This lovely apple tea cake will probably disappear in just as little time as it takes to make it.
By Maya Parson
I’m almost embarrassed to tell you how quickly this cake disappeared in our house. The good thing is that it appeared almost as fast: You can have this perfectly moist and lovely apple cake on your table in just over a half hour. Make it for breakfast or afternoon tea (it’s buttery and tender but not too sweet) or drizzle it with caramel sauce for a deliciously simple and homey dessert.
What makes this cake so good and so easy? No serious mixing—all you need is a cheese grater and a spoon—and a “secret” ingredient: kefir. A form of fermented milk traditional to the Caucasus region on the border of Europe and Asia, kefir is a bit like runny yogurt and excellent for baking of all kinds. Use it in place of buttermilk in any recipe. Personally, I like it better than buttermilk or yogurt for cooking because it has a mild yeasty flavor in addition to the familiar sour tang of buttermilk or yogurt. (Kefir is fermented by yeasts as well as bacteria.)
I make my own kefir at home, but you can usually find it at the grocery or health food store near the milk or yogurt. The store-bought version is homogenized and mild in flavor. Homemade kefir is more strongly flavored and very easy to make if you can get your hands on some kefir “grains.” I’ve included a recipe below, but store-bought kefir works just as well for this cake.
- 1 ¼ cups (150 grams) white flour
- ½ cup (52 grams) whole oats, rolled
- 2 ½ T (25 grams) white sugar
- 2 ½ T (25 grams) brown sugar
- ½ (3 grams) teaspoon salt
- ¼ tsp (1 gram) ground cinnamon
- 1 ¼ (5 grams) teaspoons baking powder
- ¼ tsp (2 grams) teaspoon baking soda
- 6 T (82 grams) cold unsalted butter
- 1 cup (230 grams) plain kefir
- 1 Yellow Delicious apple, cored but not peeled, chopped into ½ inch (1.25 centimeter) pieces
- 1 T (13 grams) butter for dotting top of cake
- 1 T (10 grams) Demerara or brown sugar for sprinkling
- Variation: add ⅓ cup (35 grams) chopped pecans or walnuts.
- Special equipment: cheese grater
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (204 degrees C).
- Combine the flour, oats, white sugar, salt, baking powder and baking soda in a large bowl.
- Grate butter with cheese grater.
- Mix butter into dry ingredients quickly but thoroughly with your hands. You don’t want the butter to melt or become too soft. (There should be small pea-size bits of butter in the flour mixture.)
- Add kefir and stir with a spoon until just combined.
- Add apple chunks.
- Add nuts, if using.
- Poured batter into a buttered pie pan or springform pan.
- Dot with remaining butter, sprinkle with demerara or brown sugar, and bake for approximately 25 minutes, or until golden brown.
- Eat while still warm with a nice cup of tea or hide a slice away for later.
- This cake stays moist, but it will be hard to keep it around long enough to find out!
- Place kefir grains in a glass container. (You can get active grains from someone who makes their own kefir--ask around! Or buy dried grains online or through a health food store and follow instructions.)
- Cover with 2-4 cups fresh milk.
- Cover container loosely with a lid, cloth or plastic wrap.
- Allow kefir to ferment overnight at room temperature.
- Within 24 hours, you should have kefir.
- Gently remove grains with a spoon or use a strainer.
- Place the grains in fresh milk to start the cycle again.
- Store the kefir you made in the refrigerator until ready to use.
- (Kefir can also be kept at room temperature for 2-3 days but will continue to ferment during that time, which means the kefir may separate from the whey and become slightly effervescent and more sour. It is still fine to consume.)
- If you want to take a break from making kefir, store grains in fresh milk in the refrigerator. They will stay alive for at least a few weeks, but may need a week or more of coaxing in fresh milk before they begin producing good kefir again.
Maya Parson entered the world of food journalism as an ice cream taste tester for her local newspaper at age eight. She later pursued a career in cultural anthropology – happily feasting on farm cheeses, fresh corn tortillas and a lot of rice and beans during her field research in Central America. Maya eventually settled in the other “central America” – the U.S. Midwest – where she enjoys cooking with farm-fresh foods and writing about food, culture and the culinary arts. She is the editor of Edible Michiana Magazine and can also be found on her blog, Cultured Grub.