So last year, I was at pub trivia night in Brooklyn and one of the questions was: Name all four members of the band, The Black Eyed Peas.
Ok… well Fergie, obviously. Um, Will.i.am. Alright, we got this. Uh, gosh what’s his name… the one with the, you know, I…… and that’s as far as we got. Because NOBODY could remember what the other two even looked like. Answer: Fergie, Will.i.am… Taboo and apl.de.ap. Ohhhhhh… yah, I totally didn’t know that.
What I do know is that it makes for a nice segue into this apple-de-app dessert, Apple Pie Layer Cake aka Momofuku Milk Bar Exam no.3! no.1 was cookies, no.2 pie, and now CAKE. But Momofuku Milk Bar cakes are unlike any other cake I’ve ever seen or made. Christina Tosi is like the Betty Crocker of the future, so of course her cakes are assembled in a cake ring, wrapped in acetate sheets, and presented with their sides unfrosted.
Although I usually like a perfectly frosted cake, I’m marveled by this presentation. It reminds me of a trifle in which you see each layer of the individual components of the dessert. But let me tell you, I had a bit of a doozy tracking down the equipment.
- 6-inch cake ring: Ok, I just bought this one off Amazon so not that hard.
- acetate sheets: ??? You’d think in a city like New York, I’d have no problem finding them but when I went to Michael’s they told me to try Staples. I went to Staples and they said ‘maybe Michael’s?’ Needless to say, I Amazon-ed these last minute as well and was biting my nails with worry, afraid that they wouldn’t arrive in time for me to make this cake for my friend Emily’s birthday.
But they did and I sighed in relief and I made this cake and my friends all ate it. All’s well that ends… with cake. So word of advice, if you’re planning on making any Momofuku Milk Bar cake, make sure you locate all the necessary parts at least a week before you need them. Now, I’m not gonna lie. There’s a lot of parts to this cake. Just make sure you have everything prepared and stay really organized (the finished cake has to freeze for 12 hours before being served, so it’s not a last minute dessert).
All in all, it took me about 4.5 hours of work… not that bad. Just turn on a nice album and go to cake-town. It goes without saying that this cake is totally worth it. Each component is delicious on its own (the pie crumbs are my new fav snack) but together they are just apl.de.ap heaven.
apple pie layer cake
from Momofuku Milk Bar
makes 1 (6-inch) layer cake; 5 to 6 inches tall; serves 6 to 8
- 1 recipe Barely Brown Butter Cake
- 1 recipe Apple Cider Soak
- 1 recipe Liquid Cheesecake
- ½ recipe Pie Crumb
- 1 recipe Apple Pie Filling
- ½ recipe Pie Crumb Frosting
- 1 (6-inch) cake ring
- 2 strips acetate, each 3 inches wide and 20 inches long
(1) Put a piece of parchment paper or a Silpat on the counter. Invert the cake onto it and peel off the parchment or Silpat from the bottom of the cake. Use the cake ring to stamp out 2 circles from the cake. These are your top 2 cake layers. The remaining cake “scrap” will come together to make the bottom layer of the cake
- layer 1, the bottom -
(2) Clean the cake ring and place it in the center of a sheet pan lined with clean parchment or a Silpat. Use 1 strip of acetate to line the inside of the cake ring.
(3) Put the cake scraps inside the ring and use the back of your hand to tamp the scraps together into a flat even layer.
(4) Dunk the pastry brush in the apple cider soak and give the layer of cake a good, healthy bath of half of the soak.
(5) Use the back of a spoon to spread half of the liquid cheesecake in an even layer over the cake.
(6) Sprinkle one-third of the pie crumbs evenly over the liquid cheesecake. Use the back of your hand to anchor them in place.
(7) Use the back of a spoon to spread one-half of the apple pie filling as evenly as possible over the crumbs [drain as much of the liquid as possible].
- layer 2, the middle -
(8) With your index finger, gently tuck the second strip of acetate between the cake ring and the top ¼ inch of the first strip of acetate, so that you have a clear ring of acetate 5 to 6 inches tall—high enough to support the height of the finished cake. Set a cake round on top of the filling and repeat the process for layer 1 (if 1 of your 2 cake rounds is jankier than the other, use it here in the middle and save the prettier one for the top).
