It’s crunch time.
For those in school, anyway. I’ve barely seen Erik—he’s busy trying to come up with a brilliant idea for his second-year paper, study for a test and dig his way out of a mountain of reading—but this past weekend, he looked at me with big, tired eyes and said, “You know what I really want? That cake you made me for my birthday.”
And instantly I knew that he didn’t mean either of the pretzel stout or chocolate chip peach monstrosities I made for his birthday this year—he meant the first birthday cake I ever made for him, two years ago. It was my second attempt at a Momofuku cake after this one and since we were still chasing the heels of summer in early September, I swapped out the apples in the apple pie cake for strawberries. We ate a piece on his birthday, and then it went to live in his fridge for the next two weeks. Whenever I physically put a slice of cake in his hands, he would appear to genuinely enjoy it, but I think I ate about three pieces to his one piece because every time I checked back in the fridge, it was untouched from the last time I’d touched it. Eventually, I tossed the last piece because even I have to draw a line for stale cake.
That he didn’t really eat the cake is a slight point of contention: I contend that if he liked the cake, he would have eaten the cake; he insists that he loved the cake, he just forgot to eat it (like all food I make for him and put into the black hole of his fridge).
But this week has been The Week of Stress Baking so on Tuesday, when I experimented with this healthy cheesecake and it actually turned out pretty well, I decided to just make the cake to go along with it, this time with apples. I’m bringing it to him tonight, and we’ll see how the cake consumption goes this time around. Maybe he wants this to be his second chance to prove how much he loves the cake I made for him. If so, this will be an interesting test to see if he can really overcome his fridge tunnel vision.
It’s really an exercise in futility to pretend this cake is anything but a carb + sugar bomb (but aren’t those the best kind?), but I did try to make this a tiny bit healthier since the last thing Erik needs is a sugar coma to get through his insane workload. There’s cottage cheese, yogurt, whole wheat flour and apples hiding in there, and nearly a stick and a half less butter and less sugar than the original version. Am I silly for trying to make momofuku cakes healthier? Probably. But the end result was still addictively tasty, so I’m fine with that. Oh, did I mention this is essentially fall in a cake? That it’s based around a toasty BROWN BUTTER cake garnished with tangy, lemon-hinted cheesecake cluttered with buttery pie crust crumbs and filled with soft, spiced apple chunks? You want this. I want this. I’d give up Halloween candy for this. In fact, I probably WILL give up Halloween candy for this.
On another note, if you don’t have your Halloween costume yet, I know what you should wear.
Here’s what I modified in the cake (that’s right, I’m bastardizing the momofuku cakes one by one…):
- There’s a step in each momofuku cake where you’re supposed to beat the batter for about 10 minutes because you’re essentially beating too liquid into an already fatty mixture, so it takes a while to become homogenous. This step is meant achieve a certain texture (in the funfetti cake’s case, a better boxed mix) and I don’t really care about that. I just want good cake, so I reduced the beating difficulty by reducing the fat: I figured 4 tablespoons of brown butter and 2 tablespoons of oil would cut it over 3 tablespoons of brown butter + 4 tablespoons of normal butter PLUS 1/3 cup of oil.
- Reduced sugar in the cake: I cut the sugar down by ½ cup and still thought it was plenty sweet. I might take out another two tablespoons next time, and see how it goes from there.
- 2 eggs instead of 3: I prefer to eat my expensive, organic eggs rather than bake with them, so I use fewer eggs whenever possible. 3 eggs will give the cake more volume, but I was fine with the thickness from 2.
- I two-thirds the recipe for the crumb because a stick of butter for that crumbly goodness seemed ridiculous. I reduced the butter to 3 tablespoons because it conveniently used up the rest of my stick, and added 1 tablespoon of oil for crunch.
- I omitted the pie crumb frosting because it seemed excessive (and I was lazy).
- You will laugh in disbelief, but I actually made half of the healthy cheesecake recipe, half of the full-fat cheesecake recipe (both listed below)—using 1 egg total—and mixed the two together to make the liquid cheesecake. I would recommend going with one or the other if you make this cake for the sake of your sanity. If you love the taste of Greek yogurt cheesecake/won’t miss the creaminess of regular cheesecake, try the healthy version. Or you could try making a hybrid of the two, mixing a few tablespoons of cream cheese into the cottage cheese cheesecake, which is what I’ll probably try next time.
