Apple Calvados Cake

This generous Apple Cake recipe is flavored with apple brandy, and a touch of spice. It's a favorite fall and winter recipe!

This season saw a particularly excellent crop of cookbooks come to the forefront. But one that stood out for me was The London Cookbook by Aleksandra Crapanzano. When my copy came in the mail, I opened up the stately, deep blue cover, which revealed enticing pages of spectacularly simple, fresh food, the kinds I like, that are being cooked in London today. Spiced Carrots with Freekeh and Labneh, Taktouka (harissa-spiced Berber vegetable stew), Ras el Hanout and Buttermilk Cake, and Burnt Orange Chocolate Sorbet, turn the image of British cooking upside down. Like most cultures, chefs, cooks, and bakers in London have adapted ingredients, flavors from other places and cuisines, incorporating them into theirs. And they’ve done it well. Still, there are Potted Shrimp, Roast Corn and Chorizo Chowder, Short Ribs with Chickpeas and Swiss Chard, Treacle-cured Pork Belly, and Ginger Spiced Steamed Puddings with Rum Syrup, in The London Cookbook, that hew closer to home.

I know from firsthand experience that London restaurants and bakeries have revised what we think of British food, and Aleksandra’s book isn’t just a collection of recipes, but one of those books that you’ll want to sit down and read (like I did), for the colorful stories that take you into London kitchens, behind the scenes of the food revolution there, with photos that will make you bookmark many of the recipes as you go, as I have.

I liked the book so much that I asked Aleksandra if she would share a story and recipe from the book. Aleksandra grew up in Europe, spending time in Paris with her family. This Apple Calvados Cake stood out in the book as something that encompasses a slice of Britain, with a taste of Normandy. I hope you enjoy meeting Aleksandra through her story, and this Apple Calvados Cake, which is resolutely English, but infused with the flavor of France. – David

 A Whiff of Calvados by Aleksandra Crapanzano

It was in Paris that I learned to shop. Or should I say, I learned to respect the art of shopping, as my allowance only went so far. I was only ten when we moved to Paris, but, even then, I loved to peer into the shop windows. The bottles of vintage Calvados and Armagnac in the window of Maison Ryst Dupeyron on the rue du Bac held a special allure. If I put my face to the glass, I could make out the wood-paneled walls, the warm glow of the lamps, the wood desk with its leather ledger. One day, my parents took me inside. It was glorious. A serious place. A place of history. Bottles dating back a hundred or more years. The propriétaire offered my parents a taste of Calvados, as they were choosing a bottle. My father held his glass out to me to sniff. The beautiful, haunting smell was fiery with only a whisper of apple to temper the flame. It was heady. It was grown-up. I fell in love.

Whenever I smell Calvados, I remember that moment at Ryst Dupeyron. That moment that forever linked the scent with the discovery of my new city with the taste of adulthood. It is perhaps, then, no wonder that I adore this cake. I first had it at St. John, the well-known restaurant in London belonging to Fergus Henderson. Fergus may have spearheaded the nose-to-tail movement, but he is also a fervent baker. His bread, his doughnuts, his gingerbreads are beloved, but this cake, needless to say, stole my heart. We were lunching together, and, when you lunch with the chef, there’s little reason to order. I didn’t know what was coming. In fact, after several hours of deliriously happy eating, the very thought of dessert hadn’t occurred to me.

I smelled it before I saw it. That apple fire I love. As the waiter set a slice of cake down before me, the scent of Calvados seemed to rise like an invisible fog. I stepped right into it. Fergus must have seen my pleasure, as he offered me the recipe, which I offer now to you. I was meeting him while researching my book, The London Cookbook.

Fergus has had an enormous influence on the culinary world of London, helping to dig it out of a 1000-year rut and into an era of terrific change. So enormous, in fact, that I include, in the book, a family tree of all the chefs who worked at St. John and have since gone on to helm great restaurants of their own. Fergus remains a mentor, a force of joy, and an inspiration to almost all of them. But his influence reached further. He helped a city fall in love with food, and he did it without pretension or fuss but, instead, with great craft and generosity and little more than whitewashed walls and wood tables.

