Try this delicious autumn apple cake with amazing layers magically combining flavours and textures with that genius Christina Tosi touch. Close your eyes and be transported to apple pie-stroke-cheesecake eating mode … with layers! You can go yummy full-sugar, butter or gluten as in the original recipe but this slightly healthier adaptation tastes just as decadent and scrumptious. If you’re used to cakes with less sugar you might prefer this final version where the apple and subtle cinnamon flavours shine through. The apple pie filling layer is lightly cooked with very little pure maple syrup and cinnamon. In the cheesecake layer the unrefined golden caster sugar is reduced by over half and a third of the cream cheese is replaced with natural healthy low-calorie skyr that adds a subtle yummy tang. So it’s all a little healthier especially if you have just one slice. Lol. Tastewise the brown butter adds lovely flavour and colour to the delicious gluten-free sponge while Momofuku’s classic crunchy pastry-like pie crumbs finish this cake off to perfection. Then for extra tasty crunch and sparkle some optional easy caramel shards and popcorn were added! Friends and colleagues have loved this slightly healthier apple pie layer cake. Tempted? 🙂
Prototypes and encouragement
An earlier prototype made with Granny Smiths and closer to the original had slightly reduced sugar. Friends rapidly scraped every crumb off the plate so it was clearly yummy and addictive. But it felt a bit sweet. Here it is decorated with a little caramel sauce and pie crumb formed into misshapen logs under caramel flames because it was November 5th bonfire night.
The final slightly healthier prototype is my favourite. I daydream about getting home to eat a slice or two, cycling back faster to help burn off previously consumed cake. At school a colleague’s eyes glazed over with cake joy as she yummed her way through a slice during our break.
So if you’d like to recreate an amazing apple autumn cake then never fear, it’s fun and not difficult to make. Get a cake ring and acetate strip and you’re set for life making all kinds of easy Tosi layer cakes or French entremets mousse cakes. Totally worth it…
This cake is a slightly simplified version of Christina Tosi’s cake in the lovely Milk Bar book. I eliminated her top creamy layer by replacing it with extra liquid cheesecake, meaning reduced work and sweetness. The official recipe in grams is at the Guardian online here or there’s Gastronomia & Cia’s Spanish version here. Google Tosi apple pie layer cake for other versions. And you can find out more about Christina Tosi in Netflix’s Chef’s Table series 4, pastry.
Apart from using Doves Farm self-raising gluten free flour and less butter, sugar or cream cheese but more apple, I also added optional Calvados apple liqueur to the apple soak – nice! The quantities were decreased to reduce or eliminate leftovers. The caramel shards and popcorn were added for decorative purposes, flavour and crunch. For prototype 1 a little caramel sauce on top was a yummy addition. Feel free to experiment. Or keep it simple and healthier with no shards or popcorn. Still very attractive and yummy.
MULTI-TASKING METHOD: DAY ONE: make all the layer elements over a 3-hour period on day of assembly. Measure pie crumb and sponge ingredients together. Quickly cluster up the pie crumbs and bake while beating butter sponge on standmixer. While the sponge (30 mins work, 20 mins baking) is in the oven prepare the liquid cheesecake (10 minutes work,15 mins baking). While cheesecake’s in the oven prepare and cook apple filling on stove (10 mins work, 5-10 mins cooking). Wait 4-5 hours for everything to cool. Make apple soak + assemble (25 mins work). Freeze overnight. DAY TWO: pull off tin/acetate, decorate with optional caramel shards (5 minutes work, 20 mins baking). Defrost 4 hours in fridge before eating. Add optional popcorn before serving. Or…
SPREAD OUT METHOD. DURING THE WEEK – Make various layer elements over several days before assembly stage. Store pie crumbs in an airtight mason jar. In the fridge store sponge in plastic film plus cheesecake and apple pie filling in separate airtight containers. DAY ONE – make apple soak + assemble then freeze overnight. DAY TWO – as above.
- Standmixer or electric handwhisk
- Baking tin: 32cm x 23cm (13in x 9in) and 4.5 to 5cm high (2in) or similar to this rectangular tin.
- Cake ring: 14cm/5.5in diametre and 6cm/2.4in high (I used 4.5cm/1.7in high, which works okay).
- Acetate strip (6cm/2.4in wide) like this one or this one and sellotape.
Butter should be unsalted and good quality French-style like Président. I use golden unrefined caster sugar and Doves Farm self-raising gluten-free flour.
Pre-heat oven to 170ºC/340ºF (fan/convection) or 190ºC/375ºF (static oven).
- 40g/2 and 1/2 tablespoons + 3/4 tsp unsalted butter
- 100g/3/4 cup + 3 and 1/2 tsp gluten free flour or plain/all-purpose flour
- 1/4 tsp (1g) fine sea salt
- 10g/1/2 tbsp pure maple syrup (or sugar/honey)
- 10 – 20g/2 – 4 tsp water
- Melt butter in a small heavy-based saucepan on low heat.
- Whisk flour and salt in a medium-sized bowl to combine.
- Add melted butter and maple syrup then 2 teaspoons (about 11g) water. Stir mixture until it starts coming together.
- Add a little extra water gradually until you get a slightly moist ball that stays together and gathers up all the little crumbs.
- Lay out small clusters on a baking tray lined with baking paper.
- After 5 minutes in the oven lower temperature to 160ºC/320ºF (fan/convection) or 180ºC/350ºF (static oven). Bake another 20 – 30 minutes until golden brown and starting to harden. I like them crunchy.
