Irish Apple Cake

Irish Apple Cake

Isn’t (mis)labeling fun? We find it fun to play with words, especially when something so delicious on the tongue as traditional ‘Irish apple cake’ is involved. So while the Apple Pie Tarts debate rages outside, break for a bake and whip up this Irish dessert in a nice warm kitchen.

Irish apple cake/tart/pie is one of the most traditional Irish desserts and doesn’t take too long to prepare. Time-honored and true, the secret recipe of this pretty straightforward bake is endurance, remaining yourself no matter what anyone else feels that self ought to be.

Ingredients for making Irish apple cake
The gang all ready to go

Fujis, Empires, Galas, etc. all make fine baking apples. We didn’t worry about texture too much, getting a nice balance between sweet and tart was the main thing. Granny Smiths are great for tipping back the balance if you’ve gone too sweet, and including them makes for a delectable clash between vibrant sweetness and crisp tartness.

Because, made in the traditional way, Irish apple cake isn’t a dish for the super sweet of tooth. It sits somewhere in the middle, between a full-on pie and calmer, but equally delicious, apple dishes such as apple fritter bread.

We got our hands on some pretty emphatic Braeburns from a local farmer, so they make up the bulk. They are a little on the sweet side, but the lemon meant the final result maintained an edge. The ever perfectly prim Pink Lady also made an appearance.

Pink Lady apple, ingredient in Irish apple cake
Ms Pink Lady lords it over the lot

Sift the Flour to give it a bit of lift, Add your Pinch of Salt, and then coarsely Rub in the Coconut Oil. Coconut is a great substitute for margarine or butter and means your Irish apple cake is one hundred per cent vegan and vegetarian friendly.

Sifting flour into mixing bowl to make Irish apple cake, four continuous frames

For the sugar, we used the indomitable Demerara. Light Brown Sugar will work either. Turbinado is a good solution if demerara is hard to come by, as you’ll just really be losing the heavier caramel notes that demerara brings.

Demerara sugar for Irish apple cake

Keeping Irish apple cake cool

One of the keys to making a Irish apple cake is to keep the temperature of the pastry low, so use just your fingertips to work the coconut oil into the flour. It’s a little hard to work with straight from the fridge, but doing so will ensure the temperature is as low as possible. Work out the bigger lumps in the oil, but don’t worry about any that are larger than a pea. Just like leaving in lumps of butter, they’ll break up the structure of the pastry and give the tart a nice flaky texture. No need to get your mixture as fine as breadcrumbs either, a quick rub through will do.

Coconut oil for vegan and vegetarian Irish apple cake

Gradually add your Ice Water and briefly Fold the mixture with a Butter Knife. Add only as much water as is necessary to make the pastry dough come together, it should be crumbly yet firm. Bring the pastry together with your hands, and Cut it in half. Wrap one half in clingfilm and Place in the fridge for 30 Minutes. Roll out the other half with a Rolling Pin and Line your ovenproof Plate with it, leaving a little bit of pastry overhanging the edge of the plate.

Irish apple cake being made, water pouring into bowl of pastry dough

Place the plate in the Freezer for 15 Minutes. Soggy bottoms are the scourge of a decent tart and doing this will mean your base is nice and hard. It’s especially important in this recipe as we’ll be squeezing in lemon juice. Drying out the Apples before they go into the tart would also help prevent this.

Base pastry for Irish apple cake

An Irish dessert that’s sweet and sour

Peel and Core your Apples, Remove the pastry base from the Freezer, and Thinly Slice the Apples directly into the tart – anything from 1/8 to 1/2 an inch thick is ideal. If you want to up the tangy level, prepare the apples and leave them to sit in the Lemon Juice for a few minutes, rather than squeezing it in later. Halfway through your apple supply, Sprinkle in 2 Tbsp of the Demerara Sugar and add the rest of the apples, stacking compact and high.

Irish apple cake being sprinkled with cinnamon, four continuous frames

After that’s done, you can Add another 2 Tbsp Sugar, Squeeze in the Juice of half a Lemon, Sprinkle the Cinnamon, Grate in the Zest of One Lemon and Add the Cloves. If the latter tend to make you ghastly upset, leave them out. Preheat your oven to 200° c/400° f/gas 6.