The food in London today is not the food one remembers from even a few years ago. It is bold, vibrant, international and worthy of the excitement it has generated among locals and foreigners alike. Fergus himself is known for bringing the best of British food to the table, but he is the first to say that his influences are French and Italian. I say he has taken the best of all three and married them to delicious effect. This cake is a perfect example.

It’s a rustic cake that would be equally at home in Normandy, a Parisian apartment, a house in the Cotswolds, as it is in one of the best restaurants in London. When I wrote The London Cookbook, I was looking for recipes just like this one – recipes that are generous, relatively simple, seasonal, confident… but which have that little something that elevates them from good to great. When you smell the Calvados and apples baking in the batter, you’ll know what I mean.

A few notes: The apples are meant to be roughly chopped, but if you are a perfectionist or serving this at a formal dinner, dice them into neat half-inch cubes. If you are allergic to nuts, simply omit them. Recently, supersized apples have started to appear in supermarkets in the United States. One supersized apple is roughly the equivalent of two good old grannies. Granny Smiths, being the best option, unless you have access to the wonderful Bramleys, grown in the U.K. If choosing a sweeter apple, you may want to reduce the sugar by a few tablespoons. And if splurging on a bottle of Calvados isn’t an option at the moment, Clear Creek, an Oregon distillery, makes a delicious apple brandy that is aged in French oak casks for eight years. Just remember, this is a big, generous cake. It will keep a day or two if you put it under lock and key.

Happy baking!

Apple Calvados Cake
Print Recipe
10 to 12 servings
Adapted from The London Cookbook by Aleksandra Crapanzano You're welcome to substitute another liquor for the Calvados, such as whiskey, apple jack, brandy, Cognac, or rum. If you want to make it without the liquor, you could use apple juice well-spiked with fresh lemon juice, to add some acidity, and perhaps a touch of vanilla extract. The recipe suggests using "baking" apples, such as Granny Smith or Bramley. I rifled through the bin at my market where they sell less-attractive pommes à cuire, or baking apples, at a discount (which I can't resist), selecting ones that felt firm and were varieties I know were on the tart side. Aleksandra told me when I asked her about the quantities before I gave it a go, as it seemed like it was a lot of batter. "This is a big cake," she replied, noting that she had reduced the amount of sugar in the original recipe, and I tried it with even less, as well. I was on the fence about whether I missed the extra sweetness so if you want to make it as she presented the cake, use 2 cups (400g) of sugar, but you could also reduce it to 1 1/2 cups (350g) if you want it less-sweet. For the record, I preferred it with the full amount. (Because I am frequently asked about making a recipe gluten-free, reducing the sugar, and changing pan sizes, I updated my page: Baking Ingredients and Substitutions to answer those questions, and more.) This make a big, generous cake, very moist, and rich with apple flavor. The recipe in the book says it make "6 Fergus portions, which are always generous." I don't want to infer that I'm not generous, but I found it served about ten or twelve people...without anyone thinking I was stingy. - David
3 1/4 cups (455g) flour
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon baking soda
generous pinch of salt
1 1/2 to 2 cups (300g-400g) sugar, (see headnote)
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil, such as peanut, canola, or sunflower
1/4 cup (60ml) Calvados
1 cup (140g) walnuts or pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped
3 baking apples (about 1 1/2 pounds, 700g), peeled, cored, and diced
1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF (180ºC.) Generously butter a 9-inch (23cm) springform pan, or 10-inch (25cm) round cake pan.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, cloves, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
3. In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar and the eggs. In a slow, steady stream - as if you were making mayonnaise - whisk in the oil, stirring constantly as you pour, to keep it emulsified. Whisk in the Calvados.
4. Using a spatula, mix in the dry ingredients, then fold in the diced apples and nuts. Scrape the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake for 90 minutes. Because the cake is so dense, it may feel done on top (and a toothpick inserted into the center may come out clean), but it will likely need to full baking time for the cake to be cooked through.

