Though I’m much more of a savory guy than a sweets guy, I can’t resist a spiced, fruit-filled dessert as we officially transition from fall to winter. Fresh apples are delightful in tarte tatins and pies, but I leave those up to the master of the fruit pie herself, my wife Susi Cahn. I want to amp up my dessert game for the holidays this year, so I’m going for unsulfured dried apples to make an apple stack cake.
As an iconic American fruit, apples are prevalent in many of my favorite parts of the country. The Bardenhagen family grows fantastic Honey Crisp and Gala apples in northern Michigan, and we all know that my home state of Washington is a yearlong apple fest. They’re also cultivated in the farmlands of the mid-Atlantic, the very region highlighted in 2016’s “Big American Cookbook” (Grand Central Life & Style), which inspired my modernized version of this recipe.
Mountain people are resourceful. With only a handful of ingredients, most of which hold up well in the pantry, this cake has been a sweet staple all along the Appalachian. This was a wedding cake made when a collection of thin cakes were gifted to the bride and assembled for the event — a tall cake being the mark of a popular bride. It’s a tale that may be taller than the cake itself, but fun to think about nonetheless.
Unfrosted, this cake signifies the beautiful gesture of the homemade. Ginger and cinnamon lace the rich, caramel-like apple filling between molasses-spiced cake layers. Make this ahead for a holiday dessert or for a cozy weekend at home with family and friends. Don’t worry about getting flowers for the table. This cake makes for the perfect centerpiece.
Mario Batali is the chef behind 25 restaurants.
Apple Stack Cake
For the dried apple filling
1/2 pound (4 to 5 packed cups) unsulfured dried apples
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
For the cake layers
5 cups all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup vegetable shortening
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 cup molasses, preferably sorghum
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup buttermilk
Confectioners’ sugar for icing
For the filling
In a large saucepan, combine the apples, brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger and enough water to cover. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to low and cover.
Simmer, stirring frequently, until the apples are tender and the filling is very thick, about 1 hour, adding more water if necessary. It should look like a thick apple sauce.
Transfer the mixture to a food processor; pulse 8 to 10 times to make a chunky sauce. Set aside.
For the cake layers
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 9-inch round cake pans. In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. In another bowl, beat the shortening with the brown sugar and molasses with an electric mixer until smooth. Add the eggs and beat until smooth.
Add one-third of the flour mixture and incorporate. Then add half the buttermilk, and alternate until all the flour and buttermilk are mixed in. The dough should be thick.
Divide the dough into 6 equal pieces, each about 10 ounces or a heaping cup. Wrap four of the pieces in plastic wrap. Pat one piece of the unwrapped dough into each of the prepared cake pans, making it about 1/2-inch thick. Bake until the cake is set, about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool 10 minutes.
Remove one cake from the pan and put it on a cake platter. Spread one-fifth of the apple filling, about 1 cup, evenly over the cake. Add the second cake and repeat.
Repeat the baking step, preparing the cake pans with grease and flour, unwrapping two pieces of cake dough, pressing them into the pans, baking, and then adding them to the cake with filling. Then repeat again for the last two layers, leaving the top layer bare. Let the cake sit for several hours. Dust with sifted confectioners’ sugar before serving. Serves 10.
Per serving: 681 calories; 16 g fat (4 g saturated fat; 21 percent calories from fat); 124 g carbohydrates; 71 g sugar; 39 mg cholesterol; 498 mg sodium; 9 g protein; 3 g fiber.