Remove the other half of the pastry from the fridge and Roll it out. Then Brush the edge of the base with the ice water and place the other half of the pastry on top. Press down around the edges to seal your burgeoning Irish apple cake.

Irish apple cake with knives and pastry cuttings

Trim the edges of the pastry with a Sharp Knife. The traditional way to make your tart nearly as perfectly prim as Ms Pink Lady is to Use a Dinner Knife to gently Lift the pastry edge away from the plate. Tapping the dough lightly, so that it gathers a little.

Irish apple cake being decorated with a knife

Once you’ve worked your way around the entire edge, Decorate the crust by using the knife to make little cuts in the dough you’ve bunched up. After each incision, Press your Thumb into the pastry before moving on to the next. This makes for a pretty crust worthy of even Mademoiselle Pink. Alternatively, use a Fork to Press down around the edge to give a trim.

Irish apple cake crust technique

Many people don’t glaze the top of their apple pie tarts. But if you want to, you can glaze the tart with egg, milk, etc. In our attempt to keep it vegan and vegetarian, we simply brushed with 1 Tbsp Ice Water. Watch out when using water though, there’s a danger the pastry will get leathery if you use too much.

Dust with the final 1 Tbsp of Sugar. It might look a bit messy, but it’ll caramelize and gather in pools on your trim, and brings a lovely dark brown finish. Use a sharp knife to Pierce some Vents in the top of the tart and Pop it into your preheated oven, on an upper shelf. Bake for 30 Minutes at 200° c/400° f/gas 6.

Serve once adequately cooled, goes great alongside a steaming glass of original Irish coffee.

Ingredients for Irish Apple Cake

Makes One Tart (approximately 9 3/4 inches (24.675005 cm) in diameter), a decent 10 slices

Prep time: 30 mins; Cooking time: 30 minutes
(Cooling time: 15 minutes; Eating time: 2-5 minutes/slice, depending on mouth size and prevailing level of gossip)

  • 3 lbs (1.4 kg) Cooking Apples, peeled and cored
  • 1 lb (450 g) All-purpose Flour
  • 1/2 lb (225 g) Coconut Oil [Butter], chilled
  • 5 Tbsp Demerara Sugar [light brown, turbinado sugar]
  • 1 tsp Cinnamon
  • Juice of 1/2 Lemon; Zest of 1 Lemon
  • 6 oz (180 ml) Ice Water
  • 3 whole Cloves
  • Pinch of Salt
[alternative ingredient]

Close up of Irish apple cake


  1. Sift the Flour into a Mixing Bowl and Rub in the Coconut Oil (straight from the Fridge).
  2. Gradually Pour Ice Water into the bowl and Fold the Pastry briefly with a Dinner Knife. Bring it together and cut into two halves. Place one of the halves in the fridge for 30 minutes. Use a Rolling Pin to Roll out the other half, then Line an ovenproof Plate with it, leaving a little bit of the pastry overhanging the edge. Place this plate in freezer for 15 minutes.
  3. Remove Dough from freezer and thinly (1/8 – 1/2 inch) Slice the cored and peeled Apples into the tart. Sprinkle 2 Tbsp of Sugar on top halfway through and then add the rest of the apples.
  4. Add the remaining ingredients: 2 Tbsp Sugar, Lemon Juice, Cinnamon, Lemon Zest, Cloves. Preheat oven to 200° c/400° f/gas 6. Remove other half of pastry from fridge and roll out.
  5. Dampen the edge of the base with Ice Water and attach the pastry lid, pressing down around the edge to seal. Trim overhanging pastry with a Sharp Knife.
  6. To form the crust, use the dinner knife to gently Lift the edge of the pastry away from the plate, then Tap the dough so that it bunches up. Bring a pretty trim to the gathered dough by making little Incisions around the edge and Pressing your Thumb into the mass after each.
  7. Brush lid with 1 Tbsp Water and Dust with 1 Tbsp Sugar. Pierce a couple of vents in the top of the your Irish apple cake to abet the steam in its escape. Place in preheated oven for 30 minutes.

Typically served with Whipped Cream or Custard. We are reliably informed that you can even use the institutional Bird’s custard without animal products, if you want to keep this recipe entirely vegan and vegetarian.