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.