Apie cake (and it’s various spellings) is a Pennsylvania thing; more specifically, a Pennsylvania Dutch thing — even more specifically, a mid- and south-eastern Pennsylvania thing (especially around the Oley Valley).
If you aren’t from that corner of PA, chances are you never had apie cake; in fact, you might have never even heard of it.
Apie cake is a favored breakfast treat, much like Shoofly pie, but unlike it or Shoofy cake, apie cake is not so sweet, is denser than coffee cake — some versions being deliberately “dry” — and lends itself to dunking in hot coffee making it the perfect morning treat or late night snack. Although we Dutchies enjoy it warm from the oven, many feel the flavor is best the next day — or beyond.
Many a PA Dutch cook whips up apie cakes in multiples of two, three, or more, usually in 6-, 8- or 9-inch cake or pie pans. It is one of those generations-old traditional regional foods whose recipe is passed down through the years, and I think it safe to say nearly every family’s recipe is different in some way than every other family’s recipe.
I have two handwritten versions in my ancient recipe file and at least eight cookbooks from the area with recipes for apie cake in them and they vary widely: some use eggs, some do not; some get topped with crumbs or cinnamon sugar, some are left unadorned (to be slathered with sweet creamy butter when eaten); some are more moist than others, and some call for water while others use buttermilk or sour milk.
The thing the recipes do have in common is that the “batter” for the cake is very thick – ranging from a muffin-type batter to a soft dough — not the “typical”cake batter you might be familiar with. This batter gets pressed or spread into the pan. The other thing the recipes I have in my files have in common is that several call for the use of lard in the cake while more recent versions call for vegetable shortening.
Several bakeries (and back in the day, small corner “Mom and Pop” groceries) in the eastern and south-eastern portions of Pennsylvania make and sell apie cakes, each using their own variation of a recipe.
The point is, do a little experimenting to find the style you like. They are fairly inexpensive to make, are not time consuming, and allow you to “do your own thing” and find a recipe to hand down to your own family.
What’s in a name
The origins of the name for this cake run the gamut of ideas. It has been floated that the “AP” (apie) is derived from “all purpose”; as in “All-Purpose cake” or “All-Purpose flour”
Another is that a baker from the Baltimore/Philadelphia area made these cakes and carved her initials into the top; her name being Ann Page. But the more I dig into that theory, the more it appears the initials and Ann Page are really associated with apie cookies, not the cakes.
However, an article in the Allentown Morning Call on June 12, 1954 suggests “apies” derives from the Pennsylvania Dutch (German) word, “eepikuche” (pronounced apee-koocha); which in turn is derived from French pain d’epice which means literally ‘spice bread’ or ‘spice loaf”.
Originally “apie” was a cookie, but “apie” also became attached to these cakes. The spices were omitted along the way, likely because of budget considerations or unavailability.
We’ll likely keep pondering the name thing, but however their name came to be, these cakes are definitely a PA regional favorite for generations.
As you like it
This recipe is my Nana’s version (and now mine). We liked our apie cake a little more moist than many versions and this batter resembles a thick muffin batter because of the addition of an egg. In my kitchen, I smooth the batter once it is in the pan, place thin pats of butter scattered across the top of the dough, then sprinkle generously with cinnamon sugar before baking. To get a denser, drier cake with this recipe, omit the egg.
This recipe makes one deep dish 9 1/2 to 10 inch apie cake. It is easy to double or triple, if desired. You may also bake in smaller pans; adjust the baking time accordingly.
Apie Cake (aka AP, Apea, Apee, Apies, or Apeas Cake)Course: Breakfast, DessertCuisine: PA DutchDifficulty: Easy
A favored PA Dutch breakfast treat, apie cake is not too sweet, is denser than coffee cake, and lends itself to dunking in hot coffee
2 cups all-purpose flour
8 ounces light brown sugar (1 cup very firmly packed)
1/2 cup vegetable shortening OR 1/4 cup butter, cold and cut in small cubes and 1/4 cup vegetable shortening
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup whole milk soured with 1 Tablespoon lemon juice (Add the tablespoon lemon juice to milk, stir, set aside for 10 minutes)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 egg, beaten
OPTIONAL: 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Optional topping
1/4 cup granulated sugar mixed with 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
About 2 Tablespoons butter
- Pre-heat oven to 325F degrees.
- Grease or spray a deep-dish 9 or 9-1/2 inch pie or cake pan. Set aside.
- In a large mixing bowl, place the flour, salt, and shortening or butter/shortening. Using fingers or a pastry blender, work into fine crumbs. Add the brown sugar, baking soda, and cream of tartar and blend well again; crumbs will “clump” if you squeeze some together in the palm of your hand.
- Make a well in the middle and add the beaten egg, the soured milk, and the vanilla, if using. Stir with a wooden spoon until blended but not smooth, folding in the dry mix.
- Scoop batter into the prepared pan; smooth top somewhat. If using topping, cut the 2 Tablespoons butter into thin pats, place in scattered spots across the top of the dough, then sprinkle with the cinnamon/sugar mix to your taste. Bake 35 to 40 minutes or just until a cake tester comes out clean.
- Remove from oven; cut in wedges, serve warm or room-temperature. Store leftovers covered.