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
  • 2
    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
    Commented Mar 28, 2014 at 1:31
  • 1
    @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
    Commented Mar 28, 2014 at 1:51
  • Sounds like I'll have to try it sometime, then. If only it weren't so expensive...
    – user5561
    Commented Mar 28, 2014 at 2:09
  • 1
    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
    Commented Mar 28, 2014 at 2:18
  • 2
    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. Commented Mar 28, 2014 at 12:23

7 Answers 7


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.

  • I would go with the bourbon or even rum with a molasses note would work well.
    – draksia
    Commented Mar 28, 2014 at 12:55

The text of the recipe says you may substitute apple brandy or white rum. I used white rum and the cake was delicious.


A common practise in some French islands is to macerate fruits, spices and sugar in rum for some time, and then to filter them, in order to make a flavoured, strong, very tasty drink called "Rhum arrangé".

This process might be too long for you, but you could consider it for making a Calvados substitute to use in a few months (usually 2 or 3 at least for fruit, for spices a few days to a month can be enough). I've had nice results cooking with fruit-infused rums (you can make extraordinary rum babas that way, I also like to use vanilla-infused rum in most recipes asking for rum).

P.S : I must mention this is done in lots of other places, with different kinds of alcohol. I drank similar beverages in Hungary a few years ago, but they were usually not as strong, closer to a 20 or 25% alcohol content (in my own very limited experience). Those were called ágyas (bedded) pálinka (local fruit brandy).


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

  • 2
    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
    Commented Sep 16, 2014 at 13:15

I was able to find a 50ml bottle at Bevmo for $6.99. That will give you 6 portions. Very affordable. I have also seen Calvados at one Trader Joes (in northern CA), but not all stores carry it. I think it was around $20 for a tall bottle probably 375 ml. Hope you get this. Good luck!

  • 1
    Hello Gail, and welcome to Seasoned Advice! Your apple cake sounds absolutely delicious, but Jolene's question was what to use as a substitute for Calvados. Otherwise, your experience really should be posted as a comment, rather than an answer. — Best Wishes from Massachusetts!
    – ElmerCat
    Commented May 8, 2016 at 23:10
  • 2
    I agree that most of the post was irrelevant to the substitution. But the info that there are 50 ml bottles can be a good solution for somebody in the same situation as the OP, so I'm leaving it here instead of deleting.
    – rumtscho
    Commented May 9, 2016 at 8:19

1 tbsp rum extract Found this substitute in a French Apple Cake recipe on Yummly that specifically stated it was used instead of the Calvados.


How about Cinamon Whiskey for a Cinamon apple taste. I was looking for the same substitute for the same recipe and will use this

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.