When I was little, my mother used to take me and my brother to a mercantile shop situated in what looked like a giant old barn. The only things I can remember them selling were fancy sliced soaps and local fruits and vegetables, but I know there had to be other things for sale in the shop because, as an adult looking back at that selection, it seems kind of weird. I always spent a good 5 minutes straightaway smelling all the soap slices and admiring their intricate patterns. Then I'd eventually meander around the store until my mom beckoned us to the cafe counter, which I would eagerly scurry over to with the hope that I'd get a little something from the high-up countertop. In the fall and winter they would sell piping hot homemade apple cider, and year-round they had sliced apples with a little cup of caramel dip, and that's what we always got. As a child with wiggling loose teeth, I appreciated that they sold them sliced rather than whole because it was easier to bite into. And it also meant I could usually fanangle an obscene amount of caramel onto each slice (much more than a regular caramel apple would have allotted.)
My love for the simplicity of apples and caramel has continued since that point, and flourished into an appreciation of variations on that same flavor combination, which resulted in me making this ridiculously tasty caramel-apple themed cake. I incorporated a salted caramel glaze into the whipped and fluffy frosting, and used apple sauce and spices to give the cake that warm and cozy apple flavor. The result was a cake unlike any I'd had before. The salted caramel flavor of the frosting didn't kick in until about a second after the first bite, which made for a nice surprise and really pleasant aftertaste. And the texture of the frosting was just wonderful, light and smooth and airy and everything that a frosting should be. This was my first time making a frosting with the flour-milk technique, and at first I was skeptical that it would end up as a fluffy frosting when it looked like Elmer's glue in the saucepan, but it totally worked! And even though there were more steps to it than a regular old butter and powdered sugar frosting, I found the lighter texture of this frosting style a lot easier to work with when it came to frosting the cake (i.e. I had zero cake crumbs come out into the frosting while I was spreading it on the cake, which was awesome.)
As for the cake, it was realllly moist (I know a lot of people hate that word, but there's no other way to describe it! Hydrated just sounds wrong when describing the moisture of a cake.) and it had the most beautiful apple-y smell. I could have sworn from the scent that I'd made an apple pie rather than a cake! But alas there was a large cake sitting in front of me, and so I helped myself to several pieces while making a mental note to bake some apple pie soon. I ended up making a lot of baked goods that weekend and invited my friend Ryan over to help me and Jeremy eat some of them, and this cake was his favorite of them all, so it has been friend-taste-tested and APPROVED. Also! A week ago I held a giveaway with King Arthur Flour for a St. Paddy's Day cupcake decorating set, and today I am announcing the winner! Barrrrrummmmbumbumbumbumbumbummmmm......
Congratulations Andrew's Mom!
I will be getting in touch with you shortly about your lovely gift! And I wanted to thank all of you for entering and for your comments. After reading them, I am ashamed to admit that I've never had corned beef and hash but after hearing you all rave about it I am definitely going to remedy that this Saint Patrick's day. Thank you again!
Spiced Apple Cake
2 and 1/4 Cups Flour
1 and 1/2 Cups Unsweetened Applesauce
1 and 1/4 Cups Granulated Sugar
1 Cup Vegetable Oil
1/4 Cup Brown Sugar
2 and 1/2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1 Teaspoon Salt
3/4 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1 and 1/2 Teaspoons Cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon Nutmeg
1/2 Teaspoon Cloves
1/2 Cup Golden Raisins
1/4 Cup Pecans
Salted Caramel Frosting
1 and 1/4 Cups Plus 1/3 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Cup Whole Milk
1 Cup Plus 1/4 Cup Butter (unsalted), softened
1/4 Cup Plus 1 Tablespoon Flour
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/2 Cup Heavy Cream, at room temperature
1/3 Cup Brown Sugar, packed
2 Tablespoons Water
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
Begin by making the cake. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves until well blended. Set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the eggs, granulated sugar, brown sugar, applesauce, vegetable oil, and vanilla extract together with the paddle attachment until combined. Gradually add the dry ingredient mixture to the mixing bowl and beat until the batter is smooth. Turn off the mixer and stir in the raisins and pecans. Evenly distribute the batter between 2 well-greased and lightly floured 8-inch cake pans and bake for 40-50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Flip out onto a wire rack to cool.
While the cake is baking/cooling, you can get started on the frosting. The first step to this frosting is making the caramel. In a small thick-bottomed saucepan, mix together the water and 1/3 cup of the granulated sugar until well blended. Bring to a boil over medium-low heat and continue boiling until the mixture turns a light caramel color, only stirring once every four minutes. This could take anywhere between 8 to 15 minutes, the speed will depend upon the heat of your stovetop. Remove the pan from the heat and quickly stir in the heavy cream, brown sugar, and 1/4 cup of the butter until incorporated. Be careful as the mixture will spit and hiss a bit. If the sugar begins to clump up when you're stirring do not fret, just stir as best as you can for about 30 seconds and then put the pot back on the heat and bring it back to a boil again over medium-low heat. Once it is boiling again stir until the sugar chunk dissolves and the mixture is smooth. Once it smoothes out, stir it every two minutes and allow the mixture to simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from the stovetop and stir in the salt. It will look thin but it will thicken slightly as it cools. Set aside and allow to cool.
In a medium-sized thick-bottomed saucepan, whisk together the flour and milk over medium heat. Continue whisking and heating the mixture until it gets slightly thicker than elmer's glue, (this took me about 8 minutes). Whisk in the vanilla extract and then set the mixture aside to cool to room temperature.
Once the mixture is completely cooled, beat the remaining cup of butter and 1 and 1/4 cups granulated sugar in an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment at medium-high speed until light and fluffy and whipped-looking, which should take about 3-5 minutes. Add the cooled flour/milk mixture and continue beating for another 2 minutes. Then drizzle in the salted caramel sauce while it is mixing and beat for 1 minute. Set the frosting aside.
Once the cake has cooled completely, frost it and serve.