Serving: This moist cake can be served on its own, or with a spoonful of crème fraîche, or ice cream, if you wish.

Storage: I found this cake will keep for 2 to 3 days at room temperature. I would avoid freezing this cake as the apples may become soggy.

Related Links and Recipes

French Apple Cake

Baked Apples with Ginger

Apple Jelly

German Apple Cake

French Apple Pie

Quince tarte Tatin

8 Awesome Apple Brandies to Try This Fall (Serious Eats)


Never miss a post!

50 comments

  • January 31, 2017 10:23am

    Glorious writing. I don’t want to say like a modern M.F.K. Fisher, because you are you and not her, but please take it as the highest compliment.

    • Aleksandra Crapanzano
      January 31, 2017 4:27pm

      What a lovely comment to wake to this snowy tumultuous morning in New York. Thank you.

  • January 31, 2017 10:29am

    I LOVE apple cakes, and this one looks so comforting and just perfect for the winter!

  • January 31, 2017 2:38pm

    I have to invest in Calvados..I always think..I don’t need all that..for all the times I have thought tha..I could be on my second bottle by now..looks great!

  • Gabriel
    January 31, 2017 4:12pm

    Should the cake be baked for a full 90 min at 180ºC.?
    This sounds a bit excessive…

    Is there a way to tell when the cake is ready?

    • January 31, 2017 4:24pm
      David Lebovitz

      It’s hard to tell when it’s done but it’s a very dense cake and mine took the full 90 minutes. I think it’s such a big, generous cake that even baking it for a few extra minutes wouldn’t hurt it, but still, one I made that I took out after 1hr, 15mns, still has some gooey batter in the very middle, so it needed the full 90mn.

      • Ellen N.
        February 3, 2017 7:25pm

        Are you able to give us the internal temperature it will be when fully cooked? I’d love to bake this cake, but I’m nervous about underbaking it.

        • Pete
          February 14, 2017 8:44pm

          Ellen N… I haven’t made this cake so can’t comment directly. But there’s quite a range over which most cakes can be ‘done’ (say 85-96C, 185-205F), depending on things like sugar concentration, egg and fat content, starch gelatinization, and several more. I usually shoot for 91-92C (195F) and that seems to work as a rule of thumb. But, at the end of the day, it’s difficult to beat the standard visual, touch and toothpick tests which, in my experience, are as reliable as any probe thermometer.

      • Brian Shaw
        February 5, 2017 5:23am

        I just made one. After 99 minutes it was 90% done, but we liked the slightly gooey center. Next time I might bake a bit longer. And there will be a next time… it was a big hit with the family!

        • Brian Shaw
          February 5, 2017 5:26am

          P.s. I used a mix of Granny Smith and Fuji apples.

  • Phoebe
    January 31, 2017 4:24pm

    The calvados i have on hand is 70% alcohol- can I cook with sth with that high content of alcohol? such as in this cake?

    • January 31, 2017 4:30pm
      David Lebovitz

      70% alcohol? No, you shouldn’t use it. You should send it to me.

      Ok, kidding aside, most bottles of Calvados are 42% alcohol by volume. (Are you sure that’s not 70% proof? Which would make it 35% alcohol.) I’ve not seen or had the 70% Calvados so perhaps someone else can advise. My take is that you could…and it would be extra-delicious : )

    • Aleksandra Crapanzano
      January 31, 2017 5:01pm

      I was just looking at a bottle I’ve used with success. It is 40% ALC by VOL and 80% PROOF. Does that help? If not, I’d be happy to contact a spirits expert.

  • Kathy Urbano
    January 31, 2017 5:11pm

    Fantastic winter cake. Calvados is so spectacular. The addition of the nuts creates a good texture for this cake.

  • January 31, 2017 5:15pm

    LOVE anything by Fergus Henderson. This cake sounds glorious.

