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Milk Street Best European Desserts (Ep 405)

German Apple Cake (Apfelkuchen)

Start to finish: 2 hours 30 minutes | Makes one 9-inch tart

Apfelkuchen, or apple cake, is a classic German sweet of which there are numerous versions. We were particularly fond of Luisa Weiss’s recipe in “Classic German Baking,” which is her adaptation of a recipe she found on a package of almond paste. Almond paste gives the cake’s crumb a custardy richness, a moist, tender texture and a pleasant—but not overpowering—almond fragrance and flavor. Tangy-sweet sliced apples are fanned on top of the batter and baked into the surface to elegant effect. You will need an apple corer to punch out the cores from the apples before halving them. If you don’t own one, halve the apples, then notch out the cores with a paring knife. [This recipe was developed with a conventional (that is, not nonstick) springform pan. If yours is nonstick or otherwise has dark finish, to prevent overbaking, heat the oven to 350°F and begin checking for doneness on the low end of the time range.]

Don’t use marzipan in place of the almond paste. Marzipan is sweeter than almond paste. Also, make sure the almond paste is fresh and pliable, not dried out and hard, or it won’t break down properly during mixing. The apples can be peeled, cored and halved before you make the cake batter, but don’t slice the apple halves until the batter is in the pan. If sliced sooner, the apples may discolor.


  • 130 grams (1 cup) all-purpose flour, plus more for the pan
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 214 grams (1 cup) white sugar, plus 2 tablespoons for the sprinkling
  • 4 ounces almond paste, broken into rough ½-inch pieces
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) salted butter, cool room temperature
  • 3 large eggs, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 small Granny Smith apples (about 12 ounces total), peeled, cored and halved lengthwise
  • Powdered sugar, to serve


Heat the oven to 375°F with a rack in the middle position. Mist a 9- inch springform pan with cooking spray, then dust with flour; tap out the excess. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour and baking powder.

In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, mix the 214 grams (1 cup) sugar, almond paste and salt on low until the paste has broken into crumbly bits, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the butter and mix until combined, about 30 seconds. Increase to medium-high and beat until the mixture is pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes, scraping the bowl as needed. Reduce to medium, then add the eggs, one at a time, beating for about 20 seconds after each addition.

Scrape down the bowl, then add the vanilla and continue mixing on medium until well-combined, about 2 minutes. Reduce to low, add the flour mixture and mix just until the batter is evenly moistened, about 10 seconds; it will be thick. Using the spatula, scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl and give the batter a few folds to ensure no pockets of butter or flour remain. Transfer to the prepared pan and spread in an even layer, smoothing the surface.

Slice each apple half into ⅛-inch-thick half circles; do not separate the slices. With your hand, gently press down on each half to fan the slices. Divide the fanned apples into 8 equal portions without undoing the fanned effect. Slide a thin spatula or butter knife under the apples, then slide the slices off the spatula near the outer edge of the cake with the slices fanning outward from the center. One at a time, position another 6 sets of slices on the cake, creating an evenly spaced spoke pattern. Place the last set of apple slices in the center. Sprinkle the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar evenly over the top.

Bake until the edges of the cake are deep golden brown and a toothpick inserted at the center comes out clean, 50 to 60 minutes. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Run a paring knife around the inside of the pan to loosen, then remove the pan sides. Serve warm or at room temperature; dust with powdered sugar just before serving.

Belgian Spice Cookies (Speculoos)

Start to finish: 1 hour, plus cooling| Makes about 6 dozen cookies

Speculoos are Belgian spice cookies with a light, airy crispness. Creaming the butter and sugar until light and fluffy is important, so make sure the butter is softened to cool room temperature, then beat in the stand mixer for the full 5 minutes. The dough can be cut in any shape, but the baking time may need to be adjusted if the cookies are much smaller or larger than 2 inches.

Don’t use light corn syrup in place of dark; light corn syrup lacks the caramel notes that mimics the flavor of the type of brown sugar (made from beets traditionally used to make speculoos.


  • ¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¾ teaspoon ground coriander
  • ¾ teaspoon ground allspice
  • 2 tablespoons white sugar
  • 320 grams (2⅔ cups) cake flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1½ teaspoons baking soda
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground cloves
  • 12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) salted butter, cool room temperature
  • 218 grams (1 cup) packed light brown sugar
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons dark corn syrup

INSTRUCTIONS Heat the oven to 350°F with a rack in the middle position. Line 2 baking sheets with kitchen parchment. In a small bowl, stir together the cinnamon, coriander and allspice. Measure 1 teaspoon of the mixture into another small bowl, whisk the white sugar into it and set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together the cake flour, baking soda, cloves and remaining spice mixture.

