the perfect apple-almond cake photo

There’s something about fall that screams baking! During the summer months I run away from the oven with terrorizing memories of the sticky and sweaty kitchen years I endured as a baker, but as soon as the backyard fills with leaves my little inner baker wakes up.


The falling leaves and crisps nights make it irresistible for a warm and sweet baked good right out of the oven, together with a cup of coffee and a good book. The heat of the oven helps me warm up the house in the absence of a fire-place, which would make this story seem more fairytale than it really is; and if I had a say, my fairytale would include year-round mild weather and an ocean view.

Fall’s slow death into winter also slows life, or at least it feels that way. I rediscover books with folded pages and pencil notes from before the rush of summer. A bit dusty, but not at all forgotten, they guarded their message and waited for me and our daily afternoon coffee, or evening glass of wine. 

One of those books I’m a few pages from finishing is Best Food Writing 2015, a yearly compilation of food-related essays, which has been done for more than a decade now, by Holly Hughes. I got hooked on these books a few years back when my interest shifted from cookbooks {yes, i still buy some of those} to food writing as narrative, a way to tell food stories. 

As I planned for this post, an essay from this book came to mind, “The Imperfect Family Kitchen,” by Debbie Koenig.

The essay begins with: “Food writers are lying to you,” yikes! and I agree, for the most part. She talks about the behind the scenes of recipes development {or recreation} and food photography, and the reality we don’t show on blog posts like this…Nope, I don’t have any pictures of dirty dishes for you, sorry.
We ‘lie’ because ugly pictures don’t sell, and pretty pictures DO, they attract people to follow and click on a link. 

When I first started this blog, my pictures were ugly, as not pretty or appealing, my goal was to share a recipe and a story, and didn’t understand that the photos made a difference. There were many reason for my bad photos {not to say they are absolutely great now, but better} besides my lack of skill.  My kitchen is dark, with orange-yellow maple cabinets and dark green-blue counter tops. My pictures reflected that, even worse when I’d turn the lights on to photograph dinner the yellow hue would translate onto the photo. 


Hours of reading about food photography and a full week of deconstructing and reconstructing my office made my photos crisper and cleaner. The office became a white box, I took the carpet off and installed plywood planks on the floor, and painted walls, floor and ceiling a crisp white, to bounce the window light and not alter the color of the food. 

My pictures don’t reflect the dated refrigerator, the broken-down microwave, or the prop I use to keep the oven door close because the hinges don’t work. They show an “edited” idea of how cooking really happens here. Don’t get me wrong, I love my kitchen and many great meals successfully come out of it, including this apple cake, but how many people really want to see a load of bad pictures full of reality? 


I didn’t photograph this cake in the kitchen, or even the day I made it. I made a second cake {after we devoured half of the first one within hours} and photographed it the next day when the light was better and I could capture the rich texture and undulating apple pattern. 


I found this recipe on a food writer’s blog, David Lebovitz, from whom I learned a great deal about food photography and who does an amazing job with his photos; but also tells his readers of the mishaps in his kitchen. His book The Sweet Life in Paris, reflects his first few years in the dreamy city and in his formerly tiny kitchen, where he would have to do massive amounts of dishes in the bathtub or cook in the living room.

His new kitchen looks amazing and photographs really well, and it was the picture of this cake, plus the fact that it has my favorite combination of frangipane and apples, that made me click on the link and try the recipe. The recipe is from the book Classic German Baking, by Luisa Weiss, a new one on my christmas list {hint*} 


This cake starts with almond paste, which you can buy in any grocery store or online; or you can make yourself if you have almond flour and a few extra minutes to spare {recipe below.} The paste together with sugar, butter, eggs and flour makes the most delicious batter in the history of baked goods, frangipane. Sweet, delicate, spongy almond crumbs that slowly melt with every bite… Dangerous. 

Chunks of apples folded into the batter plus sliced apples adorning the top make this cake extra luscious. The batter bakes encasing the sliced apples forming a crunchy edge with chewy dehydrated-like fruit, while the apples in the batter soften and give into the cake. 

I usually follow the recipe of a baked good for the first time and take notes to see if it needs adjustments for my 5280 ft above sea level air and pressure. This cake bakes perfectly at high-altitude without any adjustments {double win and double danger}, and it comes out beautiful every time. I dare say the word easy, but it’s a simple cake to make, especially counting the fool-proof factor combined with its looks and addicting taste. 


