Lately, my cakes have tended to be over mixed and dense, with unattractive tunnels. I guessed the problem had to do with the butter being too warm. So I looked up the subject in the book The Science of Good Cooking (Cook’s Illustrated, 2012). Apparently room temperature should not really mean “room temperature” in baking. The temperature of the butter should be a cool 60˚F. Once I corrected for this, the cake’s texture improved. This is because the sugar in the butter helps to incorporate air into the butter during creaming. If the butter is too warm, the butter will be over creamed and the cake’s texture will be dense.
I tried applying this knowledge to Martha Stewart’s German Apple Cake. I learned not to follow the times for creaming too closely and instead to watch for changes in the color and texture of the butter-sugar mixture. I really didn’t need to beat the batter after the addition of the egg-vanilla mixture because the mixture already had a curdled appearance. The cake did not rise remarkably but the texture had improved immensely.
German Apple Cake (adapted from Martha Stewart)
1 cup All Purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
113g or 8 tablespoons unsalted butter (@60˚F on an instant read thermometer)
1 1/3 cups sugar, divided
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
juice of 1/2 lemon
4 small Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, sliced
1. Preheat the oven to 350˚F/180˚C. Butter an 8 inch square pan.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.
3. In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter at medium-high speed 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides. Reduce speed to medium and gradually add 1 cup sugar. This should take 1 minute. Once all the sugar is added, increase speed to medium-high and beat until the mixture is light and fluffy, 5 minutes, scraping down the bowl once half way through. Reduce speed to medium and stir in the eggs and vanilla in a slow steady stream; this should take another minute. Scrape down the bowl. Beat on medium-high speed 3-4 minutes until light and fluffy. The batter should look slightly curdled.
4. Sift the flour mixture on top in 3 additions. Fold in after each addition, scraping along the bottom of the bowl. Spread the mixture evenly in the prepared pan.
5. In a small bowl, combine the remaining 1/3 cup sugar with the cinnamon. Squeeze lemon juice into a medium bowl. Peel, core, and slice the apples into the bowl. Toss to coat.
6. Arrange the apple slices on top of the batter in overlapping rows, pressing lightly into the batter. Sprinkle the cinnamon-sugar mixture over the apples. Bake 35-40 minutes until a cake tester or toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
7. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10-15 minutes before serving. Serve with crème fraîche. To make a quick crème fraîche, put 1 1/2 cups heavy cream with 1/2 cup plain yogurt and 2 tablespoons sugar in a mixing bowl. Whip until stiff peaks form.