Sunday, September 16, 2012

Welcome Guest Author Kathleen Ernst with Danish Apple Cake

Author Kathleen Ernst joins us in the Kitchen today with an intriguing historical recipe and a generous gesture. 

Leave a comment and you are entered to win one of her wonderfully enjoyable Chloe Ellefson mysteries. More details below, but first, please welcome Kathleen!  

~ Cleo

Author Kathleen Ernst
Learn more about
y fascination with ethnic domestic history has shaped my own kitchen traditions.  I write the Chloe Ellefson mysteries, each set at an historic site.  Chloe, a curator, loves discovering stories about everyday women from the past.  (She also discovers dead bodies along the way, but that’s another story.)

The latest book, The Light Keeper’s Legacy, is set on an island off the tip of Wisconsin’s Door County, in Lake Michigan.  Chloe has been hired to help restore an old lighthouse.  While living and working in this isolated spot, she becomes fascinated with the women who once lived on the island.  A few worked in the lighthouse.  Many more settled in a fishing village that briefly flourished in the 1800s.  Chloe soon learns that past crimes are affecting modern murder.

I created a fictional Danish immigrant, Ragna Anderson, as a main character in the historical timeline that twines with Chloe’s.  When I asked food historians and Danish-Americans what dish might be appropriate for Ragna’s kitchen, the answer was almost always the same:  Aeblekage—Danish Apple Cake.

The recipes I’ve collected come from treasured family traditions, old community cookbooks, and more modern ethnic collections.  In most versions the cake is not baked, but served trifle-style.

It’s easy to see how this simple dish evolved.  The earliest versions call for only apples, bread crumbs, a little butter and sugar.  I can imagine rural Danish women saucing windfall apples and crushing stale bits of bread to create a treat for their families.

Those who immigrated brought the tradition with them.  My friend RuthAnn, who shared her grandmother’s recipe, recalled:  “I grew up watching Mother make this, as it was Daddy’s favorite dessert.  I started making it myself when I was about 10 years old.  We had our own apple trees, and we always had a jar of dried breadcrumbs from leftover bread.”  Although the recipe had been in her family for generations, RuthAnn had to write it down for me since it had never before been captured on paper.

In its most basic form, Danish Apple Cake —just applesauce and sweetened crumbs layered in a dish—is a quick and tasty dessert. 

Danish Apple Cake

2 cups of applesauce
2 cups breadcrumbs
¼ c. butter
½ c. brown sugar

Melt the butter and brown sugar in a small skillet over medium heat.  Add the crumbs to that mixture and toast gently, stirring constantly, for several minutes.

In a clear glass dish, layer 1 cup of applesauce, 1 cup of the breadcrumb mixture, 1 cup of applesauce, and 1 cup of the crumbs.

Note:  You can use purchased ingredients or start from scratch.  In Ragna’s honor I chose to make my own sauce and crumbs.

For the applesauce:  

core 4-6 apples (mine were on the small side, so I needed 6 apples to make 2 cups of sauce).  Peeling is optional.  Cut the apples into chunks and place in a saucepan with enough water or fruit juice to cover the bottom.  Simmer over medium heat until fruit is soft and easy to mash with a spoon—about 20 minutes—stirring frequently.  

Add sugar to taste as needed (I don’t add any).  If there is a lot of liquid in the pan, simmer for a few more minutes.

For the bread crumbs:  

layer 8 slices of bread on a cookie sheet and toast in a 200 degree oven until thoroughly dry, about 20 minutes. 

I buzzed mine through a blender to make crumbs.  You can also pulverize with a potato masher or run the bread through a grinder.

You can also embellish the cake as you wish.  Almost all of the recipes I’ve seen call for a layer of whipped cream to cover the top layer of crumbs.  A recipe from 1948 calls for adding half a cup of milk to the crumbs, layering the applesauce and crumb mixture in an angel food pan, and baking “in a moderate oven” until the cake shrinks from the pan.

A recipe handed down in my friend Sally’s family specifies a mixture of graham cracker crumbs and Holland Rusks or Zwieback, and the addition of cinnamon.  Half a pint of whipping cream is beaten with 2 t. powdered sugar and 1 tsp. vanilla extract for the top layer.  Once the whipped cream is spread on the cake, it is decorated with dollops of crabapple or currant jelly.  Other more modern recipes include oats, nuts, or cookie crumbs.

If any Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen readers have their own memories of (or recipes for) Danish Apple Cake, I’d love to hear how they compare!  And if you enjoy food history too, you might enjoy my earlier posts: 


A final note from Kathleen....