Rich brown butter cake, tangy cheesecake frosting, buttery pie crust-like crumbs and a spiced apple compote come together to make one of the best cakes you could imagine.
- for the brown butter cake:
- 1 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt OR 1/2 teaspoon table salt
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 4 tablespoons brown butter
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup tightly packed brown sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 cup almond milk + ½ tablespoon apple cider vinegar (or buttermilk)
- 2 tablespoons neutral-tasting oil
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- for the crumb:
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon table salt
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 1 tablespoon canola oil
- 1 1/2 tablespoons water
- for the cheesecake (choose 1 option):
- healthy option #1:
- this cheesecake
- healthy option #2: (this one will taste the most healthy...to the point of being an acquired taste. Adding a few tablespoons of cream cheese to this is recommended.)
- ¾ cup cottage cheese
- 2/3 cup low fat plain yogurt or Greek yogurt
- 1 tablespoon flour
- 4 tablespoons brown sugar
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 egg
- Zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
- Full-fat option #3:
- 8 ounces cream cheese, softened to room temperature (if it's at all cold, this will be a pain to beat. Make sure it's completely soft at room temperature)
- Scant 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons almond milk
- 1 large egg
- Zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
- for the apple pie filling:
- juice from 1/2 a medium lemon
- 2-3 large Granny Smith apples (I used one huge Granny Smith and one SweeTango apple)
- 1 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- for the cider soak:
- 1/4 cup apple cider (can try subbing apple juice, applesauce, pear juice, or a citrus juice if you like—whatever tastes good to you. The taste isn’t very noticeable with such a small amount)
- dash of cinnamon
1. Make the cake.
2. Make the crumb.
3. Make the cheesecake.
4. Make the filling.
Make the cake:
Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease a 9x13 pan well (I used a butter wrapper with a little additional butter. Line with greased parchment paper if you’re not confident in your abilities to remove cake from a greased pan).
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Set aside.
Combine the browned butter and the sugars and beat with an electric mixer until well-combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add your eggs and mix on medium-high for another 2-3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl again.
With the mixer on low speed, slowly stream in the buttermilk, oil, and vanilla. Beat for 2-3 minutes, until the mixture is completely homogenous. This is important to keep your cake from being bumpy rather than smooth. Beat until there are no streaks or uneven patches anywhere in the batter (this can take several minutes). If in doubt, keep going. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl again.
With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients and mix for 45 to 60 seconds, just until the mixture comes together. I like to stop before everything is perfectly incorporated and finish off the mixing with a gentle hand to ensure the batter doesn’t get over mixed.
Pour the batter into your prepared pan, using a rubber spatula to spread the batter evenly. Bake for 20-25 minutes, checking at the 20 minute mark for doneness. The cake should rise and puff slightly and should spring back under your finger when tested. It’s done when the center no longer jiggles.
Remove your cake from the oven and place the entire pan onto a wire rack to cool completely.
Bake the crumb:
Keep your oven at 350F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
Whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl until evenly distributed.
Add the melted butter and water and stir using a small wooden spoon or spatula to incorporate the wet with the dry. Stir until everything comes together, making sure to incorporate all the dry ingredients—you want a bunch of mostly uniform pebble-sized chunks. If there are too many crumbs the size of sand with just a few larger pebbles, the crumbs will bake unevenly and scorch in spots. Add more water, a teaspoon at a time, until the mixture comes together into pea-size crumbles clustering together.
Spread the clusters into the middle of your prepared sheet pan and use your spoon or spatula to spread them out evenly into small clusters, breaking them up as you go. Bake for 15-20 minutes. They should be golden and slightly moist when you take them out; they will harden as they cool. Remove from the oven and place the pan on a wire rack to cool completely.
Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week, or in the fridge or freezer for up to 1 month.
Bake the liquid cheesecake:
Turn your oven down to 300F. Grease an 8×8 glass baking dish.
For the healthy cheesecake: Combine all ingredients in a high-power blender and blend until very smooth with no chunks. Pour into the prepared pan and bake for about 20 minutes. It should be firm and set on the outside with a slight jiggle in the middle.
