At a local Spanish restaurant not long ago, the most delicious dessert was surprisingly simple: creamy vanilla ice cream with sherry poured over the top. The sherry was so fragrant, caramely and warming, I knew it had to soon make an appearance in one of my desserts. When I ended up with a mountain of apples not long after, the pairing seemed meant to be: an apple-sherry cake was in the works.
I desired a recipe that would use a lot of apples, and I wanted to make sure each slice of cake held a significant amount of fruit. I also craved cooked apples that were super tender, for a melt-in-your-mouth texture that would amp up the comfort-food factor.
Pre-roasting halved apples in butter and sherry was the perfect solution, and it infused each apple with a soft, rich warmth. What’s more: the leftover sherry-butter would go straight into the cake batter, along with more sherry and some apple juice for extra moisture and natural sweetness.
I decided to reach for toothsome, nutty almond meal alongside flour, and turbinado sugar for its mellow sweetness with hints of molasses. To echo the flecks of almond within, I stuffed each apple with a ball of sweet almond paste and a topping of sliced nuts — which are not only decorative but also help prevent the paste from sticking to the pan or parchment.
Finally, on some occasions, I’ve added a bit of minced fresh rosemary to the recipe; it’s a delightfully herbal complement to the assembly of ingredients — though the cake is also perfectly delicious without it.
While this turned into an admittedly long recipe, the steps are all simple and flow together with ease. Plus, you can shorten the time by prepping the dry ingredients and almond paste balls while the apples pre-bake. In the end, the result is surely worth the process: an utterly delicious cake that elicits lots of oohs and ahhs with its succulent texture and luscious, comforting flavors — as well as a nice size that will satisfy a crowd.
Almond apple cake with sherry and rosemary
Makes 12-24 slices, depending on size
Prepare the apples:
6-8 apples, depending on size (about 2.75 – 3 pounds total; any type will do — though smaller, firmer varieties tend to be easier to work with than larger, softer ones)
1/4 cup melted butter
1/3 cup sherry
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons turbinado sugar
3 ounces firm almond paste
1/2 ounce sliced almonds (roughly 2 tablespoons)
Peel apples and cut each one in half down the center. Remove stems, and scoop out the seeds and core of each half using a small rounded spoon. Use a paring knife to remove any lingering spine or stem pieces. Set apples cut side down and check to make sure they are all no thicker than about an inch, and are all about the same thickness. If needed, gently trim thin slices from the non-cored sides of apples to create the right size.
Preheat oven to 350ºF. Line inner bottom of a 9″ x 13″ pan with parchment, then spread 2 tablespoons of the melted butter evenly onto parchment. Place apples in the lined pan cut side up; you should have 12 to 16 apple halves, depending on size.
Whisk the remaining 2 tablespoons melted butter with the sherry. Spoon all of the mixture over apples, filling the cored-out centers and letting it overflow. Sprinkle evenly with salt and turbinado sugar.
Bake for 30-35 minutes (shorter if apples are very small). Remove apples from oven; leave oven on. Let apples cool in pan until cool enough to handle. Then transfer apples to a plate, cut side up — leaving all liquid behind in the cake pan for now (you’ll need it later).
Shape almond paste into small, slightly flattened balls that will fit into each apple center without poking out; you want the apples flush against the pan. Before stuffing the apples, press at least three almond slices firmly against a flat side of each ball. Then gently place in apple centers, almond side up. Set aside. (Note: Stuffing the apples’ centers prevents them from floating to the top of the cake while baking, and adding the sliced nuts helps to keep almond paste from sticking to the parchment. Do not skip.)
Prepare the cake:
2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 cup almond meal (preferably skin-on; not blanched)
3/4 cup turbinado sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
3 eggs at room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups apple juice
Up to 3/4 cup sherry
2 teaspoons finely minced fresh rosemary, loosely packed (optional)
Leave oven at 350ºF. Pour remaining sherry-butter liquid from cake pan into a measuring cup that holds at least 3/4 cup liquid. Set aside. Remove and discard parchment, and wipe out baking pan with a paper towel. Re-grease inside of pan and line with a fresh piece of parchment, leaving a generous overhang on the long edges. Then generously grease parchment at the bottom of pan where apples will sit when baked.
Place stuffed apple halves in pan, cut side down in rows, gently pressing into place so that apples are flat against the parchment. Set pan aside. Into a medium bowl, sift the flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder. Whisk in the almond meal until evenly dispersed and no lumps remain. Set aside.
In a large bowl, mix the turbinado sugar and melted butter. Beat in the eggs one at a time, followed by the extracts. Add the mixed dry ingredients in 2 to 3 portions, alternating with the apple juice, stirring until ingredients are incorporated. Be sure to scrape bowl often with a rubber spatula as you mix.
Add more sherry to the leftover sherry-butter liquid to make 3/4 cup total liquid. Add to batter and mix just until consistency is even and smooth. Fold in rosemary if using, stirring until evenly dispersed. Slowly pour batter over the arranged apples. Then tap pan gently on counter 2 to 3 times to release any hidden air bubbles.
Bake on center oven rack for about 35-45 minutes, or until center bounces back when pressed and no longer jiggles. Surface will be toasty brown; don’t worry if it has cracked a bit during baking.
Remove cake from oven and let cool in pan until lukewarm or room temperature. When ready to serve (preferably between 2 to 8 hours of baking), invert cake onto serving plate or cutting board. Remove parchment, cut and enjoy. This cake tastes best at room temperature or slightly warmed.