  • David Shapero
    January 31, 2017 5:16pm

    In the US, for a Bramley apple substitute (although Bramleys can actually be obtained from some small orchards here in New England), may I recommend the Baldwin or Rhode Island Greening, among others? The Granny Smith, while widely available, is really an eating apple and too wet/juicy to make a good apple cake. If you are really fortunate you may find the Belle de Boskoop (a Dutch variety that has been successfully grown in the US and is once again becoming increasingly available) which is really the best cooker around in this long-time baker’s opinion. Hope this is useful.

    • Verity
      January 31, 2017 6:07pm

      Granny Smith is an Australian apple cultivar and regarded almost entirely as a cooking apple in Australasia and Europe. The sourness is the plus!

      • David
        January 31, 2017 10:31pm

        Well, this Brit thought Granny Smith an eater – but could be cooked, whereas you’d know if you bit into a Bramley. Oh, and they’re generally rather larger (at least in the days I picked them at my uncle’s farm). Having said that, my orchard includes Adam’s Pearmain, which we’ve always eaten, but is listed as a cider apple.

        Not sure about Granny Smith, but Bramleys cook into a froth (as does Mutsu aka Crispin, also in my orchard), not sure how that would affect the result. And 9 months before I can do any controlled experiments!

        Wonderful post – printfriendly will be used for this one (to keep all the header text and photos). Thanks DL and AC.

        • David
          January 31, 2017 10:38pm

          Whoops – Branleys are rather larger than Granny Smith, not the other way around as I implied above

    • witloof
      February 2, 2017 2:08am

      When I was in London some years ago I was staying near a Sainsbury’s, and I discovered Bramleys. They stripped off the inside of my mouth, they were so incredibly tart, and they were so hard that they ripped up the insides of my cheeks. Which did not prevent me from eating one or two every day! I still remember them and hope to eat them again!

  • NJ fan
    January 31, 2017 5:32pm

    Looks great and I do have a bottle of Calvados. I have never understood recipe writers’/cookbook authors’ predilection for Granny Smith apples, which I find sour and dry. David, because you write books, a loving tip regarding a common error: “infer” means “glean,” “deduce,” “conclude.” The person who suggests, or hints at, something “implies” it.

  • Barbara
    January 31, 2017 5:56pm

    I am comforted by knowing this recipe exists in the world. I’m comforted by your writing and by Fergus and Alexandra. Difficult times here in the US and comfort food is welcome if only in the writing of it. Thanks.

    • January 31, 2017 6:21pm

      Amen!

  • Tom Flinn
    January 31, 2017 6:01pm

    THANK YOU! I’ve asked for an apple calvados cake for years, I had one at the Henry Ford Musuem and home in Detroit of all places and have been looking ever since! I made your candied Citrone last month. I bought this Citrine as big as my dog’s head. It’s like lemon candy! I have it in mason jars in the fridge. Thank you for all you do!

  • Tom Flinn
    January 31, 2017 6:02pm

    THANK YOU! I’ve asked for an apple calvados cake for years, I had one at the Henry Ford Musuem and home in Detroit of all places and have been looking ever since! Thank you for all you do!

  • January 31, 2017 6:03pm

    I have been living in London for very many years and I agree that the quality of restaurants has improved a lot.
    However, I feel that the average quality is still mediocre, for different reasons.
    There are issues of availability and of lack of knowledge. Apart from few, generally very expensive exceptions, food shopping in London is still pretty depressing – try and compare a London street market with a French/Italian/Spanish one. There are fewer and fewer food shops, I mean “normal”, neighbourhood shops. There are exceptional food shops, but these belong to the rarified world of the wealthy. There is not much “middle ground”, I find.
    There is also a generalised lack of knowledge amongst food professionals, which does not help. Many young chef are totally unaware for instance of the existence of a glorious local cousine and when they venture into other cultures’ food, the results can be scary – endless risotto enriched with with crème fraiche spring to mind.
    There are loads of new bakeries now all selling the same type of Tartine-derived bread, but it is impossible to find a traditional English cottage loaf. A focaccia that does not resemble a pillow or a baguette that is really well cooked are still pretty hard to find.
    Of course, one can eat extremely well here in London and this has always been the case:
    River Café, St John’s, Quo vadis, Moro, Bibendum, Locatelli, Pierre Kaufman, Sally Clarke, The cinnamon club, Mazzei, Angela Hartnett, Anchor & Hope ecc…), but they still represent the (often very expensive) exceptions.

