My mouth is famously deviant. At least in my own mind it is. This admission shouldn’t startle you. There’s no need to suggest a therapist or, worse, call the cops. No, my only anomaly is the big hole under my nose. The rest of me has no trouble following the guidelines of decent society. This cake is the perfect example. At first glance it seems like a classic. The version I’m most familiar with is the cinnamon-spiced, apple-topped German version known as apfelkuchen. But the cake you see here has a pungent little secret that sets it apart from other fruit-topped cakes. This cake is unexpectedly sweet, sour, bitter, pungent, and salty. That doesn’t sound like I’m describing a typical cake. Then again this Chinese Five-Spice Apple Cake is hardly typical. That’s because Chinese five-spice powder is a mixture more commonly used to season savory meats and vegetables in Asian cooking. But I find it a beguiling partner to a lot of different sweet treats too. Because it magically captures the full spectrum of flavors. Giving this sweet Five-Spice Apple Cake the savory allure of umami.
Five-spice may sound like a curious addition to most desserts. Yet, to be fair, acceptable flavor combinations are as much a matter of convention as anything else. In my house convention is in the mouth of the beholder. After all, cinnamon is a major component in most five-spice powder mixtures and we all know cinnamon is a very apple-friendly spice. Five-spice, like cinnamon, lends a nice warmth but with a more sweet, sour, bitter, pungent, salty complexity. So quit worrying about me. I’m not that strange. GREG