Apple Johnny is a cake from eastern Canada that is baked in apple sauce. This is the third traditional cake from that region I’ve come across that is baked in a sauce or syrup. I think that’s enough to classify this as a family of cakes. I am going to call them drop cakes, because you make a batter and drop it into some manner of delicious sauce or liquid. Not a traditional term by any means but there it is.
Anyways, the most famous drop cake is pouding chômeur, which is a traditional Quebecois cake baked in maple syrup. When I mentioned this to a friend who grew up in Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, she said that they also made a poorman’s pudding, but that it was baked in molasses, not maple syrup. Then I was flipping through a cookbook that belonged to my grandma and there was a cake called apple johnny, which was baked in apple sauce.
I’ve put a photo of the original recipe from my grandma’s cookbook (90 Favourite Recipes – W.A. Garreton) at the end of this post. For my own version I made some changes and have ideas for how I would do future batches differently. Most significantly, the name “apple johnny” reminded me of johnnycake, or cornbread, that my Grandma made, so I decided to substitute a third of the flour for cornmeal.
The cake as it appears in the recipe below is serviceable: good on its own as a coffee cake, or served warm and topped with ice cream as a dessert. To be a real knock-out I think it needs some more texture. Maybe streusel on the top. Or maybe some large pieces of apple could be put into the sauce. It could be like an upside-down cake that is never turned upside-down, if you know what I mean. Also the apple sauce tends to reduce and thicken, and it crossed my mind that it might be fun to make a very liquidy apple sauce with fresh apple cider so there is more contrast between runny apple sauce and baked cake. I’ll give that a go this fall.
- 130 g unsalted butter (or good lard)
- 90 g sugar
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 130 g all-purpose four
- 70 g fine cornmeal
- 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1 egg
- 175 g whole milk
- 1 kg apple sauce (your favourite version… a very simple recipe is below)
- Preheat oven to 400°F.
- Cream the butter, sugar, and salt in a stand mixer on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 10 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl every 2 minutes.
- Add the egg and beat until the batter is smooth.
- With the mixer on low, add the dry ingredients in three additions, alternating with the milk.
- Pour the apple sauce into a lightly greased 8″ x 8″ casserole. Pour the cake batter onto the apple sauce.
- Bake until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean and the top is a deep golden brown, about 40 minutes.
Yield: 9 generous portions Apple Johnny
Simple Apple Sauce
- 1 kg apples, peeled, cored, sliced
- 100 g white sugar
- 100 g butter or lard
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- Put the apples in a pot with a splash of water. Cover and bring to a simmer. Cook covered until apples are very tender.
- Remove lid. Add sugar, butter or lard, and salt. Mash ingredients together and simmer until sugar is dissolved and fully incorporated.
- For a silken-smooth version, transfer to an upright blender and process. You may need to add a splash of water to get the sauce to cycle properly.
Yield: about 1 kg simple apple sauce