Impossible Apple Cake with Maple Ice Cream

Caramelized Apple Cake with Maple Ice CreamWe have mentioned this Caramelized Apple Cake before, because Michelle has tried to make it several times every apple season for years with little (OK, at least one) real success. The recipe pages in Susan Herrmann Loomis’ Cooking at Home on Rue Tatin have all sorts of scribbles covering them, adjusting the amount and thinness of apples, ingredients, mixing instructions and more. Time after time, it’s turned out underdone, overdone or just odd—but the damn thing keeps haunting us with its buttery, caramel apple taste.

Caramelized Apple Cake with Maple Ice Cream

Michelle had grown so wary of the dessert she avoided it all season, but recently returned to try it after another apple cake ended up as chicken feed (apple topping excellent but crumb too dense and “cornbready”). Once again assessing the elements that could go wrong, she decided to try a new, larger and deeper 9-inch cake pan and use the full amount of apples called for by the original recipe—and the results, for once, proved quite satisfactory. The cake, though thinner than the original, was densely buttery, yellow from our wonderful eggs and brown with caramelized sugar, the apples cooked to a soft yet firm texture. It went quite nicely with the maple and buttermilk ice cream we based on a Yankee Magazine recipe (leftover from the less successful prior apple cake night).

Maple Ice Cream

Will we be able to recreate this seemingly correct version of Loomis’ apple cake again? We might try soon, as apple season is almost over for us. We encourage you to give it a try—and if it comes out the same way two times in a row, please let us know.


(adapted from Susan Herrmann Loomis’ Cooking at Home on Rue Tatin)

  • 1/2 c. + 1/2 c. sugar
  • 1/2 c. + 1 TB all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 6 TB unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1-3/4 lb. apples (about 2 small + 2 large apples, a mix of soft and hard is good)

Preheat oven to 350° F.

Sprinkle a half cup of sugar in a deep 8″ or 9″ deep cake pan, preferably nonstick. Place on the stove over medium heat. Using kitchen tongs or a potholder, swirl the pan as necessary to melt and caramelize the sugar, being careful not to let it burn. Remove from heat and set aside, making sure that as the caramel hardens it is covering the bottom of the bottom of the pan completely.

Place flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Whisk to aerate.

Cream butter and remaining half cup of sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer until yellow and light. Add vanilla, then eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Peel and core apples. Cut into fourths, then cut each fourth into 3 or 4 slices. Spread apple slices over caramel in pan in concentric circles.

Fold flour mixture into the butter/egg mixture just until incorporated. Pour batter over apples and spread with a spatula to the edge of the pan.

Bake cake in center of oven until golden brown and puffy. In a 9″ pan, it took about 40 minutes. Test with a toothpick, keeping in mind that the apples will be moist.

Remove cake from oven and run a table knife around the edge of the pan. Invert onto a plate, replacing any apples that have stuck to the pan.


  • Servings: makes about 4 cups
  • Print

(adapted from Yankee Magazine)

  • 1-3/4 c. heavy cream
  • 1-1/4 c. buttermilk
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 1/2 c. + 1/2 c. maple syrup
  • Kosher or sea salt

Heat cream and buttermilk in a large saucepan until it scalds. Remove from heat.

Beat egg yolks with a half cup of the maple syrup for about 3 minutes.

Pour a bit of the hot cream/buttermilk mixture into egg/maple syrup mixture, beating to temper the eggs. Transfer the mixture into the pot. Stir in remaining half cup of maple syrup. Heat custard over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until it thickens. Remove from heat and stir in salt (taste for seasoning—it can take a good amount).

Pour custard through a fine-meshed strainer into a bowl. Let cool a bit, then refrigerate overnight, covered.

Freeze according to ice cream maker’s instructions.


  1. I admire your perseverance, I go back to some recipes that didn’t work out immediately, but not in the way you describe it! The cake looks wonderful, and the ice-cream looks great too! Maple and buttermilk sounds like the quintessence of North America to me.

    • Merci! I usually don’t stick with something this long, which is a testament to how delicious this cake is when the good apples are in season. While I have tried lots of variations (more/less apples, thicker/thinner slices and such), I think that much of it depends on the apples. I do scratch my head at the original recipe which calls for the apples to be cut into eighths. When I do that, the cake ends up overdone while the apples are still too crunchy for my taste.

  2. I’ve just made a similar Patricia Wells Pear Cake, but without the caramelised butter. I’m going to give this a go but I have a feeling I’ll be cleaning caramelised sugar off the hob for a while afterwards….I don’t think my non stick tin is entirely leak free:)

    • Ha! You might want to run out for a new pan. I’d hate to see the hob ruined.

