When you grow up in a German household on a Canadian prairie farm, daily coffee time is a non-negotiable ritual.
And there is usually cake involved. . .
. . . or homemade doughnuts, or cookies, or even a slice of rye bread with a thick slathering of homemade butter and honey.
Every day at 10:00 am and 3:00 pm sharp, dad came in from wherever he was working on the farm to have a cup of coffee with something sweet. Seeding time and harvest time were the only two times a year when this ritual wasn’t followed. Then usually, mom would deliver coffee to the field wherever dad was working, and he’d stop, leaving the tractor running, and have his coffee and cake sitting on the side of the seeder or combine.
You also knew that if you needed to contact a neighbour, you could drop in to any farm home on the Canadian praires at either the morning or afternoon coffee time and you would find the farmer having coffee, or at least ready to take a short break from the sun-up to sun-down farm chores. In the winter, we’d often come home off the bus to find mom and dad sitting at the table having coffee with one of the neighbours that had stopped by.
Life had a predictable rhythm and socializing was an important part of that.
We kids didn’t drink coffee (and weren’t interested in sitting around and visiting) so we weren’t involved in the daily coffee time, but the coffee-time cake was always available on the counter for us to cut a big slab off.
The cakes varied, often a yeast-dough-based fruit streusel kuchen, sometimes a variety of German cheesecake, other times flaky poppyseed, nut, or apple strudels, and always delicious. My mom baked without recipes, using feel, smell and look.
When I saw the recipe for Versunkener Apfel Kuchen on the smitten kitchen blog, it brought me right back to the cakes of my childhood. We had just never had a proper name for them, calling them simply ‘Apfel Kuchen‘ (apple cake) if they involved apples. One of my German cookbooks also calls this cake ‘Geschlupfter Apfelkuchen’ (slipped apple cake). Whichever name you go by, it is wonderfully, simply, delicious. The apples, which have sunken partially into the cake, create pockets of tangy, saucy apple melting into the slightly sweet and dense cake batter – totally comforting (almost wholesome as far as cakes go!).
A bite of this cake makes me want to bring back the coffee time ritual (though it’s mighty fine with a good hot cup of tea, too). I’ve made it numerous times in the last few weeks, tweaking the recipe til it’s juuuuuust right – and each time the cake has disappeared from the counter by the end of the day. Even the ‘in progress’ versions were greedily gobbled up.
I tell you, there is definitely something special and very I need another piece about this cake. Dress it up with a snowdrift of icing sugar and it is special enough for company, or cut big slabs of it to pack in lunches or munch on as an after-school snack. The honey and applesauce help keep it moist for days – if it lasts that long!
Kitchen Frau Notes: I’ve taken some liberties with this gluten-free version of the cake, using ground golden flax and water instead of eggs, adding applesauce and extra leavening to compensate for the heavier flours, and using apple cider vinegar to coat the apples for an extra layer of apple flavour.
The ground flax gives the cake the structure it needs when using gluten-free flours. Regular brown flax can be substituted for the golden flax seeds.
I’ve also made it with ¾ cup (100gms) oat flour instead of the buckwheat flour and it has turned out beautifully.
If you’d rather make the wheat flour and egg version, check out the link below.
‘Versunkener Apfel Kuchen’ (German Sunken Apple Cake)
adapted from smitten kitchen blog and ‘Die echte deutsche Küche’ cookbook (by Sabine Sälzer and Gudrun Ruschitzka)
gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free
For the apples:
- 1 tablespoon liquid honey
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 4 to 5 small apples (about 1 lb/450gms)
For the cake:
- ½ cup plus 1 tablespoon (140ml) warm water
- 7 tablespoons (50gms) ground golden flax seeds
- ½ cup (113grams) coconut oil or butter (use coconut oil for dairy-free)
- ½ cup (180gms) liquid honey
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- ½ cup (120gms) unsweetened applesauce
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons (100 grams) light buckwheat flour
- ½ cup (50gms) hazelnut or almond flour/meal
- ¼ cup (40gms) tapioca starch or cornstarch
In a measuring cup or small bowl, combine the warm water and ground flax seeds. Set aside to gel.
Whisk together the 1 tablespoon honey and the apple cider vinegar in a medium-sized bowl. Peel the apples, halve them, and cut out the cores. Lay each half flat in your hand and with a paring knife, make shallow cuts close together across the whole half. I find that rocking the paring knife from top to bottom gives me more control so I don’t cut the apples right through (but no problem if you do – you can fit them back together when you place them on the cake). Move each apple half around in the vinegar mixture to coat all sides of it so it doesn’t discolour. Set the bowl of apples aside.
Preheat the oven to 350°.
Line a 9 inch springform pan with a circle cut to fit out of parchment paper and grease the sides and paper with cooking oil spray, butter, or coconut oil.
Cream the coconut oil or butter with the honey. Add the vanilla, applesauce and flax gel. Beat until combined.
Add the remaining dry ingredients and mix slowly to keep the starch from flying into the air. Beat until you have a smooth batter.
Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Arrange the cut apples on the top, pressing them down slightly into the batter. Drizzle with the honey/vinegar mixture remaining in the bowl.
Bake for 45 minutes or until the top is golden brown and springs back when touched in the middle.
Let cool in the pan, remove the sides and sprinkle with a lovely drift of icing sugar if you like (place the icing sugar in a small sieve and hold it over the cake, scraping the sugar gently with a spoon).
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