- layer 3, the top -
(9) Nestle the remaining cake round into the apple pie filling. Cover the top of the cake with all of the pie crumb frosting. Give it volume and swirls, or do as we do and opt for a perfectly flat top. Garnish the frosting with the remaining pie crumbs.
(10) Transfer the sheet pan to the freezer and freeze for a minimum of 12 hours to set the cake and filling. The cake will keep in the freezer for up to 2 weeks.
(11) At least 3 hours before you are ready to serve the cake, pull the sheet pan out of the freezer and, using your fingers and thumbs, pop the cake out of the cake ring. Gently peel off the acetate and transfer the cake to a platter or cake stand. Let it defrost in the fridge for a minimum of 3 hours (wrapped well in plastic, it can be refrigerated for up to 5 days).
(12) Slice the cake into wedges and serve.
Barely Brown Butter Cake
makes 1 quarter sheet pan
- 4 tablespoons (½ stick, 55g) butter
- 2 tablespoons (40g) brown butter
- 1 ¼ cups (250g) granulated sugar
- ¼ cup (60g) light brown sugar, tightly packed
- 3 eggs
- ½ cup (110g) buttermilk
- ⅓ cup (65g) grapeseed oil [used canola]
- ½ teaspoon (2g) vanilla extract
- 1½ cups (180g) cake flour
- 1 teaspoon (4g) baking powder
- 1 teaspoon (4g) kosher salt
To make the brown butter, place 2 tablespoons of butter in a microwave-safe bowl and top with a microwave-safe plate. Microwave for 3 to 5 minutes. The butter will pop while browning. Check the butter, and if not browned enough, microwave again in 1 minute increments. While the brown butter is cooling, stir periodically to incorporate the caramelized bits of butter. Cool completely.
(1) Heat the oven to 350° F.
(2) Combine the butters and sugars in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and cream together on medium-high for 2 to 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the eggs, and mix on medium-high for 2 to 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl of the bowl once more.
(3) Stream in the buttermilk, oil, and vanilla while the paddle swirls on low speed. Increase the speed to medium-high and paddle 5 to 6 minutes, until the mixture is practically white, twice the size of your original fluffy butter-and-sugar mixture, and completely homogenous. You’re basically forcing too much liquid into an already fatty mixture that doesn’t want to make room for it, so if it doesn’t look right after 6 minutes, keep mixing. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl.
(4) On very low speed, add the cake flour, baking powder, and salt. Mix for 45 to 60 seconds, just until your batter comes together an any remnants of dry ingredients have been incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Mix on low speed for another 45 seconds to ensure that any lumps of cake flour are incorporated.
(5) Pam-spray a quarter sheet pan and line it with parchment, or just line the pan with a Silpat. Using a spatula, spread the cake batter in an even layer in the pan. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes. The cake will rise and puff, doubling in size, but will remain slightly buttery and dense. At 30 minutes, gently poke the edge of the cake with your finger: the cake should bounce back slightly and the center should no longer be jiggly. Leave the cake in the oven for an extra 3 to 5 minutes if it doesn’t pass these tests.
(6) Take the cake out of the oven and cool on a wire rack or, in a pinch, in the fridge or freezer (don’t worry, it’s not cheating). The cooled cake can be stored in the fridge, wrapped in plastic wrap, for up to 5 days.
Apple Cider Soak
makes about 60g (¼ cup)
- ¼ cup (55g) apple cider
- 1 teaspoon (5g) light brown sugar, tightly packed
- pinch (0.25g) ground cinnamon
(1) Whisk together the cider, brown sugar, and cinnamon in a small bowl until the sugar is completely dissolved.
makes about 325g (1¼ cups)
- 8 ounces (225g) cream cheese
- ¾ cup (150g) sugar
- 1 tablespoon (6g) cornstarch
- ½ teaspoon (2g) kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons (25g) milk
- 1 egg
(1) Heat the oven to 300° F.
(2) Put the cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix on low speed for 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula. Add the sugar and mix for 1 to 2 minutes, until the sugar has been completely incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
(3) Whisk together the cornstarch and salt in a medium bowl. Whisk in the milk in a slow, steady stream, then whisk in the egg until the slurry is homogenous.