    I have not make this cake yet, but I agree with one of the previous comments: anything from Henderson is a winner- thanks for sharing.

  • January 31, 2017 6:03pm

    I love the way Calvados infuses and deepens apple flavor – especially the more dense recipes. A lovely post, thank you.

  • CooksinCT
    January 31, 2017 6:10pm

    Just discovered your blog and already made your French apple cake, 4x in 2 weeks (2x for me, 2x for guests). The comments for that are closed, but just wanted you to know that I absolutely love it! I will try this cake this week – it may be just the right alternative to satisfy my predilection for boozy apple cakes, lol. Thanks!

  • tim
    January 31, 2017 7:24pm

    I have some McCoun and Winesap dried that do well with baking when fresh. Would re-hydrating them hurt the batter too much?
    Wondering if they would actually not be moist enough.

    PS: if you get to NYC in october there are some great orchards in NJ that have a large variety.

  • Keith Osterhout
    January 31, 2017 7:25pm

    I believe there is a small error in the recipe. If 2 cups of flour are 400 g, 1.5 cups should be 300 g not 350 g.

    • January 31, 2017 7:31pm
      David Lebovitz

      I use 1 cup flour = 140g, so 3x that is 420g+35g (1/4 cup) = 455g, unless my math is wrong.

      I’ve not seen a measurement of 1 cup of flour equaling 200 grams. Is that what you usually use as a conversion?

      • Oonagh
        February 1, 2017 2:48am

        David, I think Keith was referring to sugar not flour, and your comment that the sugar could be reduced?

  • Eloise Doeren
    February 1, 2017 12:25am

    OMG! Just made this cake with a local apple brandy, Don Quixote Qalvados . I live in New Mexico. I Love, Love this & I thought nothing would top the Plum/cardamom cake. Wish I could send you a photo. Thank you for such a fun and riquisimo blog

    • February 1, 2017 8:57am
      David Lebovitz

      Ha! I thought you’d made a typo when you wrote “Qalvados” but got a chuckle when I realized it was a Mexican version of Calvados. (I looked it up.)

      When I was in Lebanon, I met some guys who were making “Zognac,” a distilled brandy like Cognac, but they couldn’t call it Cognac because the name was legally protected : )

      • Eloise
        February 1, 2017 9:16pm

        It is a New Mexican distillery so no wall climbing will be necessary to obtain a bottle.

  • Marianne McGriff-Zionsville, IN
    February 1, 2017 12:46am

    David, Thank you for this recipe. I loved Aleksandra’s story. My husband is sharing his WWII experience this coming weekend and I’m bringing the dessert. This is a PERFECT complement to a Normandy experience. Thank you. Marianne

    • February 1, 2017 9:00am
      David Lebovitz

      That’s a great idea. And thanks to your husband for his service to both countries!

      • Marianne McGriff-Zionsville, IN
        February 7, 2017 1:03am

        David and Aleksandra,
        Thank you for the recipe. It was a HUGE hit to our evening!
        I appreciate your expression of gratitude, David. We lead trips to Normandy-our 7th this coming summer-and we continue to be humbled and grateful for those who continue to desire to know his story and preserve the history. The people of Normandy are SO grateful for the sacrifice of all the soldiers. The Calvados Apple cake was perfect! I’m looking forward to making it again soon! love and Blessings, Marianne
        P.S. David, we met at Darina’s “Literary and Food Festival at Ballymaloe”! Thank you for sharing your story!

