This phenomenal French Apple Cake is packed with apples and has a dense, creamy base with a cake-like top layer. It boasts a simple list of ingredients, no fancy equipment, and comes together easily. Guaranteed to be a fall favorite, this timeless recipe is beautifully rustic and tastes just as amazing as it looks.

French apple cake on a round serving plate with one slice cut away and on its side.

Why You’re Going to Love It

This French apple cake has a dual texture going on – apples are nestled into a creamy, dense, custard-like bottom, while the top has a more traditional tender and airy cake texture.

The cake is not overly sweet but is bursting with fresh apple flavor and the sprinkling of powdered sugar on top is the perfect accompaniment.

Key Ingredient Notes

This cake has a very simple list of ingredients, but you may have questions about a few of them, so let’s tackle those first!

Ingredients for French apple cake prepped on a counter and labeled.

The Apples

Obviously, this is the star of the show and where nearly all of the flavor comes from! This recipe calls for Granny Smith apples, but you can also substitute similar baking varieties, such as:

  • Jonagold
  • Pink Lady
  • Fuji
  • Honeycrisp
  • Braeburn

The apples should be peeled, cored, and sliced for this recipe (see slicing directions in the recipe below).

Calvados

If you aren’t familiar, Calvados in a French brandy typically made from apples or pears. We use a small amount of this to toss the apples in after they are par-cooked for some authentic flavor since traditional French apple cake is made with a more noticeable amount of rum.

If you don’t have Calvados, you can substitute the following:

  • Apple brandy
  • Pear brandy
  • White rum
  • Spiced rum

You can also make this French apple cake with no rum or alcohol of any kind; simply omit it from the recipe – no substitutions necessary.

Vegetable Oil

While I have not found this cake to be the least bit oily, some reviewers have mentioned that the finished cake has a bit of an oily consistency. If you have found that to be true, first, be sure you whisk together the wet ingredients well so you really emulsify the mixture. You can also try any of the following substitutions:

  • Canola oil
  • Safflower oil
  • Substitute half of the oil with applesauce
  • Substitute half of the oil with melted, cooled butter and the other half applesauce

How to Make French Apple Cake

The humble simplicity of this dessert is what drew me to it so many years ago. Simple ingredients, simple equipment, and a simple process. Let’s get to it!

  • Prep the Pan: Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease a 9-inch springform pan and place it on a foil-lined baking sheet.
  • Par-Cook the Apples: Microwave the apples until they are pliable and slightly translucent, about 3 minutes (#1-2). Toss with Calvados and lemon juice and set aside (#3)
Step-by-step photos of sliced apples before and after being microwaved to par-cook.
  • Mix Together the Batter: In a small bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients (#4). In a medium bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients (#5). Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and whisk to combine (#6). Set aside 1 cup of the batter.
Step-by-step photos of mixing together the batter for French apple cake.
  • Create Custard Layer Batter: Add egg yolks to the remaining batter in the large bowl, then gently fold in the apples (#7). Transfer to the prepared pan and smooth into an even layer (#8).
Side-by-side photos of apples mixed into cake batter in a springform pan.
  • Create Cake Layer Batter: Whisk the remaining flour into the remaining batter in the small bowl, then spread in an even layer over the batter in the pan (#9-10). Sprinkle with the remaining granulated sugar.
Whisking flour into cake batter, then spread into a springform pan and sprinkled with sugar.
  • Bake and Cool: Bake until the center is set, about 1 hour 15 minutes. A toothpick should come out clean, or use an instant-read thermometer to bake to an internal temperature of 205 degrees F. Cool completely for 2 to 3 hours, then dust with powdered sugar and serve.
French apple cake on a serving plate being dusted with powdered sugar.

How to Serve It

The first time I made this, I enjoyed it plain, as I wanted to really have the apple flavor and both of the cake textures shine through, which was just phenomenal. The cake can be served warm, at room temperature, or chilled. Here are some topping ideas for you:

Storage, Freezing, and Make-Ahead Instructions

  • Storage: The cake can be kept in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days or in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
  • Make-Ahead: The cake needs to be cooled for 2 to 3 hours to allow it to set before serving. This makes it a perfect candidate to be baked in the morning and served in the evening. You can even prepare it up to 24 hours in advance and keep at room temperature until serving.
  • Freezing: Allow the cake to cool completely, then wrap in two layers of plastic wrap and a layer of aluminum foil. Freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw at room temperature overnight before serving.
A slice of apple cake on a speckled plate with pieces of a fork and apple in the background.

