Calvados, or aged French apple brandy, is produced in Normandy, one of the world’s great centers of apple cultivation. Sweet, tart, and bitter apples are first pressed and fermented into hard (alcoholic) cider, then the cider is distilled into Calvados that’s aged in oak barrels for a minimum of two years, often much longer for premium brands. Two-year-old Calvados is fine for making desserts, as is American applejack, which is made in a similar manner. This cake is for a special fall or winter occasion; it’s not only delicious, but beautiful as well. Crowned with a ring of apple wedges poached in white wine and glazed with apricot jam, it’s so impressive that everyone will ask you for the recipe.
Plan ahead: This dessert has a lot of elements, all of which can be prepared in advance. Bake the cake layer and refrigerate it for up to five days. Make the syrup and refrigerate it in a covered jar, and prepare the apple puree several days in advance. Cook the apple wedges the day before and leave them in their syrup, covered, in the refrigerator. You can even assemble the cake in its mold beforehand, but only unmold and decorate it the day you intend to serve it.
Makes one 10-inch cake, about 16 servings
2 1/2 pounds McIntosh or Golden Delicious apples, peeled, cored, and diced
1/2 cup water
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup Calvados
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
POACHED APPLE WEDGES
2 cups dry white wine or cider
1/2 cup sugar
2 3-inch-long pieces lemon zest
4 large (about 2 pounds) Golden Delicious apples
One 9-inch genoise cake layer (see below), baked and cooled
APPLE BAVARIAN CREAM
2 1/2 cups apple puree, above
1/4 cup Calvados
1/4 cup poaching liquid from the apple wedges
4 1/2 teaspoons (2 envelopes) unflavored powdered gelatin
2 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream, whipped to a soft peak and refrigerated
3/4 cup apricot jam
2 tablespoons water
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream, whipped to a soft peak
2 tablespoons toasted sliced almonds
One 10-inch springform pan and one 12-inch pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch star tip (Ateco #824)
1. For the apple puree, combine the apples, water, and sugar in a large saucepan or enameled iron Dutch oven with a tight-fitting lid. Place on medium heat and bring to a boil. Decrease the heat, cover the pan, and let the apples cook, uncovering and stirring occasionally, until they have completely disintegrated. Cool the apples and puree them in a food processor or blender. Pack the apple puree into a plastic container, cover, and refrigerate. Remember to remove the apple puree from the refrigerator 1 to 2 hours before preparing the filling from it.
2. For the syrup, bring the water and sugar to a boil in a small saucepan, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Pour into a small bowl, cool, and stir in the Calvados and vanilla. Cover and refrigerate if not using on the same day.
3. For the poached apple wedges, combine the wine, sugar, and lemon zest in a wide, shallow sauté pan. Bring to a simmer and remove from the heat. Peel, halve, and core the apples and cut each half into 6 wedges, adding them to the syrup as soon as they are cut. When all the apple wedges are in the pan, jostle them around so that they are in a single layer and add water to cover. Cut a piece of parchment paper the same diameter as the inside of the pan and cut a hole in the center. Press the paper into the liquid so that it is completely submerged and will in turn keep the apple wedges submerged. Bring the liquid to a simmer and cook until the apple wedges are tender when pierced with a fork. Use a slotted spoon to remove them from the hot liquid and cool them on a plate. Refrigerate the leftover liquid in a shallow bowl to cool quickly, then store the apple wedges covered in the cold liquid until you need them. Drain thoroughly on a pan covered with paper towels before finishing the cake.
4. To assemble, cut the genoise into 3 layers. Wrap and freeze one of the layers for another use. Place one of the layers in the bottom of a springform pan and use a brush to sprinkle it with less than half of the Calvados syrup.
5. For the apple Bavarian cream, put the apple puree into a large mixing bowl. Put the Calvados and poaching liquid into a small heatproof bowl and use a fork to stir in the gelatin. Half fill a small saucepan or sauté pan with water and place over low heat. Once the gelatin has absorbed all the liquid and is wet looking, place the bowl in the water and let the gelatin melt. Once the gelatin has melted, remove the bowl from the hot water. Quickly re-whip the cream. Whisk 1 cup of the apple puree into the dissolved gelatin to cool it and whisk the gelatin mixture into the bowl of apple puree. Quickly use a large rubber spatula to fold in the whipped cream.
6. Pour half the Bavarian cream over the cake layer in the springform pan, spreading it with a medium offset spatula and making sure it also covers the side of the layer. Quickly place the second layer on top and sprinkle on the remaining syrup. Pour the remaining Bavarian cream over the layer and spread smooth. Cover with plastic and refrigerate until set, preferably overnight.
7. To finish the cake, insert a thin paring knife between the side of the cake and the side of the pan and, pressing against the pan, loosen the cake. Unbuckle the side of the pan and lift it off. Use a wide spatula to slide the cake from the springform base to a platter.
GENOISE CAKE LAYER
Makes one 9-inch layer about 2 1/2 inches tall
4 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
2/3 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 cup all-purpose flour (spoon into a dry-measure cup and level off)
1/3 cup cornstarch
One 2 1/2- to 3-inch deep 9-inch-round springform pan or 9-inch-round cake pan, buttered and the bottom lined with a disk of parchment or buttered wax paper
1. Set a rack in the middle level of the oven and preheat to 350˚F.
2. Whisk the eggs, yolks, sugar, salt, and vanilla together by hand in the bowl of an electric mixer.
3. Set the bowl over a saucepan of gently boiling water and slowly whisk until the egg mixture is warm, around 120˚F, about 30 seconds. Don’t overheat or the eggs won’t whip well.
4. Place the bowl on a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and whip on medium- high speed until the egg foam is light in color and increased in volume and the bowl no longer feels warm, about 3 minutes. When the eggs are ready, they’ll hold their shape on the whisk and you’ll be able to draw a line through them.
5. While the eggs are whipping, stir the flour and cornstarch together. Use a strainer with open mesh to sift the flour mixture once onto a piece of paper.
6. Remove the bowl from the mixer and sift about one third of the flour mixture over the egg foam, using a large rubber spatula to fold it in. Dig down to the bottom of the bowl and cut through the batter with the flat side of the spatula parallel to the bottom of the bowl to prevent the flour from accumulating there. Repeat with the last two batches of the flour.
7. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Tilt the pan in a circular motion to bring the batter about 3/4 inch from the top of the pan; this prevents the batter from doming in the center so that the baked layer has a flat, even top. Bake until it is well risen and firm in the center and the point of a paring knife inserted in the center of the cake emerges clean, about 30 minutes.
8. Immediately use a small paring knife to loosen the cake from the side of the pan if it is at all stuck and invert it to a rack. Remove the pan, but leave the paper on the cake layer. Cover with another rack and invert the stack, removing the top rack. Cool the cake completely on the rack.