In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, brown sugar and salt on low until combined, about 30 seconds. Increase to medium-high and beat until fluffy and pale, about 5 minutes. With the mixer running, gradually add the corn syrup and 2 tablespoons water. Using a silicone spatula, scrape the sides of the bowl, then mix for another 30 seconds. Reduce to low, add the flour mixture and mix until the ingredients just begin to form an evenly moistened dough, about 15 seconds.

Dust the counter liberally with flour and scrape the dough onto it. Gently knead the dough, giving it 2 or 3 turns, until smooth; it should feel moist and supple but should not be sticky. Divide the dough in half; wrap 1 piece in plastic and set aside. With your hands, pat the second piece into a rough 8-by-6-inch rectangle.

Using a well-floured rolling pin, roll the dough rectangle to an even ⅛-inch thickness. With a 2-inch rectangular or round cookie cutter (ideally with a fluted edge), cut out cookies as close together as possible. Use an offset spatula to carefully transfer the cutouts to one of the prepared baking sheets, spacing them about ½ inch apart.

Gently pat the dough scraps together, then re-roll and cut out additional cookies; transfer the cutouts to the baking sheet. If desired, use a slightly smaller cutter of the same shape to imprint a decorative border (do not cut all the way through the dough) and use a toothpick to poke a few holes in the centers. Sprinkle the cookies evenly with half of the spiced sugar, then refrigerate uncovered for 15 minutes.

While the first sheet of cookies chills, repeat with the remaining dough and second baking sheet. Place the first sheet of cookies in the oven, then immediately refrigerate the second sheet. Bake until the cookies are firm and beginning to brown, 16 to 18 minutes, rotating once halfway through. Cool on the baking sheet for 10 minutes, then use a wide metal spatula to transfer them to a wire rack. Repeat with the second sheet of cookies. Cool completely before serving.

Danish Dream Cake

Start to finish: 50 minutes, plus cooling | Servings: 12

In our version of drømmekage (dream cake), a light, fluffy vanilla cake meets a buttery coconut–brown sugar topping. The topping is spread onto the still-warm cake, then a brief stint under the broiler caramelizes the surface. When applying the topping, spoon it onto the cake’s edges, which are sturdier than its center, then spread inward to cover the entire cake. You will need a broiler-safe 9-by-13-inch baking pan for this recipe (note that neither nonstick nor Pyrex is considered broiler-safe). For slicing, use a serrated knife to make clean cuts. Wrapped well and stored at room temperature, leftovers will keep two days.

Don’t underwhip the eggs and sugar. The mixture should be beaten with the whisk attachment until pale and thick. The air incorporated during whipping is in part what makes the cake light. Also, don’t forget to tent the finished cake with foil after broiling. It’s an unusual step, but the foil traps a little moisture and prevents the topping from forming a brittle crust so the cake is easier to cut for serving.


  • 210 grams (1¾ cups) cake flour, plus more for the pan
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 4 large eggs
  • 214 grams (1 cup) white sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1¾ cups whole milk, divided
  • 299 grams (1½ cups) dark brown sugar
  • 12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) salted butter
  • 340 grams (3¼ cups) unsweetened shredded coconut


Heat the oven to 350°F with a rack in the middle position. Mist a broiler-safe 9-by-13-inch baking pan with cooking spray, dust evenly with flour, then tap out the excess. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour and baking powder, then sift into a medium bowl or onto a large sheet of kitchen parchment.

In the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, beat the eggs, white sugar, vanilla and salt on low until the sugar dissolves, about 20 seconds. Increase to medium-high and whip until the mixture is pale and thick, 5 to 6 minutes. Reduce to low, add about one-third of the flour mixture and mix until almost incorporated, about 10 seconds. With the mixer running, slowly pour in ½ cup of milk. Repeat with half of the remaining flour mixture and another ½ cup of the remaining milk. With the mixer still running, add the remaining flour mixture and mix just until no flour clumps remain, about 20 seconds. Using a silicone spatula, fold the batter, scraping along the bottom of the bowl, to ensure the ingredients are well combined. The batter will be very thin.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake until just beginning to brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 22 minutes. Set the pan on a wire rack and heat the broiler.

In a medium saucepan, combine the remaining ¾ cup milk, the brown sugar and butter. Bring to a boil over medium-high, stirring to dissolve the sugar, then boil for 4 minutes. Remove from the heat, add the coconut and stir until evenly moistened. Spoon the topping onto the outer edges of the warm cake, then gently spread into an even layer over the surface. Broil until the top is bubbling and deep golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes, rotating the pan if needed for even browning.

Set the pan on a wire rack and tent with foil. Let cool for at least 30 minutes. Cut into pieces and serve warm or at room temperature.

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