Why It Works
- Layering thinly sliced apples in a roughly uniform pattern produces clean, even slices of cake.
- White miso lends savory complexity to the cake and the caramel sauce.
- Slowly cooling the cake in the pan ensures that the pectin from the apples in the cake fully sets before serving.
Leave it to the French to invent a cake that evokes a sense of mystery. Gâteau invisible aux pommes, or "invisible apple cake," features dozens of intersecting layers of thinly sliced apples bound in a sweet, custardy batter. Why invisible? When baked, the apples seem to disappear into the cake, and become texturally indistinguishable from the custard, forming a cohesive, sliceable dessert that’s decidedly more fruit than cake. (Apple a day? How about a whole cake’s worth of apples.) It’s often served with nuts and a caramel sauce. Think sweet apple gratin, but just a hair fancier.
Despite its French origins, gâteau invisible has found particular popularity in Japan. As a nod to that cultural-geographic pairing, I wanted to incorporate miso into this version of the dessert. While miso is known for being an ultra-salty, umami-packed condiment primarily used in savory dishes, it can also be a valuable component in sweet dishes. As bakers, we are taught to use salt to enhance the flavor of baked goods: Just a small pinch of salt brings complexity, reduces our perception of bitter flavors, and balances desserts that would otherwise be excessively sweet. Miso has these qualities in spades. When used judiciously, it lends nutty, caramel-like flavors that meld seamlessly with cold-weather flavors like butterscotch, pumpkin, and, of course, apple.
This cake begins with a loose batter of eggs and flour, along with a generous helping of white miso. Thinly sliced apples are folded into the batter, then loaded into a pan and baked. I tested different baking vessels, from large springform pans to square aluminum brownie pans, but found that a simple one-pound aluminum loaf pan produced the most impressive, uniform slices. As for assembly, I tried several methods ranging from simply dumping everything into the pan to meticulously arranging the apples in a seamless pattern. In the end, I found it important to arrange the apple slices such that their flat sides are flush with the edges of the pan, while filling the spaces between with a more random overlapping pattern. This method produced a cake with clean, straight sides and fewer irregularities.
Gâteau invisible is often served with a caramel sauce. For an off-beat riff on salted caramel, I whisk white miso into a scaled down variation of Stella’s Easy Caramel Sauce. In addition to its salt content, miso contributes nutty, fruity, and savory notes that give the caramel more depth of flavor. That one-two punch of miso both in the cake and the sauce yields a deeply satisfying dessert that’s great served at any temperature, any time of day.
- For the Cake:
- Vegetable oil or cooking spray, for greasing the pan
- 1 cup all-purpose flour (5 ounces; 142g), plus more for dusting the pan
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 3 tablespoons (54g) white miso (see note)
- 2 tablespoons (28g) unsalted butter, melted
- 1/2 cup whole milk (120ml)
- 3 large eggs
- 2/3 cup (4 3/4 ounces; 133g) sugar
- 2 1/2 pounds (1.1kg) apples, such as Fuji or Pink Lady, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/16- to 1/8-inch thick slices (see note)
- For the Caramel Sauce:
- 1/4 cup (60ml) water
- 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (4 1/4 ounces; 120g) sugar
- 3/4 cup (180ml) heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons (36g) white miso
For the Cake: Grease an 8 1/2- by 4 1/2-inch loaf pan and line with a 8- by 13-inch sheet of parchment paper so that parchment hangs over the long sides of the pan, forming a sling.
Grease exposed sides of parchment paper, then dust with flour, making sure to lightly coat bottom and sides; carefully tap out excess flour. Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat to 375°F (190°C).
In a small bowl, whisk flour and baking powder until well combined, at least 30 seconds; set bowl aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk miso and butter until miso is broken up. Whisk in roughly 2 tablespoons of milk until mixture is smooth and no lumps remain, about 30 seconds. Whisk in remaining milk until smooth; set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, whisk eggs and sugar at medium speed until pale and glossy, 60 to 90 seconds. (Alternatively, beat eggs and sugar in a large mixing bowl using an electric handheld mixer or a whisk, about 90 seconds for the electric mixer and 2 minutes for the whisk.)
Whisk in half of flour mixture until just combined. Whisk in milk mixture, followed by remaining flour mixture, until no lumps remain.
Using a large rubber spatula or wooden spoon, stir apples into batter until evenly coated.
Using clean hands, arrange apple slices in prepared loaf pan in an overlapping pattern, making sure that flat sides of the apples are flush with the edges of pan (as you work, reserve some of the largest, nicest apple slices for the top layer; you'll need roughly 40 to 50 slices for it). Continue arranging apples in even layers until apples are 1/2 inch from top; press apples down to evenly distribute.
Arrange final layer of apples in horizontal, shingled pattern.
Scrape remaining batter into pan, making sure to leave 1/4 inch space from top; gently tap pan to knock out air pockets and distribute batter.
Set loaf pan on middle rack of oven and slide a rimmed baking sheet on the rack underneath to catch any drips. Bake until top is golden brown and domed and a cake tester or toothpick inserted into the center meets little resistance and comes out clean, 65 to 75 minutes; rotate pan one time halfway through baking. Transfer cake to wire rack and cool for 10 minutes; loosen sides with butter knife or offset spatula. Cool cake in pan to about 140°F (60°C), about 2 hours. Then lift loaf using overhanging parchment and transfer to a cutting board. Let cake cool completely before slicing, about 1 hour longer.
Meanwhile, for the Caramel: In a 3-quart stainless steel saucier, combine water and sugar over medium heat. Stir with a fork until syrup comes to a boil, about 4 minutes, then simmer without stirring until syrup is honey-colored, roughly 5 minutes, shaking and swirling as needed to ensure even caramelization. Continue cooking until syrup is light to medium amber, about 1 minute longer.
Immediately add cream and reduce heat to medium-low.
Stirring constantly with a heat-resistant spatula to knock back the foam, simmer until caramel registers 225°F (107°C) on a digital thermometer, about 3 minutes.
Off heat, whisk in miso until smooth and combined. Transfer sauce to a heat-safe container.
To serve, using a serrated knife, cut cake into 1-inch thick slices and serve with warm or room temperature caramel.
8 1/2- by 4 1/2-inch loaf pan
White (shiro) miso works best with this recipe; darker misos such as red miso, awase miso, or barley miso will yield a more savory cake, and could yield a darker caramel sauce.
I tested this recipe with Fuji apples, Pink Lady apples, Lady Alice apples, Granny Smith apples, and Golden Delicious apples; I prefer Fuji, Pink Lady, or Lady Alice, but different apples may produce slightly different textures and flavors. When assembling the cake, you can quickly pour in all of the apples and batter, but the resulting cake will not be as uniform in appearance. Because of variation in the shape of the apples, the amount of apples that will fit into the pan may vary. When purchasing apples, buy a few extra in order to fill the pan if necessary. You can slice the apples from anywhere between 1/16 of an inch up to 1/8 of an inch; the thinner you slice the apples, the more layers you will get in the cake and the more cohesive the baked cake will be, though you have to weigh that against the more tedious layering process of thinner slices.
Make-Ahead and Storage
The cake can be stored, covered, at room temperature for up to 1 day. The caramel can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 7 days; gently rewarm to a pourable consistency before using.