A Comforting Cake Laden with the Bounty of the Philo Apple Farm

An apple-cranberry cake with a sense of time and place.

Amid all the lengthy, elaborate and supremely elegant recipes in “The French Laundry Cookbook” (Artisan) is a most homey one that concludes the book.

Perhaps it’s only appropriate, too, since “Sally Schmitt’s Cranberry and Apple Kuchen with Hot Cream Sauce” was a favorite dessert at the original incarnation of the French Laundry when it was owned by Sally Schmitt and her husband, Don, before the couple decided to sell it to Thomas Keller.

As “The French Laundry Cookbook” co-author Michael Ruhlman so eloquently writes of the couple in the intro to the recipe, “…they are the ultimate purveyors. They purveyed a restaurant.”

Indeed, had it not been for them, and what they nurtured in that spot, there might not have been the French Laundry as we know it today, nor the now vaunted reputation of the town of Yountville as a tiny culinary capital of the world.

So when I purchased some Philo Gold (Golden Delicious) apples from the Philo Apple Farm that the Schmitts bought after leaving Yountville, and which their daughter and son-in-law now run, I knew just what to do with them. To pay homage to all that the Schmitts have accomplished and created, I knew those apples that Sally had helped sow the seeds for had to be baked into the apple cake she used to serve at her restaurant.

A very thick batter of butter, sugar, egg, flour, a little milk and baking powder gets stirred up with nutmeg and a pinch  of salt. Spread it evenly into a greased cake pan. Then artfully press thin slices of apples down into the batter. Arrange fresh or frozen cranberries over the top. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar and bake.

Gild the lily with hot cream sauce.

The simple, tender cake lets the fruit shine through. It’s fine as it is. But Sally also adds a hot cream sauce fortified with sugar and butter that you can pour over slices as liberally as you want. I must say, it does add a rather nice touch, making the cake even more special and memorable as it soaks up all that warm richness.

You may have balked before at attempting to cook from the meticulous and refined “The French Laundry Cookbook.” Admittedly, this is the first recipe I’ve made from that particular book (forgive me, Thomas). But if ever there was one recipe anyone could and should try from it, this straightforward one would be it. Enjoy a taste of culinary history with this lovely apple cake imbued with a precious sense of time and place.

Sally Schmitt’s Cranberry and Apple Kuchen with Hot Cream Sauce

(Makes 8 servings)

For kuchen:

6 tablespoons (3 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus butter for the baking pan

3/4 cup sugar

1 large egg

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/2 cup milk or light cream

3 to 4 Gravenstein or Golden Delicious apples

1 cup cranberries or firm blueberries

Cinnamon sugar: 1 tablespoons sugar mixed with 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

For hot cream sauce:

2 cups heavy cream

1/2 cup sugar

8 tablespoons (4 ounces) unsalted butter

For the kuchen: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch round cake pan.

In a mixer bowl or by hand in a large bowl, beat butter, sugar and egg together until the mixture is fluffy and lightened in texture.

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt and nutmeg. Add dry ingredients and the milk alternately to the butter mixture. Do not overbeat; mix just until the ingredients are combined.

Peel and core apples. Slice them into 1/4-inch wedges

Spoon batter into the pan. Press apple slices, about 1/4-inch apart and core side down, into the batter, working in a circular pattern around the outside edge (like the spokes of a wheel. Arrange most of the cranberries in a ring inside the apples and sprinkle remainder around the edges of the kuchen. Sprinkle kuchen with the cinnamon sugar.

Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until a cake tester or skewer inserted into the center of the kuchen comes out clean. Set on a rack to cool briefly, or let cool to room temperature.

For the hot cream sauce: Combine the cream, sugar, and butter in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat (to reduce the chances of scorching or boiling over) and let sauce simmer for 5 to 8 minutes, to reduce and thicken slightly. Serve hot sauce with the kuchen.

From “The French Laundry Cookbook” by Thomas Keller

More: A Visit to the Philo Apple Farm Founded by Sally and Don Schmitt

More: Last Year’s French Laundry Holiday Party

More: Ad Hoc’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe

More: Ad Hoc’s Pineapple Upside-Down Cake Recipe

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