I’m grateful to Cleo and friends for allowing me to be a guest here. And I’m grateful to readers! I love my work, and I’d be nowhere without you. Leave a comment, and your name will go into a drawing; the winner may choose any of my Chloe Ellefson mysteries:  Old World Murder, The Heirloom Murders, or The Light Keeper’s Legacy.  For more information see my website,, or my blog, .


To learn more about Kathleen's
Chloe Ellefson Mystery series,
click here.


The Light Keeper’s Legacy is Kathleen Ernst’s twenty-fourth published book.  In addition to the Chloe Ellefson series, she has written many books for American Girl, including the six-book series about the newest historical character, Caroline Abbott.  Several of her mysteries for young readers have been finalists for Edgar or Agatha awards.  

Leave a comment on this post
and you will be entered 
to win
your choice of Kathleen's mysteries!
Contest ends Wednesday evening 9/19 


  1. Kathleen, good to see you here! You can't go wrong with apples, and how lovely that you combine them with a family tradition.

  2. Great post. How can you resisit recipes and books? You make one, then eat it while reading a mystery.
    debby236 at gmail dot com

  3. Sheila - you're so right! :>)

    Debby - Thanks for the comment.

  4. I happen to be traveling today, and so won't be able to check in as often as I would otherwise. But I'm delighted to be here, and welcome any comments or questions!

  5. This looks great. My nephew just picked a lot of apples. We will have to try it. He loves fruit deserts.

  6. I can well imagine Danish women trying to use ingredients that were plentiful. When I saw the title, I thought of my mother's Danish Apple Cake, which is remarkably different. It's a sheet of pastry with sliced apples on top. Of course, it *is* served with whipped dream -- so typically European!

    ~ Krista

    1. Krista - interesting version! I wonder if it evolved from a simpler form.

  7. OOOOHHH!! I may have to make that for my guinea pigs at the office!!!

  8. What an interesting dessert. I am going to give it a try.

    1. Ok, I knew I had to make this. No plain bread crumbs.
      Hum graham crackers would be good. None of those either, but
      I had gingersnap cookies. Wonderful.
      thanks for posting this.

    2. Sandra, you're my kind of cook! I bet I'd love this with gingersnaps.

  9. Kathleen, so nice to have you here! I love the idea of the lighthouse mystery...and what an unusual dessert!

  10. Don't you love recipes with directions like, "Put it in a moderate oven (what is that) and bake until it's done(!)" Thanks for the historic contribution

  11. Kathleen, the recipe looks delicious! I like how you incorporate historical facts into the making of the dish.

    1. Libby, Karen - thanks for your comments. So many women left little of themselves behind...but their recipes are a wonderful link, even if we have to decipher and experiment a bit!

  12. This recipe sounds so good Can't wait to try it. I love this website I always find great authors. Can't wait to read her books. Thanks so much.

  13. What a nice easy dessert. Love this series

    1. Kiki, Nancy - Thanks! Hope you enjoy both the recipe and the series.

  14. Oh boy another new to me author....Can't wait to start this series. If I win I'd like the first one in the series. Thanks, Dee
    grammyd01 at comcast dot net

  15. Kathleen - Thanks again for contributing another wonderful post and recipe to our Kitchen.

    To those of you who haven't yet read one of Kathleen's Chloe Ellefson mysteries, you're in for a literary treat. Cheers and good luck to everyone!

    ~ Cleo

  16. The new mystery sounds intriguing but now I have to go back and start with the first. Can't wait to try this new (to me) series.

    1. Suzze, I like to start at the beginning of series too. Good luck!

  17. I have read the first two books in the series and really enjoyed them. It's great to have your post today, so I know about the next book. Best of luck with it.


    1. Lynette, I'l so glad you're enjoying the series! I'm excited about getting Chloe out to a new setting.

  18. Thanks to Cleo and the MLK crew for introducing me to another author and series that looks right up my alley, not to mention a great recipe for Danish Apple Cake! I would be thrilled to win a copy of any of Kathleen's books as I haven't read them yet. Thank you for the chance to win.

  19. Your books sound great! Thank for having the contest

  20. Thanks again to Cleo and everyone here at MLK, and to everyone who stopped by! I'll give late-comers a chance to enter, and then we'll pick a winner!

  21. Not only does the recipe sound yummy, but your books look interesting, I'm going to have to read one. Thank you for an interesting post.