      I think Wells has a somewhat similar cake in the Paris Cookbook—that is, one with lots of apples and very little batter. But you’re right: it’s the caramel that really ties it all together.

    • I really don’t think it’s a “bad recipe.” I think it has more to do with the apples one is using than anything else. And, in fall, during apple season, there’s a lot of variation in them. I’ve made tons of apple cakes and found most of them boring. This one, when it works, is the best of all.

  3. Did you know from the start that the recipe was actually ever going to give you a good result? I think I might have given up and just looked out another apple cake recipe instead … But well done Michelle for getting there at last! It looks amazing – and so vibrant. What clever hens you’ve got 🙂

    • I feel a bit like Goldilocks in my own apple cake story. I’ve tried so many and it’s always, “too gummy,” “too sweet,” “too something or other.” I’ve been making this one each fall probably since the book came out in 2005. Even if I don’t know exactly how it’s going to turn out, it’s never bad. 😉

  4. Well, I just got on the Boulder library website and requested a copy of RUE TATIN to take a look at it. I know I own a copy, but it’s locked away in a Texas storage unit. I’ll take a look at the copy and see if I see anything obvious. More than likely, there’s a typo in the liquids. At least, that’s what I’m telling myself. (Disparaging the author is too easy. Frequently these days, the recipes in cookbooks need some fiddling. What happened to editors and having others test recipes before going to print?)

    • Ha, Janet, I was halfway through a reply before I realized it was you. (Though Boulder Library should’ve been a tip-off!)

      I agree with you totally about the lack of editors and testers these days. (Loomis’ books, though, are exceptions. They’re all really good.) I really don’t think there’s anything wrong with this recipe. The cake part (of which there is little) is always delicious. I believe it has a lot to do with the apples–how firm they are, how juicy they are, how large they are, etc. The beauty of apple season is that they are all different. You will see when you find the book that I have increased the amount of caramel and cut the apples thinner than she calls for. The other changes I made were just reflections of ingredients I didn’t have on hand (e.g. using unsalted butter but increasing the salt, using vanilla extract instead of vanilla sugar). And, of course, it can have something to do with the differences in eggs. Ours are far from uniform.

  5. rrwriter

    Rarely, any more, does a dessert make me want to go through the work of figuring out whether a gluten-free version is possible. And especially when you’ve struggled with the wheat-y version. This one tempts. I can virtually taste it.

  6. I can’t imagine rolling the dice on the cake–if you’ve had so much trouble with it, I’m sure it wouldn’t work for me. Now the maple ice cream, on the other hand–that looks fabulous and more my speed. I have learned lots of very fine recipes from Yankee magazine!

  7. That caramelized top looks so good. I love that you’re basically telling me to make two cakes :). And I definitely want to try that maple ice cream. I feel like the buttermilk would temper the added sweetness from the maple, which can make maple-based ice creams tricky.

    • Thanks, Sacha! That caramel top, of course, is the primary thing that keeps me going back! You nailed it on the ice cream, too. The buttermilk keeps it from going too sickly sweet as maple desserts often can. And I will add that the ice cream stayed creamy much longer than most homemade ones do. I don’t know the science of it, but it did.

        • So, is maple an invert sugar? I got confused when I looked it up and they kept talking about different molecules combined. (There’s obviously a reason I’m a lawyer and not a scientist!)

          • It contains both invert sugar and sucrose, so if you’re only using tiny amounts or your ice cream base is very lean, it won’t always be a magic bullet. But I’d rather use that than flavorless pure invert syrup!

  8. I’ve been seeking a good apple cake recipe. A few weeks ago I was getting ready to make the French Apple Cake from Cooks Illustrated but bailed at the last minute because many of the reviews were so bad (I think the word bland, greasy and tasteless were used). But that hasn’t made me stop wanting to make — and eat! — one. Also that ice cream? Even though it’s freezing here I could eat a bowl of it.

      • Okay, so I made this with pears. Followed the recipe exactly with regard to fruit weights, etc. The flavor is gorgeous — I love the contrast of slightly-bitter sugar caramel against the sweet pears and cake — and since I am very fond of pears, I was happy with the substitution. It’s possible that the pears made the cake a bit wetter than it would be with apples, but that has its own benefits. I’d love to try this recipe in mini tart pans. Next up I’m going to have to make that ice cream. It sounds gorgeous.

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