Cook the Book: Travel via Taste with David Lebovitz’s Breton-Inspired Buckwheat Cake with Poached Apples

What is it about France that continues to enchant many a food enthusiast? Perhaps it is the French love of food and drink—a subject which American pastry chef and food writer David Lebovitz knows especially well. Having spent a number of years living in Paris, Lebovitz documents interesting finds, cooking trials and triumphs, and musings on Parisian culture on his blog. Consequently, he relives memories of France through his recipes, which he introduces with blurbs of his experiences (e.g., his “Racines Cake” inspired by a recipe he saw written on the walls of the restroom—yes, the restroom—of the Parisian restaurant of the same name).

In 2010’s Ready for Dessert, Lebovitz presents a collection of sweet recipes that range from cakes, cookies, fruit desserts (a genre he unsurprisingly pulls off well, having worked for the likes of the restaurant that played a huge part in propelling the ingredient-focused, locavore food movement in the US, Chez Panisse), and frozen treats—some with decidedly American flavors, such as the Pumpkin Cheesecake with Pecan Crust and Whiskey-Caramel Topping on page 53, and some that take after his French escapades. For instance: this Buckwheat Cake with Poached Apples, inspired by his trips to buckwheat-loving Brittany.

Buckwheat is a seed (contrary to its name, it bears no relation to actual wheat) that has been gaining popularity especially among gluten-free circles, but has traditionally been used in dishes from different cuisines around the world—think French galettes and Ukranian Hrechanyky. Along with another French baking staple, almond flour, it contributes a distinct coarse texture and a nutty flavor that adds character to an otherwise simple cake. It’s great plain (and feels especially moist the day after), but take Lebovitz’s advice and prepare the poached apples to go alongside. His original recipe calls for poaching the fruits (amusingly scooped into balls but feel free to just cut them into slices) in apple cider (read: not apple cider vinegar!), but the said beverage can be difficult to source locally. In place of the cider, he suggests unsweetened apple juice, which we used with great success. In each bite, you get the interplay of rustic cake and tart, juicy compote—and if you’re anything like us, don’t hesitate to top it off with a dollop of whipped cream.

Buckwheat Cake with Poached Apples

Adapted from Ready for Dessert by David Lebovitz
Yield: 8-10 servings
Time: 2 hours ( 30 mins prep / 1 hr cooking / 30 mins cooling )

Ingredients: Cake

  • 1½ cups almonds, sliced, blanched or unblanched
  • ½ cup buckwheat flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ¾ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • ½ cup plus 6 tablespoons sugar, divided
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
  • ¼ tsp salt

INGREDIENTS: Poached apples

  • 3 Granny Smith apples, very firm
  • 3 cups unsweetened apple juice
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 5 cloves

Ingredients: To Finish

  • whipped cream, optional

Procedure: CAKE

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F (175 C).
  2. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch cake pan, and line the bottom with a circle of parchment paper.
  3. In a food processor fitted with the metal blade or in a blender, pulverize the almonds with the buckwheat flour and baking powder until the almonds are powdery and very finely ground.
  4. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or in a bowl by hand, beat together the butter and ½ cup of the sugar on medium speed until very light and fluffy, 3-5 minutes. Beat in the vanilla and the egg yolks, one at a time, until combined.
  5. In a clean, dry bowl and with the whip attachment, whisk the egg whites on low speed until frothy. Add the salt and continue to whisk until the whites begin to hold their shape. Increase the speed to high, gradually add the remaining 6 tablespoons sugar, and continue whisking on high speed until the whites form soft, shiny peaks.
  6. Add the almond-buckwheat mixture to the creamed butter mixture and stir with a rubber spatula to combine (the batter will be thick). Stir in about one-third of the whipped egg whites. Carefully fold in the remaining egg whites until just incorporated; do not overfold.
  7. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Let cool completely.
  8. Run knife around the sides of the cake to help loosen it from the pan. Invert the cake onto a plate, peel off the parchment paper, and re-invert the cake onto a serving platter.

Procedure: Poached apples

  1. Peel the apples and, using a ½-inch diameter melon baller, scoop out balls. Or, cut the peeled apples into ½-inch slices.
  2. In a small saucepan, warm the apple juice, ½ cup sugar, the cinnamon stick, and cloves. Drop in the apple balls or slices and simmer gently over medium-low heat until the apples are just tender, about 10 minutes.

Procedure: To Finish

  1. To serve, slice the cake into wedges and serve with the warm poached apples, a spoonful of their syrup, and if desired, top off with whipped cream.


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