New Englanders seem to get inordinately excited for Fall every year, and while they claim it’s the foliage and the seasonal Starbucks drinks, I’m pretty convinced it’s all the baking they’re suddenly inspired to do and consume. Mass consumption of sugary, fattening, delicious baked goods isn’t an alien concept to me, even though I hail from San Francisco, the land of health food and hippies. My heritage is largely (no pun intended) German, and if there’s any bit of culture my German-American relatives have retained, it’s their love for two things above all else: (1) beer; and (2) cakes.
Before I continue, I need you all to know my dirty secret: I’m not a vegan, and I’m not even a vegetarian. I tried really hard for a few years, but in my family (the Irish-Catholic half of which is populated by my uncle the seafood chef and his many admirers on the Jersey shore), the greatest sin next to blasphemy is disliking and/or refusing to eat fish. Now that I’ve got that off my chest, I have to admit that I’ve come to love vegan baking! It all started about a year ago when one of my previously vegetarian friends converted to veganism (is that even an –ism?). Well, the good little Irish-Catholic, German, and believe it or not ¼ Jew girl that I am, I feel compelled to feed my friends every chance I get. So, for my annual Fall Flavors party (I’m embracing my inner New Englander), I decided to bake my very first vegan Apfelkuchen. To those of you who don’t speak Deutsch, that’s German for “Apple Cake”.
Over the past year, I’ve had several chances to revise and improve the recipe, which originally came from Gertrud Mattes’s Little German Cookbook (1995) (family recipes don’t really exist for my family, unfortunately) that I bought in 11th grade (to rebel against my mother’s momentary obsession with Betty Crocker’s boxed baked goods). As you may have already guessed, this wasn’t a vegan recipe to begin with, so I adapted this recipe to please my hungry vegan friends.
3 or 4 apples (I prefer Fuji apples for this recipe, but it’s really up to you – just don’t use MacIntosh’s or other similar varieties that are softer, they’ll get gross and mushy)
½ cup Earth Balance (or another brand of vegan margarine)
½ cup turbinado sugar (I recommend “Sugar in the Raw”) – Why not granulated sugar?
½ cup applesauce (I make my own – boil some water, put apple pieces in the boiling water, boil the apples until soft, and mash ‘em up! Add spice if you’d like!)
2 Tablespoons non-dairy milk
1 ½ cups flour (whole wheat, if you’re feeling the need to be marginally health-conscious)
2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 large bowl
1 small bowl
1 round baking dish (~8” works, I ♥ Pyrex)
Preheat your oven to 350F (177C) and grease your baking dish.
In your large bowl, mix the earth balance and the turbinado sugar together well. If you’re a seasoned baker of vegan foods, you’ll know that turbinado sugar has a different consistency from granulated sugar (that’s how it’s vegan), so you really need to make sure the mixture is even. I like to use a hand mixer for this part, and I strongly recommend that you do, too.
Once your earth balance/turbinado sugar mix is smooth and creamy, add the other wet ingredients, again making sure to mix everything in very well. I use my hand mixer here, but it’s not as necessary.
In your small bowl, mix together the flour and baking powder. Then add the dry ingredients to the wet, and mix well again! *This is the point in recipes when I start to get nervous and doubt my baking skills if the consistency seems unusual to me. Seasoned vegan bakers are probably used to this, as I am by now, but to prevent you from experiencing the same self-doubt that I did in the beginning, I’ll give you a hint: the consistency of the batter at this point is pretty darn thick. If you’re used to baking with lots of oil (which I really try to avoid), you’re probably used to seeing something more viscous.
Scoop/pour your batter into your baking pan, and using a dull knife or a flat spoon, even out the height of the cake. Because the batter is so thick and sticky, this might take a little longer than usual.
Arrange your sliced apples – liberally! – on top of the cake.
Bake your cake for about 60-65 minutes at 350F (180C).
Some parting thoughts, that may or may not be of interest to you…
*This cake serves 12-16 small slices, if you’re into small slices
*You can totally embellish or alter this recipe in lots of cool ways – such as:
Include vanilla or almond extract in the batter – just a wee bit, like 1-1 ½ teaspoons, so as not to overpower the other flavors. I might not add multiple flavor extracts, but it’s your cake ;-)
Marinating your sliced apples in a brown sugar + spices mixture before adding them to the cake.
Glazing your cake with melted vegan margarine and a sprinkling of turbinado sugar, just before it goes into the oven! This gives it a healthy, buttery shine and a sweet topping
Adding a topping to your cake – such as a vegan icing (vanilla extract, confectioner’s sugar, and tofu cream cheese), or a sugary mixture (brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, ginger, whatever sounds yummy), or some sort of nuts (walnuts, almonds, pecans).
Using Ener-G Egg Replacer or a Flax Seed Mixture rather than applesauce as your binding agent. The Egg Replacer is a wee bit expensive, and the flax seeds take a really long time to make into a powder and require a food processor, but each has advantages and disadvantages. I like to use a flax seed mixture if I’m baking for people who I know prefer healthier foods.