French Apple Cake

Inspired by the pastries my husband used to buy for me in college, my French Apple Cake is the perfect not-too-sweet dessert. With thinly sliced apples in a moist almond scented cake, you’ll believe you’re in France, without paying airfare.

A cast iron pan containing a sliced French Apple Cake.

Scenes from a French Cafe

I’m not French and I have no adorable story of eating French Apple Cake in a cafe in Paris with a cute boy. I just saw a picture of a French Apple Cake somewhere on social media and thought, “That reminds me of the almond croissants The Boy used to buy me in college.” That’s how my brain works. If it confuses you, just imagine being influenced by it.

And yes, I know there aren’t apples in almond croissants, but the color of the cake I saw, and the powdered sugar on top of it, made a connection in my weird little brain. Once that connection was made, I had to make this cake. It became a thing. So, here we are.

Most of the French Apple Cakes I found in my research were made with big chunks or slices of apples in an almost custard-like base. I wanted very thin slices of apple, that almost disappeared into a moist, fluffy cake. In an homage to The Boy, who is very cute, and his croissants, I also wanted just a hint of almond extract and some slivered almonds on top. And powdered sugar, of course.

This is my cake. I hope you enjoy it.

A slice of French apple cake on a white plate next to a cast iron pan with the whole cake.

Key ingredients for my French Apple Cake

  • Apples I like Envy apples, because they have a nice sweet/tart balance, but Gala, Honeycrisp, or Braeburn would also be great. I will say, Envy apples stay white and bright longer, giving you more time to mix the batter and assemble without worrying about the apples turning brown. Just saying.
  • All-purpose flour This flour has a medium protein content, which means it will support the apples nicely, while still making a soft cake.
  • Almond extract Just a teaspoon is enough to complement the apples and give the cake a French bakery vibe.
  • Unsalted butter As I often say, you can always add more salt, but you can’t take it away. Each brand of salted butter has different amount of salt in their product. Using unsalted butter gives you control of the salt.
  • Buttermilk Most of my baking recipes call for buttermilk because it makes a more tender cake and helps the baking soda do its job. If you do not have buttermilk, place 2 tablespoons of sour cream in your measuring cup and add enough whole milk to equal 1/2 cup total (or 120 grams total of sour cream and whole milk). I do not recommend using just whole milk, as it will not react to the baking soda to give you the lift you need in the cake.

Let them make cake! instructions

Collage of images depicting the steps in making a french apple cake.
  • Slice the apples I like to use a mandolin to get very thin even slices of apple, but a steady hand and a sharp knife are great tools. I sliced mine 1/4 inch thin.
  • Dry Ingredients Whisk together your flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
  • Cream butter and sugar Using a stand mixer, or a hand mixer in a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes. You will see a definite lightening of the color and texture. Beat in your eggs and almond extract until fully mixed.
  • Combine With mixer on low, slowly add flour mixture in three batches, alternating with buttermilk, mixing after each addition. Do not overmix. You should still see some dry bits on the sides of the bowl. You will take care of that in the next step.
  • Fold in apples Using a wide silicone spatula, or a rice paddle (my quirky preference), gently fold 3/4 of the apples into the batter, reserving the rest for the top of the cake. It will seem like a large apple-to-batter ratio, but that’s what we want. Scoop the batter into a buttered 10 inch cast iron skillet, or 8 inch cake pan, and smooth the top with an offset spatula.
  • Assemble Place the remaining apples on top of the batter, in concentric circles, if you like that sort of thing (I do), and press lightly into the batter. Use an offset spatula to smooth the batter over and around the apples. Sprinkle with untoasted sliced almonds (they will toast while baking) and a bit raw or sparkling sugar, if you want extra texture. If you don’t have either of those, a tablespoon of granulated sugar will work.
  • Bake Place the pan in the oven at 350°F for at least 45 minutes, up to an hour, or until a skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean and the apples are easily pierced. Allow to cool before dusting with powdered sugar, slicing, and serving.
A slice of French Apple Cake on a white plate.

Baking and storage notes:

  • Small batch This recipe can be made small batch and baked in a 8 or 9 inch loaf pan. Because the major ingredients are also listed by weight, just halve all of the ingredients and follow the recipe directions. Because it is a smaller cake, bake 35-45 minutes, checking for doneness with a skewer, as directed.
Loaf pan sized French apple cake on a wire rack.
  • Storage Store cake under the dome of a covered cake stand, in another airtight container, or wrapped in plastic wrap for up to 3 days at room temperature, or 5 days refrigerated.

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A cast iron pan containing a sliced French Apple Cake.

French Apple Cake

Inspired by the pastries my husband used to buy for me in college, my French Apple Cake is the perfect not-too-sweet dessert. With thinly sliced apples, in a moist, almond scented cake, you’ll believe you’re in France, without paying airfare.
5 from 2 votes
Prep Time 20 mins
Cook Time 1 hr
Total Time 1 hr 20 mins
Course Breakfast, Brunch, Dessert
Cuisine American, French
Servings 12 servings

Ingredients
 

  • 4 apples such as Envy or Gala
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour 260 grams
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks) 227 grams softened, plus more for greasing the pan
  • 1 cup granulated sugar 200 grams
  • 2 large eggs at room temperature
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk 120 grams
  • 1/4 cup untoasted sliced almonds 25 grams
  • Raw or sparkling sugar optional, for the top before baking
  • Powdered sugar optional, for the top after cooled

Instructions

  • Peel and core apples; slice 1/4-inch thick. Set aside.
  • Use butter or nonstick spray to grease an 8-inch cake pan or 10 inch cast iron skillet. If you plan to remove the cake from the pan for serving, line bottom of the pan with parchment paper. Heat oven to 350°F.
  • Whisk flour with baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
  • In the bowl of a stand mixer, or large bowl with a hand mixer, beat granulated sugar with 1 cup (2 sticks) of butter for 3-4 minutes, until lightened in color and fluffy in texture.
  • Beat in eggs, one at a time, then almond extract, and beat mixture about 2 minutes, or until creamy. If the mixture appears curdled, spoon in one or two tablespoons of your dry ingredients and continue mixing.
  • Gradually add flour mixture in three batches, alternating with buttermilk, mixing after each addition. Do not overmix. Some flour streaks should still be visible at this point. Fold most of the apple slices into the batter, leaving about 1/4 of them to place on the top.
  • Place batter in prepared pan and press and smooth with an offset spatula, making sure there is batter in all the corners of the pan.
  • Arrange remaining apple slices on top of batter in concentric circles, gently pressing them in a bit, and smoothing the batter. Scatter almonds on top. Sprinkle with sparkling or raw sugar, if desired.
  • Place in the oven and bake at 350°F for 45 minutes to an hour, or until a cake tester comes out clean, the top has browned, and the apples no longer feel firm when pierced with the tester.
  • Allow to cool in the pan until just warm, then transfer to a rack and sprinkle with powdered sugar. Serve in the pan, or remove from pan and transfer to a plate.
  • Slice with a serrated knife and serve.

Notes

If you do not have buttermilk, place 2 tablespoons of sour cream in your measuring cup and add enough whole milk to equal 1/2 cup total (or 120 grams total of sour cream and whole milk.)
If you do not have raw or sparkling sugar, granulated sugar may be sprinkled on top prior to baking.
If planning to serve the cake on a platter, line bottom of the pan with parchment paper, to ease removal.

The nutritional and caloric information shown is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. It does not assert or suggest that readers should or should not count calories, and should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s or doctor’s counseling.

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