Apfelkuchen is a German apple cake that sometimes is referred to as a sunken apple cake. The basic ingredients are similar to those in other types of sweet cakes, including sugar, flour, eggs and baking soda, although milk and an above-average amount of butter normally are called for. There are a number of variations on the basic recipe, with some even using yeast in the dough to cause the apfelkuchen to rise. Apples usually are added as wide, thin slices and can be arranged in a number of ways so they rise above the top of the cake, sometimes making elegant designs. In most instances, dried fruits such as raisins or currants are added to the dough to provide a contrasting flavor for the apples.
The basic batter for apfelkuchen is made by first creaming butter and sugar together, and then adding eggs and milk to create a wet mixture. The dry ingredients, such as the flour, baking soda and salt, are then sifted until well blended and very fine. The wet and dry ingredients are then combined thoroughly — along with any extra flavorings, such as vanilla extract, almond extract or rum — to create the batter.
Some recipes for apfelkuchen use yeast in the dough. This dough is very similar to the non-yeast recipe, except that active yeast is added to the mixture and it is allowed to rise for a few minutes before being placed in the baking dish. The dough is not allowed to rise for more than a few minutes, only rises once and is not punched down after it has risen. This allows for a cake-like crumb and texture as opposed to a more chewy bread-like texture.
Once the dough is in the baking dish, the apples are added. In general, the apples are sliced into wide, flat pieces and arranged on the top of the cake. As each apple is placed, it is pressed gently down into the batter so it is partially covered. When the cake rises as it bakes, it will cover more of the apple, making it seem as if the apples have sunk into the cake. Elaborate patterns and clever designs can give the finished apfelkuchen a dramatic appearance.
Apfelkuchen is baked in an oven until it is done and the apples are soft. A simple sugar glaze sometimes can be prepared and poured over the hot cake, while powdered sugar can be used to dust the top in other instances. A few recipes for apfelkuchen use a streusel-like topping made from butter and brown sugar.