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I am interested in making America's Test Kitchen's French Apple Cake. The recipe calls for a tablespoon of Calvados. Oh for heaven's sake, that's the worst case of 1/4 cup of squab stock syndrome I've seen lately. I've called around to see if I could find applejack or generic apple brandy for a reasonable price, but no, even those products are out of my price range for something I don't think I'd particularly enjoy finishing off. I can't find extract either. It does seem though that the recipe begs for a bit of extra flavor. How about reducing some hard or soft cider? Any other great ideas to boost the apple flavor?

Other ingredients of the cake are:

1 1/2 pounds Granny Smith apples
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 cup (5 ounces) plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup (7 ounces) plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg plus 2 large yolks
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Confectioners' sugar
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I don't know that the Calvados would give you any apple flavor that isn't in the cake already. Maybe you could substitute some regular brandy? (I haven't ever tried Calvados, FWIW.) –  user5561 Mar 28 at 1:31
    
@user5561 I haven't tried it either, but I have been told that the apple flavor does come across pretty loud and clear in baked goods, even if it's not so apparent just drinking it. –  Jolenealaska Mar 28 at 1:51
    
Sounds like I'll have to try it sometime, then. If only it weren't so expensive... –  user5561 Mar 28 at 2:09
    
Another thought that kind of sounds good is spiced rum. Hmm, it wouldn't add apple flavor obviously, but it might compliment the apples nicely. –  Jolenealaska Mar 28 at 2:18
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It shouldn't be so hard to finish off: spirits keep well, and you could also use it in apple sorbets (or poured on an apple sorbet - I've had that in Normandy) and sauces. –  Peter Taylor Mar 28 at 12:23

2 Answers 2

One tablespoon of apple brandy in a recipe of that volume is an accent; it may be nice to have, but it is not going to dramatically transform the outcome.

The obvious choice is to simply omit it.

Otherwise, some reasonable substitutions include:

  • Vodka. While it doesn't bring a specific flavor, it will provide alcohol to help dissolve those flavor components that otherwise would not be as apparent, perhaps intensifying the flavor of the cake.
  • Bourbon. Compliments the vanilla, and provides a counterpoint to the apples.
  • Brandy, either grape or another fruit like pear. Another, similar flavor accent.

There is little point in reducing soft cider because it will not contain alcohol, and the quantity is not enough to matter, unless (and then only maybe) you make a syrup--in that case, however, you would be more substantially transforming the recipe.

Hard cider has some alcohol, so might work (after all, Calvados or apple brandy is distilled hard cider), but you don't want to reduce it, which would drive a significant percentage of the alcohol and volatile flavor compounds. Freeze-concentrating it (as applejack was once made) would work but is probably excessive in terms of effort and reward.

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I would go with the bourbon or even rum with a molasses note would work well. –  draksia Mar 28 at 12:55

There is a caramel apple liqueur by Hiram walker that could work. It has a great apple flavor.

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It is however way too sweet for a direct substitution. You'd probably want to drop at least a teaspoon of granulated sugar from the other ingredients to compensate. –  logophobe Sep 16 at 13:15

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