If you’ve been craving apple recipes as I have, or if you’ve gone apple picking and are drowning in bushels of apples, this French apple cake is an incredibly easy recipe that’s full of flavor and impressive enough for company.

French Apple Cake

This easy French Apple Cake is packed with apples, has a dense, creamy base, and a cake-like top layer. A simple recipe perfect for company!
4.37 (79 ratings)

Ingredients

  • pounds (680.39 g) Granny Smith apples, about 4 large apples, peeled, cored, cut into 8 wedges, and sliced ⅛ inch thick crosswise
  • 1 tablespoon Calvados, apple brandy or white rum
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 cup (125 g) + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, divided
  • 1 cup (200 g) + 1 tablespoon granulated sugar, divided
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon (0.5 teaspoon) salt
  • 1 egg
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 cup (218 ml) vegetable oil
  • 1 cup (244 ml) whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Powdered sugar, for dusting

Instructions 

  • Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Spray a 9-inch springform pan with non-stick cooking spray. Place the prepared pan on a rimmed baking sheet lined with aluminum foil.
  • Place the apple slices into pie plate, cover with an inverted plate, and microwave until the apples are pliable and slightly translucent, about 3 minutes. Toss the apple slices with Calvados and lemon juice and let cool for 15 minutes.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk together 1 cup of the flour, 1 cup of the granulated sugar, baking powder, and salt.
  • In a large bowl, whisk together the whole egg, oil, milk, and vanilla extract until smooth. Add the dry ingredients and whisk until just combined. Transfer 1 cup of the batter to a separate small bowl and set aside.
  • Add the egg yolks to the remaining batter in the large bowl and whisk to combine. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold in the cooled apples. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan; using an offset spatula, spread the batter evenly to the pan edges, gently pressing on the apples to create even, compact layer, and smooth surface.
  • Whisk the remaining 2 tablespoons of flour into the reserved batter. Pour over the batter in the pan and spread evenly to the pan edges and smooth the surface. Sprinkle the remaining 1 tablespoon granulated sugar evenly over the cake.
  • Bake until the center of the cake is set, a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and the top is golden brown, about 1 hour 15 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and cool for 5 minutes. Run a paring knife around the sides of the pan and cool completely, 2 to 3 hours. Dust lightly with powdered sugar before serving.

Notes

  • Equipment: 9-inch springform pan
  • Apples: Granny Smith are recommended, but you can substitute any of the following: Jonagold, Pink Lady, Fuji, Honeycrisp, or Braeburn.
  • Calvados: Substitute apple or pear brandy, white rum or spiced rum, or omit entirely.
  • Oil: Substitute canola or safflower oil, half applesauce, or half butter half applesauce.
  • Testing Doneness: Bake until a toothpick comes out clean or use an instant-read thermometer and bake to an internal temperature of 205 degrees F.
  • Serving Suggestions: Dusting of powdered sugar, vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, or salted caramel sauce.
  • Storage: The cake can be kept in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days or in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
  • Make-Ahead: The cake needs to be cooled for 2 to 3 hours to allow it to set before serving. This makes it a perfect candidate to be baked in the morning and served in the evening. You can even prepare it up to 24 hours in advance and keep at room temperature until serving.
  • Freezing: Allow the cake to cool completely, then wrap in two layers of plastic wrap and a layer of aluminum foil. Freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw at room temperature overnight before serving.
  • Recipe from Cook’s Illustrated.
Nutritional values are based on one serving
Calories: 384kcal, Carbohydrates: 41g, Protein: 3g, Fat: 24g, Saturated Fat: 19g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g, Monounsaturated Fat: 3g, Trans Fat: 1g, Cholesterol: 58mg, Sodium: 137mg, Potassium: 211mg, Fiber: 2g, Sugar: 28g, Vitamin A: 152IU, Vitamin C: 3mg, Calcium: 76mg, Iron: 1mg

Did you make this recipe?

Leave a review below, then snap a picture and tag @thebrowneyedbaker on Instagram so I can see it!

Photography by Dee Frances.