poured on top of each slice, like a silky benediction. (Be mindful, however, of the words and sounds uttered after the first bite: in my experience they are often cause for subsequent confession!)
The cake comes together in a buttery batter of flour, sugar, butter, milk, baking powder, vanilla and a rasp or two of freshly grated nutmeg. The batter is quite thick, so it will need a gentle coaxing with a spatula to the sides of a well-floured pan. For the top of the cake, crisp apples are peeled and sliced (I used some local Braeburns).
The apple slices are artfully arranged, edges down, into the bed of batter - like the spokes of a wheel.
Cinnamon-infused sugar is generously dusted across the top of the cake and baked until golden brown. The sweet crystals cling to the surface and perfume the apples with cinnamon as they soften, caramelizing the slivers of dough in between.
Sally Schmitt's original recipe calls for cranberries as well, but I prefer letting the apples speak for themselves.
Each apple-laden slice chats amiably about its recent introduction to butter, sugar, vanilla, nutmeg and cinnamon, encouraging you to taste how well they get along in the next slice.
For the accompanying sauce, heavy cream, sugar, butter, and vanilla are brought together over medium heat to thicken and seduce. The sauce is the liquid equivalent of lingerie - perfectly designed to cover 'just so', and a particularly delicious way of accentuating the goods underneath.
The cream sauce hunts for hollows in the cake and pools on the plate. Forkfuls of buttery apple cake skate across the plate to soak up as much of the sauce as they can hold until fork meets empty plate again in that symphonic 'call for more'. Enjoy!
'FRENCH LAUNDRY' APPLE CAKE & VANILLA CREAM SAUCE - adapted from Sally Schmitt's recipe as printed in Thomas Keller's The French Laundry Cookbook
For the Apple Cake:
OVEN: 350 F
6 TBSP butter, at room temperature
3/4 CUP sugar
1 1/2 CUPS flour
2 TSP baking powder
1/4 TSP salt
1/4 TSP nutmeg
1/2 CUP milk
3-4 apples, peeled, cored, & sliced (I used Braeburn)
1 TBSP sugar combined with 1 TSP cinnamon, for sprinkling
In a stand mixer, cream butter, sugar, and egg until mixture is fluffy and paler in color.
In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt and nutmeg. Add to butter/sugar mixture, alternating with the milk, until just combined.
Spread batter in butter and floured 9" round cake pan. Starting in the centre, place apples into the batter, edges facing down, working around the pan in a circular pattern (like the spokes of a wheel).
Sprinkle top of batter with cinnamon-sugar mixture and bake until golden and a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean (about 45 minutes).
For the Vanilla Cream Sauce:
2 CUPS heavy cream
1/2 CUP sugar
8 TBSP butter
1 TSP vanilla extract
In a saucepan, combine the above ingredients and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Reduce heat and continue to stir until mixture thickens slightly (approximately 10-15 min). Serve warm over Apple Cake, or allow to cool and thicken further before serving. Once cool, keep refrigerated.