My Goals

  • An evenly baked cake

  • Pervasive apple flavor

  • Easy method

If you’re making an apple cake, there are some very good reasons to bake it in a Bundt pan. For starters, the generous size and graceful, undulating ring shape of a Bundt cake looks impressive—especially considering that Bundt cakes come together fairly easily. What’s more, instead of making a buttercream, ganache, or other frosting that requires cooking or mixing in a large appliance, Bundt cakes are adorned with a stir-together icing that’s either drizzled or poured over the top of the cake so that it drips attractively down the sides. But the most compelling reason to make an apple cake in a Bundt pan? Enhanced energy transfer.

I know that sounds hopelessly nerdy, but bear with me. Apple flavor is relatively mellow, so if you want a cake with robust apple flavor, you have to pack in a ton of fruit. And to accommodate the moisture that all those apples will release, the batter has to be pretty thick and stiff, which can be a problem when it comes to baking: The denser the batter, the lower the moisture and the longer it takes for the oven’s heat to penetrate from the outside to the middle. That’s especially problematic if you bake the batter in a standard round pan, since heat transfer can take so long that the edges of the cake overcook while the middle stays wet and dense.

Bundt Pans: Built for Thick Batters

Though it creates an aesthetically unique cake, the central hole in a Bundt pan is really a practical innovation. It tunnels through the center of the cake, providing faster and more even heat distribution so that dense batters, such as the one used to make our Cider-Glazed Apple Bundt Cake, bake uniformly from edge to edge. When baked in a conventional round cake pan, these batters overcook at the edges long before their centers set.

Enter the Bundt. The central hole in a Bundt pan does more than just eliminate the problematic middle—it actually allows heat to flow through the center of the cake so that it bakes simultaneously from the inside out and from the outside in, producing a more evenly baked cake. I theorized that if I used a Bundt pan, I could pack my cake with enough apples to produce plenty of flavor without harming the texture—and to some degree, I was right. Baking several apple Bundt cakes confirmed that the shape of the pan ensured a uniformly moist crumb even in cakes made from very thick batters. But all the cakes were light on apple flavor, and in some cases that flavor was completely obscured by assertive warm spices such as cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, and allspice.

Using a Bundt pan was a good start, but it wasn’t enough to ensure a cake that really tasted like apples. Maybe I just needed to add more fruit.

To compensate for the moisture that apples release during baking, many of the recipes we sampled simply use a conservative amount of apples. We wanted a way to avoid sogging out the batter without sacrificing any of the apple flavor.

The Cider House Rules

Most of the apple Bundt cake recipes I’d tried called for 1 to 2 pounds of apples, which honestly didn’t sound like that much; depending on size, there are between 2 and 4 apples in a pound. But once I’d baked the cakes, it was obvious why recipes didn’t call for more. The fruit-heavy cakes were so flooded with moisture that the crumb was soggy and dense, with a compact, Play Doh–like texture in places. And even then, the fruit flavor was lacking. Somehow I needed to boost the apple flavor while decreasing the amount of apples, which sounded like a job for an apple concentrate of some kind.

Until now, I’d been mixing up a thick batter by combining dry ingredients (flour, salt, leaveners, and small amounts of cinnamon and allspice) in one bowl and wet (melted butter, brown sugar, eggs, milk, and vanilla) in another and then gently stirring the two together. Going forward, I could replace the milk with some form of apple concentrate—but what, exactly? Making applesauce or even apple butter would remove excess water but not without adding work and time to what I’d hoped would be a simple project. And I reluctantly dismissed the convenience of using commercial versions of either product, since there would surely be inconsistencies in water content or sweetness across brands that would make the flavor and texture of the cake unpredictable.

For extra brightness, we added Granny Smith apples. Grating the apples, as opposed to adding them in chunks, gave our cake an extra burst of flavor without the added moisture.

But what about apple cider? With a little digging, I found that it takes more than 12 pounds of apples to make a single gallon of cider, so I reasoned that it can be considered a concentrated form of the fruit. Also, its simplicity—cider is just the juice of crushed apples—means it’s pretty consistent. I swapped it in for the milk and also added 1½ pounds of grated Granny Smith apples, since their tartness would deliver brighter flavor than sweeter apples would. I deliberately avoided cutting the apples into chunks for two reasons: They leave pockets of gooey, underbaked batter around them, and they shrink, so that gaps form around them and make the cake look pocked. I poured the batter into a greased and floured Bundt pan, baked it for about an hour in a 350-degree oven, allowed the cake to cool briefly, and carefully unmolded it. To further bolster the apple flavor, I whisked some cider into confectioners’ sugar to make an icing, which I drizzled over the cake. The crumb was much improved, neither soggy nor gooey, but the fruit flavor was only slightly stronger, and the icing, while pretty, was not particularly appley.

Why We Chuck the Chunks

Apple chunks provide bursts of juicy fruit flavor. Unfortunately, they also release moisture into the batter during baking, leaving wet patches and holes in the crumb as they shrink. Instead, we grate the apples; the finer pieces result in more-even distribution of flavor and moisture.

The Boiling Point

Since cider lacked the required intensity, I considered enhancing my cake with boiled cider, a syrupy, superreduced form of the juice that I see occasionally in New England markets in the fall. It would be the perfect solution to my problem—if only it were more widely available. But I still had plenty of cider left. Why not make my own boiled cider?

I placed a 12-inch skillet (the greater the surface area, the speedier the reduction) on the stovetop, poured in 4 cups of cider, and boiled it over high heat until it was reduced to 1 cup. That took a good 25 minutes, but during that time I was able to gather and measure all my other ingredients and peel and grate another 1½ pounds of apples.

One Cup = Three Pounds of Flavor

You can pack only so much fresh apple into a cake before the fruit’s moisture makes the crumb soggy. We maximized the apple flavor by supplementing grated apple with an apple cider concentrate. Apple cider itself is a form of concentrate; there are about 3 pounds of apples in every quart of cider, which we further intensified by reducing this volume to 1 cup.

My reduction wasn’t as viscous as boiled cider from a bottle, but it had a similarly intense sweetness and acidity, much like sour apple–flavored candy in liquid form. I stirred ½ cup into the wet ingredients and proceeded with the recipe as before. While the cake baked, I whisked 2 tablespoons of the remaining reduced cider into some confectioners’ sugar to make an icing that I hoped would taste brighter and fruitier. I had about 6 tablespoons of cider reduction left over, which I hated to waste, so I brushed it over the surface of the cake once I’d unmolded it. Once the liquid had sunk in, I drizzled the cake with the icing and set it aside to cool.

I took a bite of the final product, which really was packed with true, vibrant apple flavor. All that layering of apple flavor—from the grated fresh fruit and reduced cider in the batter to the reduction brushed over the warm cake to the cider glaze—had paid off. And since the cake itself was nothing more than a simple dump-and-stir style, it was a dessert I could casually throw together as a snack for tea or as an easy but elegant dessert for a crowd.

Keys to Success

  • An evenly baked cake

    Baking our thick, dense batter in a Bundt pan rather than a round pan allows heat to flow through the center of the cake, ensuring that it bakes evenly from edge to edge.
  • Pervasive apple flavor

    Mixing a cider reduction into the batter, brushing it onto the baked cake, and using it to flavor the icing drizzled on top provides layers of apple flavor. Small amounts of cinnamon and allspice highlight the fruit flavor without overwhelming it.
  • Easy method

    A dump-and-stir mixing method means that the batter doesn’t require a stand mixer or food processor.