Apple-Almond Cake
Adapted from Classic German Baking, by Luisa Weiss
Makes 1 – 10″ springform pan
Prep time: 25 minutes, Bake time: 45-55 minutes (at high-altitude)

I keep almond flour in my pantry for different baked goods, so I make my own almond paste, which is also widely available in grocery stores nowadays. The almond paste recipe calls for simple syrup, a sugar water made with equal amounts of sugar and water, boiled for just a couple of minutes. You can store the simple syrup in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks, making sure to keep any crumbs out of it as they will mold. 

Almond paste
10 oz almond flour
10 oz powder sugar
6 oz simple syrup 
Place almond flour and sugar in a food processor, with the machine running add the syrup until a paste forms. This will make more than you need for the cake recipe, and you can store it well-wrapped and inside a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to a month, or freezer for longer, or make a few cakes and freeze them – like I did. 

*** If you use store-bought almond paste, Luisa suggests that you grate it to make it easier to blend with the sugar.

The Cake
I followed the recipe and made some small changes. I skipped the lemon juice used to soak the apples and substituted apple cider instead, since we received 2 gallons from our CSA at Ela Family Farms. It keeps the apples from browning and it adds more apple flavor to the cake.
I also skipped the almond extract, as I didn’t have it on hand, and added cinnamon instead.
The recipe also calls for apricot jam to give a shiny finish to the cake after is out of the oven, widely used in pastry, and a lovely touch for a party, but I went without it as the cake didn’t stand a chance in this house – shiny or not. 

5 medium apples
1/4 cup Apple cider or lemon juice 
7 oz almond paste
3/4 cup sugar
4 eggs
7 oz butter, melted
1/2 cup + 3 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup whole-grain pastry flour {I recommend Carolina Ground 75 pastry flour}
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoons cornstarch {or 9 tablespoons}
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon

  • Heat oven to 350F. Butter and flour a 10-inch springform pan.
  • Peel and cube two of the apples and toss with 2 tbsp of apple cider 
  • Slice the other 3 apples {i kept the skin on} and toss with 2 tbsp of apple cider
  • Sift together the flours, cornstarch, salt, baking powder and cinnamon
  • In the bowl of a standard mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the almond paste and sugar until well combined
  • Add the eggs, one at the time, scraping the bottom of the bowl to incorporate all the bits of paste {this step and the next are reversed on the recipe in Lebovitz blog, but I’ve always done eggs then fat, instead of fat then eggs, so I followed my baker’s instinct and it worked}
  • Stream in the melted butter until fully combined, as you would oil when making a quick bread
  • Blend in the flour mixture by hand 
  • Blend in the cubed apples and its juices 
  • Pour into the prepared pan
  • Layer the sliced apples on top in circles – it doesn’t need to be architecturally perfect as the batter bakes around them 
  • Bake for 45-55 minutes at high-altitude. The original recipe calls for 1h 15 minutes, and I’d recommend checking after the first 55 minute to gauge. Check with a toothpick or knife for doneness. 
  • Let cool, and hide, or beware that it will be gone before dinner! 

 ~ Paula 



8 thoughts on “the perfect apple-almond cake photo”

  1. I think many of us know that posts are highly curated, just as what we see on the big screen. Wanting to escape from behind the scenes and be in the scene is not a bad thing as long as we have a healthy mind about it. If I don’t eat all my apples from apple picking I might just try this cake. Happy curating and feasting!

    1. I have come to love the styling and photographing of food, it brings me even closer to it but in a different way. As a pastry chef, i had to always think about plating and making food look pretty for customers, this is an extended version of that, now it has to look good for the camera and the quick view of the internet. Yes, use some of your apples for this cake, you won’t regret it! I bet your little ones would love it 🙂

    1. Yes! Leslie, the original recipe calls for all AP flour but i changed the flour to add some whole-grain flour without going to dense on the cake and that’s why i used pastry flour. Feel free to substitute the exact amount for the flour you normally use. This cake is a killer for Thanksgiving, you’d love it!
      On another note, i’ll be stopping by the latin market on Wednesday to get the arepa mix, will let you know once is on route. xo

  2. Oh, Paula, another enchanting read, and the cake not only sounds delicious, but LOOKS delicious, good lighting or not!! Thanks!!

    1. Carol! You are too sweet, thank you 🙂 This cake is soooo good, i’m considering banning it from my repertoire, we’ve rush to the freezer and warm up pieces to have with coffee on a semi-daily basis, dangerous!
      Hope all is good, and thank you for stopping by sweet almond. xoxo

Leave a Reply