  • Home Orchardist
    February 1, 2017 3:16am

    Greed has ruined the reputation of the Granny Smith apple because commercial growers pick apples before fully ripe. Mature apples are sweet and crunchy! I know because I grow my own Granny Smiths.

    • February 1, 2017 9:00am
      David Lebovitz

      I remember when I was a pastry chef/baker in Northern California and one of the apple growers brought us a case of red Granny Smith apples. I thought they were a different variety but they said, “No, it’s just that most Granny Smith apples are picked underripe.” They were a lot sweeter, and fuller flavored, than the green Granny Smith apples that I was used to.

      In general, I try to buy my apples from a producer or grower, or from a place that sells apples like that because they’re so much better than commercial varieties, although I realize that some people don’t have that option so try to include a variety (when I can) that’s more widely available, too.

  • February 1, 2017 3:58pm

    This looks divine! My other half is from Calvados country so we always have loads at home. Will have to give this recipe a try!

  • Nicolette
    February 1, 2017 4:47pm

    You have brought to mind for me wonderful memories of dining at Cher Albert on Av. du Maine with my parents! I confess I still have a beautiful painted ashtray as a remembrance. The owner was from the north of France in Calvados country and the food reflected this. The other vivid memory was he had an enormous dog who liked to park himself right in front of the restaurant’s entrance so in order to partake of the delicious fare one had to take a giant step over the ‘mascot’ who never even twitched an eyelash when the patrons jumped over him! I have always had a bottle of Calvados in my kitchen and love to splash some in my Thanksgiving veg dressing!

  • Laura
    February 1, 2017 6:47pm

    David,
    Thank you for your thoughtful February newsletter. These days I hesitate to look at social media due to its vitriol. Your practical advice and perspective in addition to this Calvados cake recipe are appreciated by this reader.

  • Torgeir in Norway
    February 3, 2017 4:38pm

    Looks really delicious. I take the London Cookbook doesn’t state the measures in metric, so I wonder if there will be a new edition for the rest of the world? I’ll definitely buy it then :-)

  • Jenny
    February 5, 2017 1:25am

    Figuring that I could never use up enough cake for 10 people, I halved the recipe and it worked beautifully. Halving the three eggs involved keeping 2 yolks and removing some of the white, and I kept rather more than half the given measure of Calvados (because hey, how could too much Calvados be bad?), but everything else was straightforward. I used Honeycrisp apples, because that’s what I had in the fridge. I eyeballed the mixture when it was complete and decided to use a 7×11 inch rectangular pan. No doubt this made the cake less tall than it ought to be, because it baked in about 45 minutes. I expected, I’m not sure why, a fairly dense and heavy cake, but it’s actually feather-light. And as moist as promised, and absolutely delicious.

  • Gustavo Woltmann
    February 6, 2017 9:30am

    Exactly what I’ve been craving for the past few days! I’m baking today, no doubt about it lol

  • Mary
    February 17, 2017 5:58pm

    Just licked the crumbs off my plate of this warm, perfect winter cake while sipping calvados.

    Could more be added to the recipe without compromising the outcome? I was desiring a little more calvados infused flavor.

    Thank you for the recipe and evocative description of this wonderful golden liqueur.

    • February 18, 2017 9:33am
      David Lebovitz

      I’ve not tried it with more Calvados so can’t advise. If you do it with more, let us know how it works out in the comments. You could brush the finished cake with Calvados, or make a Calvados syrup for brushing the finished cake, to add more flavor.

      • Mary
        February 19, 2017 8:46am

        Calvados syrup-excellent idea! I will keep you posted.

  • Chris
    March 1, 2017 12:47pm

    I made this cake yesterday and was disappointed. Rather than call it a cake, I would call it a giant muffin! I used the full amount of sugar and the cake is not sweet at all. I think that it could have used more sugar. I used Granny Smith apples, but the apple flavor of the cake was not very strong. I was concerned when I added the batter to a 9-inch springform pan as the batter nearly filled the pan, but it did not overflow in the oven. It did indeed take a full 90 minutes to cook.