Barely brown butter sponge
Pre-heat oven and use baking paper to line baking tray (see size in Equipment section above).
- 50g (to 55g)/3 and 1/2 tablespoons (+1 tsp) unsalted butter – makes about 40g brown butter (using a saucepan)
- 220g/1 cup caster (superfine) sugar
- 60g/1/3 cup light brown sugar
- 55g/3 and 1/2 tbsp + 1 tsp unsalted butter
- 155g beaten egg (about 3 small-medium eggs)
- 125g/1/2 cup buttermilk (115g if using plain/all-purpose flour)
- 65g/1/4 cup + 2 and 1/2 tsp light vegetable oil (like grapeseed oil or cold-pressed light olive oil – I use food-grade linseed/flaxseed oil)
- 1/2 tsp (2g) pure vanilla extract
- 185g/1 and 1/2 cups gluten-free flour or plain/all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp (4g) baking powder (gluten-free if preferred)
- 1 tsp (4g) fine sea salt
If using gluten-free flour the sponge may not spring back under your finger but a skewer inserted in the middle of the baked cake should come out clean. If not, bake a further 5-10 minutes. Cool in tray 5-10 minutes then carefully turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
This sponge can be stored in the fridge wrapped in plastic film up to 5 days or in the freezer 1-2 months.
- Before starting bring the cream cheese, skyr and egg to room temperature.
- Pre-heat oven (see illustration).
- Use baking paper to line 20cm/8in diametre cake tin.
- 230g/8.1oz cream cheese (like natural Philadelphia)
- 100g/3.5oz natural unsweetened skyr (or cream cheese)
- 100g/1/3 cup + 2 tbsp caster sugar (I used golden unrefined) or more, to taste
- 30g/1 and 1/2 tbsp pure maple syrup (or sugar/honey)
- 82g beaten egg (about 1 and 1/2 eggs, small/medium-sized)
- 9g/1 tbsp cornflour (cornstarch/Maizena)
- 3/4 tsp (3g) fine sea salt
If you prefer your cakes less creamy you can try reducing the quantities by 2/3: 153g cream cheese, 67g skyr, 67g caster sugar, 20g/1tbsp maple syrup, 54g beaten egg (1 small/medium-sized egg), 6g/2 tsp cornflour, 1/2 tsp (2g) fine sea salt.
Store at room temperature if using the same day or in the fridge.
Apple pie filling layer
- 500g/1.1lb apples (Reinettes, Granny Smiths or any tasty crisp apples)
- 1 lemon
- 20g/1 tbsp pure maple syrup (or sugar)
- 15g/1 tbsp unsalted butter
- 1/4 tsp (1g) fine sea salt
- 1/2 tsp (1g) ground cinnamon
Apple juice or cider soak – optionally spiked with Calvados apple liqueur!
- 50g/ml unsweetened apple juice or dry apple cider (like Bulmers)
- 10g/2tsp Calvados apple liqueur, optional
- 5g/1 and 3/4 tsp pure maple syrup (or sugar)
- pinch of ground cinnamon, to taste
Whisk together in a small bowl to combine. Check flavour and sweetness is to your taste.
When everything’s cooled to room temperature start assembling.
Cut sponge then line the cleaned cake ring with acetate as in the illustrations.
Brush the bottom 2 sponge halves with 1/2 the apple soak and continue constructing as per the following illustration, pressing pie crumbs in the middle layers lightly into the liquid cheesecake with the back of your hand.
If sponge layers break or crumble a little fill the gaps with small extra pieces of sponge. It won’t be noticeable later. Save the best complete layer for the top. Freeze leftover sponge to make apple pie cake truffles.
Freeze overnight (12 hours) in the acetate and cake ring.
Slide a large sharp knife under the frozen cake, between the bottom of the cake and the base or plate. Lift cake carefully with one hand and slide the cake ring downwards off the cake and onto your arm. Place the cake back on the base/plate. Whip off the acetate (cut if necessary) and defrost in fridge 3 to 4 hours before eating. Yay!
Here’s the cake with just cinnamon caramel popcorn. Add popcorn last minute – it gets soggy in the fridge!
Caramel sauce also makes a nice addition, or shards.
These are so easy to make. Sieve a thin layer of caster sugar over a baking tray lined with baking paper. Bake 15-20 minutes in the oven preheated to 170ºC/340ºF (fan/convection) or 190ºC/375ºF (static oven) until most of the sugar melts and caramelises. Take out and wait 5 minutes or so for the caramel to harden (careful, it’s hot). Then peel the paper off the back of the shards.
The shards here were not bitter but a bit dark – make them lighter if you prefer.
Eating and storing
Keeps in the fridge up to 3 or 4 days, maybe more. You can immediately cut slices from the still frozen cake to freeze in airtight tupperware up to 1 month or two. Defrost 3 hours in the fridge before eating.
Here’s a slice of the earlier sweeter version.
It’s a delicious Autumn cake to share around. Apple, cinnamon and cake is a winning combo as a work colleague declared. And caramel can tip it over into ridiculous levels of yumminess. I’m also a big fan of those pie crumbs hiding in there like crunchy rustic jewels. Anyway enough rambling about this cake. There’s probably something I should be doing (oh yeah, making mousse for my dome cakes). Off to the kitchen again (yay!) but first perhaps you’d like some healthier apple pie layer cake? 🙂
Farewell again dear reader! Wishing you a lovely week with yummy comfort food the colour and taste of Autumn staving off the oncoming Winter. Happy baking and eating! 🙂 Lili x