Momofuku Milk Bar’s apple pie layer cake. If you know, you know.
This is one of my favourite cakes in the world. IN THE WORLD. It’s kind of a big deal. It’s got a huge reputation. I remember seeing it ages ago blowing up on the blog scene in 2012 when the Milk Bar cookbook came out. So many steps. So many components. I will be honest, when I first read the recipe, I was intimidated. But just looking at the beautiful exposed layers of cake, I knew I had to give it a go.
I had made the cake for the first time in 2013 as a surprise for my then-boyfriend’s birthday. Even then, I had heavily modified it and had only made a few components and even then, it tasted good.
Fastforward to 2019: it was my coworkers’ birthdays and I typically make a cake for the entire office to share, taking requests from those whose birthdays it was that month. I had three people celebrating and the response I got were: “vegan”, “anything”, and “apple crumble/apple pie”. The first thing that came to mind was the Milk Bar cake. But vegan? Was it even possible to veganize Momofuku’s infamous layer cake? Well, my friends, I took on the challenge and made a vegan apple pie layer cake. And it was devoured within seconds by my entire office with rave reviews.
When you first read the apple pie layer cake recipe, you may be overwhelmed. Barely brown butter cake? Apple cider soak? Liquid cheesecake? Pie crust crumb? PIE CRUST CRUMB FROSTING!? Acetate?!?! What are these and why are there so many steps for this damn cake!? Trust me, the end result is completely 100% worth it.
Yes, this cake takes days to makes and the vegan option is no exception. I would recommend making this cake atleast two days in advanced before serving. Please note the time you will need to chill it overnight. The book recommends at atleast 12 hours but I had only really chilled it for about 10 hours or so and the results were still fantastic.
I did make quite a few changes due to veganizing the recipe and due to using what I had on-hand so I will make note of those adjustments below but will quote the original recipe steps as per the Milk Bar cookbook. Lots of steps – it’s quite a read – brace yourself for the best cake in history!
APPLE PIE LAYER CAKE - makes 1 cake (adapted from Momofuku Milk Bar by Christina Tosi)
BROWN SUGAR CAKE
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup brown sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsps ground cinnamon
pinch ground cloves
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup almond milk
1 tsp madagascar bourbon vanilla extract
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
PIE CRUST CRUMB
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsps granulated sugar
1/4 tsp kosher salt
8 tbsp vegetable oil
1 1/2 tbsp water
APPLE JUICE SOAK
1/4 cup apple juice
1 tsp golden brown sugar
pinch cinnamon powder
1 (225g) pkg vegan cream cheese
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp cornstarch
¼ tsp salt
2 tbsp almond milk
½ tsp madagascar bourbon vanilla extract
APPLE PIE FILLING
2 apples, peeled, cored and diced
1 tbsp water
1 tbsp all-purpose flour
2 tbsp golden brown sugar
¼ teaspoon cinnamon powder
1 pinch salt
PIE CRUMB FROSTING
½ recipe pie crumb (see above)
1/2 cup milk
1/2 tsp kosher salt
3 tbsp refined coconut oil, solidified
1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
Brown sugar cake:
Preheat the oven to 325F and line an 8” cake springform pan with parchment paper. Set aside.
In your stand mixer, mix all of the dry ingredients - flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and cloves.
In a separate bowl, mix together your liquids - almond milk, oil, vinegar, vanilla extract and vinegar. The mixture should slightly curdle and thicken. Give it a stir and slowly dribble this into your stand mixer while on low medium speed until the mixture is well-incorporated.
Pour the prepared batter into your cake tin and bake for 45 - 50 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.
Pie crust crumb:
Heat the oven to 350F.
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 combined.
Add the oil and and water and paddle on low speed until the mixture starts to come together in small clusters.
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.
Let the crumbs cool completely before using in a recipe or eating. Store in an airtight container, the crumbs will keep fresh for 1 week at room temperature or 1 month in the fridge or freezer.
Apple juice soak:
Combine the apple juice, cinnamon and brown sugar and mix until the sugar dissolves.
Heat the oven to 300F.
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.
Whisk together the cornstarch and salt in a medium bowl. Whisk in the milk in a slow, steady stream until homogenous.
With the mixer on medium-low speed, stream in the cornstarch mixture. Paddle for 3 to 4 minutes, until the mixture is smooth and loose. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
Line the bottom and sides of a 6x6 inch baking pan with plastic wrap. Pour 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 than 25 minutes to underbake one. If the cheesecake rises more than 1/4 inch or begins to brown, take it out of the oven immediately.
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:
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 quarters lengthwise into thirds and then crosswise into fourths, leaving you with 12 small pieces from every apple quarter.
When you’re ready to cook, drain the apples and combine them in a medium pot with the water, cinnamon, flour, sugar and salt. Cook over medium heat until the apples are cooked through and the mixture has thickened. Cool, and set aside.
Pie crumb frosting:
Combine the pie crumbs, almond 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.
Combine the coconut oil and confectioner’s 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.
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 colour, give the bowl another scrape-down and another minute of high-speed paddling.
Use the frosting immediately, or store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 week.
Layer 1, the bottom. 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. Cut the cake evenly into two even layers. The cake’s over risen top can be cut/broken off - this will serve as the bottom layer of the cake.
Clean the cake ring and place it in the center of a sheet pan lined with clean parchment or a Silpat. Measure out 1 long strip of parchment paper to line the inside of the cake ring, atleast 5 or 6 inches, high enough to support the height of the finished cake
Put the cake scraps (the leftover top of the cake) inside the ring and use the back of your hand to tamp the scraps together into a flat even layer.
Dunk the pastry brush in the apple juice soak and give the layer of cake a good, healthy bath of half of the soak.
Use the back of a spoon to spread half of the liquid cheesecake in an even layer over the cake.
Sprinkle one-third of the pie crumbs evenly over the liquid cheesecake. Use the back of your hand to anchor them in place.
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. 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. 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.
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.
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).
Slice the cake into wedges and serve.