(4) With the mixer on medium-low speed, stream in the egg slurry. Paddle for 3 to 4 minutes, until the mixture is smooth and loose. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
(5) Line the bottom and sides of a 6×6 inch baking pan with plastic wrap [the idea of this scared me, so I used aluminum foil]. Poor the cheesecake batter into the pan, put the pan in the oven, and bake for 15 minutes. Gently shake the pan. The cheesecake should be firmer and more set toward the outer boundaries of the baking pan but still be jiggly and loose in the dead center. If the cheesecake is jiggly all over, give it 5 minutes more. And 5 minutes more if it needs it, but it’s never taken me more then 25 minutes to underbake one. If the cheesecake rises more than a ¼ inch or begins to brown, take it out of the oven immediately.
(6) Cool the cheesecake completely, to finish the baking process and allow the cheesecake to set. The final product will resemble a cheesecake, but it will be pipeable and pliable enough to easily spread or smear, while still having body and volume. Once cool, the cheesecake can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 week.
Apple Pie Filling
makes about 400g (1¼ cups)
- 1 lemon
- 2 medium (300g) Granny Smith apples
- 1 tablespoon (14g) butter
- ⅔ cup (150g) light brown sugar, tightly packed
- ½ teaspoon (1g) ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon (1g) kosher salt
(1) Fill a medium bowl halfway with cold tap water. Juice the lemon into it. Fish out and discard any seeds. You will use this lemon water to keep your apple pieces looking fresh and pert.
(2) Peel the apples, then halve and quarter them. Put each apple quarter on its side and cut a small slice down the length of the apple to remove the seeds and core. Cut each apple quarter lengthwise into thirds and then crosswise into fourths, leaving you with 12 small pieces from every apple quarter. Transfer these pieces to the lemon water as you go.
(3) When you’re ready to cook, drain the apples (discard the lemon water) and combine them in a medium pot with the butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Slowly bring a boil over medium heat, using a spoon to gently stir the mixture as it heats up and the apples begin to release liquid. Reduce the heat and simmer the apples gently for 3 to 5 minutes. Be careful not to cook the apples so much that they turn into applesauce. [I had a lot of liquid left, so I fished out the apples and reduced the remaining liquid by half for about 5 to 6 minutes. It created a more caramel-y apple filling.]
(4) Transfer to a container and put in the fridge to cool down. Once completely cooled, the filling can be stored in the fridge in an airtight container for up to 1 week; do not freeze.
Pie Crumb Frosting
makes about 220g (¾ cup), or enough for 2 apples pie layer cakes
- ½ recipe Pie Crumb
- ½ cup (110g) milk
- ½ teaspoon (2g) kosher salt
- 3 tablespoons (40g) butter, at room temperature
- ¼ cup (40g) confectioners’ sugar
(1) Combine the pie crumbs, milk, and salt in a blender, turn the speed to medium-high, and puree until smooth and homogenous. It will take 1 to 3 minutes (depending on the awesomeness of your blender). If the mixture does not catch on your blender blade, turn off the blender, take a small teaspoon, and scrape down the sides of the canister, remembering to scrape under the blade, then try again.
(2) Combine the butter and confectioners’ sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and cream together on medium-high for 2 to 3 minutes, until fluffy and pale yellow. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula.
(3) On low speed, paddle in the contents of the blender, After 1 minute, crank the speed up to medium-high and let her rip for another 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. If the mixture is not a uniform, very pale, barely tan color, give the bowl another scrape-down and another minute of high-speed paddling.
(4) Use the frosting immediately, or store it in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 week.
makes about 350g (2¾ cups)
- 1½ cups (240g) flour
- 2 tablespoons (18g) sugar
- ¾ teaspoon (3g) kosher salt
- 8 tablespoons (1 stick, 115g) butter, melted
- 1 ½ tablespoons (20g) water
(1) Heat the oven to 350° F.
(2) Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and paddle on low speed until well mixed.
(3) Add the butter and water and paddle on low speed until the mixture starts to come together in small clusters.
(4) Spread the clusters on a parchment or Silpat lined sheet pan. Bake for 25 minutes, breaking them up occasionally. The crumbs should be golden brown and still slightly moist to the touch at that point; they will dry and harden as they cool.
(5) Let the crumbs cool completely before using in a recipe or eating. Stored in an airtight container, the crumbs will keep fresh for 1 week at room temperature or 1 month in the fridge or freezer.