For the full-fat cheesecake: In a large bowl, beat your cream cheese with an electric mixer for two minutes until creamy and soft. Scrape down the sides of the bowl using a rubber spatula, add the sugar, and mix for 2 minutes until the sugar has dissolved into the cream cheese and mixture no longer looks grainy.
Whisk together the cornstarch and salt in a medium bowl. Stream in the milk, whisking as you pour, making sure your cornstarch doesn’t lump. Add your egg and whisk again until your slurry is homogenous.
With your mixer on low speed, stream in the egg slurry and beat for 3-4 minutes until your mixture is smooth and loose. Scrape down the sides of the bowl again, checking for any unincorporated ingredients.
Pour the cheesecake batter into your prepared pan, place in the oven, and bake for about 15 minutes. When it’s done, your cheesecake filling should be firmer and more set towards the outside and still a big jiggly in the center. If it seems too jiggly, give it another 5 minutes. Don’t let it begin to brown or poof up; that’s bordering on overdone.
Remove from the oven and let cool completely; like any cheesecake or curd tart, it will continue to bake itself and set while cooling.
When fully cooled, mash it up into a spreadable consistency.
Store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
Make your apple pie filling:
Squeeze the lemon into a bowl of water big enough to hold and cover your apple slices.
Peel your apples and cut them in half, removing the core and seeds. The original recipe calls for you to quarter the apples and cut each quarter into 12 pieces. I say slice each half with 5 cuts lengthwise and 6 cuts width-wise so that you have 48 chunks altogether. Drop your pieces in the lemon water as you slice.
Once you’re ready to cook, drain the water from the apples and discard the lemon water. In a medium saucepan, combine the apples with the butter, brown sugar, cinnamon and salt. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring gently to coat and cook evenly. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 3-6 minutes, so the apples release their liquid and soften, but not so much that they get mushy. My "sauce" almost disappeared by the time my apples were soft, but as long as you have syrupy apples, all is good. Remove pan from heat and let cool completely.
Store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
Make your cider soak (do this right before assembly):
Whisk together the cider, sugar and cinnamon.
For step-by-step photos, check out this post. The most important thing is to make sure everything is fully cooled/room temperature before starting. Chilled (but not frozen) cake is easiest to work with.
Use a 6" cake ring to stamp out two full circle of cake for the two layers. I only have a 6" cake pan, so I press that down lightly into the cake for a guide and use a knife to cut out the circles.
Place your 6" cake ring or pan on a cutting board or plate covered with a piece of wax paper. Line the inside of the cake ring with acetate or a sturdy piece of paper (such as a heavy-duty envelope or gift bag) lined with wax paper. Tape paper in place if necessary to form a ring that adheres closely to the shape of the cake ring.
Take the cake remnants left from stamping out the two circles of cake and drop them into the bottom of the cake ring, pressing into a thick, even layer with your hands.
Soak the cake with 1/2 of the cider soak using a pastry brush, or by carefully spooning the cider evenly over the cake layer.
Spread 1/3 of the cheesecake evenly over the top.
Srinkle 1/3 of the pie crumbs evenly over the top.
Spoon 1/2 of the apple pie filling evenly over the top.
Drop a full ring of cake on top of the filling and repeat the soak, 1/3 of the cheesecake, 1/3 of the crumbs, and the rest of the filling.
Slide the last ring of cake on top and finish with the last 1/3 of the cheesecake and pie crumbs. Cover with wax paper and freeze for at least 12 hours.
Remove cake from freezer 2-3 hours before serving to allow it to defrost. Release the cake from the ring by pushing it up and out of the ring (you may end up wearing the ring on your arm while balancing the cake on your hand) or by carefully wrapping the wax paper around the top, inverting the cake to pull off the ring, and then inverting the cake back on a plate right-side up.
Phew! Slice that sucker into wedges and eat that well-deserved cake.
Adapted from here
Because we all want to make cakes with four or five or six parts right? Here are some more Momofuku cakes that I’ve tried that I would highly recommend:
Christina Tosi doesn’t just make over-the-top cakes at Momofuku milk bar. She also makes cornbread! Hello, heaven: Christina Tosi’s cornbake