Friday, October 19, 2012

Apple Caramel Cake

This is truly a phenomenal cake. I saw it on Pinterest a month or two ago, and knew immediately that it was what I would be making for my birthday cake (several weeks ago now). When Mom asked me what kind of cake I would like her to make, I stated quite firmly that there would be no cake-making on her part, as I had something special in mind. Her initial protests of 'but it's your birthday!' shortly turned to 'well that's wonderful, I don't have to make something then!' were fine by me!

Not only did the flavours completely appeal to me, but the complexity of the recipe did. Complexity isn't exactly the right word... it wasn't a difficult cake to make, but very time-consuming with all of the components needed- IF you're making them all from scratch. Which of course, I had to. And boy I'm glad I did. This was one of the best cakes I have ever tasted. I try to stay away from saying those extremes so they don't lose meaning, but I do believe I enjoyed it more than my lemon blueberry cake filled with lemon curd (which you didn't get to see because it fell apart in transit- boo).

This cake had me begging for seconds. Because it was so tall, and with eating it not too long after Thanksgiving dinner, even the thinnest piece was more than enough for me. It was actually terribly disappointing to not be able to have a second piece due to honestly being too full. This would have been one time where I felt no shame in taking a second slice.

The apple flavour was a little more subtle than I would have liked, but it was definitely still there. Rather, the cake had more of a spiced cake flavour (probably due to all the spices!) which was perfectly fall-appropriate. By adding a layer of caramel to each cake layer, combined with the caramel buttercream really had the caramel shining through, but not in an overpowering way. Actually, I kind of wished I had put just a little more caramel on the cake layers. The cake itself was dense and wonderfully moist. All in all, I adored this cake. I'm thrilled that I have a little bit left stored in my freezer for later.

I would highly suggest making this cake! And if you have the time, make each component yourself. It's actually quite doable if you spread it over 2-3 days by making the apple sauce the day before, and the caramel can even be made a couple days before (as long as it's brought to room temp before using). The apple sauce was divine; because I made the full recipe of apple sauce and a smaller recipe for the cake, I had about a cup left over. I'm pretty sure that cup was gone before the sauce was even cooled it was that good! It tasted like apple pie. I would probably make the apple sauce again just on its own. The caramel was delicious, but how can you go wrong with caramel? Oh wait, there are lots of ways to go wrong in the cooking process! This however, was the first recipe where I didn't botch it at all, and it turned out perfect. I haven't seen the use of corn syrup before, so maybe that made a difference, I'm not sure. Either way, the leftover caramel syrup didn't last long in my house either because I was busy putting it on ice cream, dipping apple slices into it and [I'm not even ashamed to say because it was so good] eating it by the spoonful. MAKE IT! And the Italian Meringue Buttercream I shouldn't even have to speak to, because you should all know by now that with how many times I've used it, it's my favourite!

For the Applesauce:
3 Fuji apples, peeled, cored and quartered
3 Golden Delicious apples, peeled, cored and quartered
2 cups apple cider
3/4 cups apple juice
2 tablespoons of brandy (optional)
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

In a medium saucepan, bring the apple cider over medium-high heat to a soft boil. Boil the apple cider until it reduces down to about 1/4 cup. This may take anywhere from 35-50 minutes (took mine about 45 minutes). This produces an intensely flavoured apple cider concentrate.

In a medium-large saucepan, combine all ingredients, and stir to combine. Cover the saucepan, and cook over medium heat for 15 to 20 minutes, or until apples are soft. Allow to cool, then mash with a potato masher or a hand blender to your desired consistency. Chill sauce to room temperature before adding to cake batter (see recipe below).
For the Cake:
4 cups all-purpose flour          (3 cups)
2 teaspoons baking soda         (1 1/2 tsp)
1 teaspoons baking powder     (3/4 tsp)
1 teaspoon salt                         (3/4 tsp)
1 teaspoons cinnamon            (1 tsp)
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice  (1/4 + 1/8 tsp)
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves   (1/4 + 1/8 tsp)
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature  (1 cup + 2 tbsp)
2 1/2 cups sugar                      (2 cups minus 2 tbsp)
2 large eggs                             (2 eggs)
4 cups homemade applesauce (see recipe above) or store-bought unsweetened applesauce (3 cups)

Preheat the oven to 325-degrees. Grease three 8-inch round cake pans (or if cutting recipe down, then use 6-inch pans) using butter or shortening, line the bottoms with parchment paper, and grease the parchment. Dust the parchment with flour and knock out the excess flour.

Sift the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, allspice, and cloves together into a large bowl. Set aside.

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter until creamy, about 4 minutes. Add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg and beat until combined.

Add the flour mixture to the mixer bowl in three parts, alternating with the applesauce, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Scrape down the bowl, then mix on low speed for a few more seconds.
Divide the batter among the prepared pans and smooth the tops. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through the baking time, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Transfer the pans to a wire rack and cool for 20 minutes. Turn the cakes out onto the rack, remove the parchment, and let cool completely.

*Note: The original recipe produced 3 thicker 8-inch layers. I anticipated the same result by cutting the recipe down; however, the recipe still produced a huge amount of batter. Each layer was high enough that it required quite a bit longer than 45 minutes (if I remember, closer to an hour) to bake, and also they needed to be cut in half before assembling. This produced 6 perfect sized layers; however 6 layers would have made the cake just a little too high and so I only used 5 and made a mini cake with the 6th layer and the remaining frosting.

For the Caramel Sauce:
Yield: about 2 cups
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup corn syrup
1/2 cup (1 stick) of butter, softened, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 ½ cups heavy cream

In a medium saucepan with high sides, combine the sugar and corn syrup with 1/2 cup water. Stir the mixture gently so you don’t slosh any of it up the sides of the pan. Turn the heat to medium-high and continue stirring until the sugar dissolves. Increase heat to high, stop stirring, and allow the mixture to boil. Once it begins to turn a rich caramel color (if you don’t want to eyeball it, take the caramel to 300 degrees F on a candy thermometer), remove it from the heat quickly and add the cream slowly. Be careful as it bubbles up ferociously. Once the bubbles have subsided, add in the butter cubes and stir until butter is melted and thoroughly combined.

You can save the caramel sauce, tightly covered, in the refrigerator for up to several weeks (not sure on an exact time line, I was still eating it nearly 3 weeks later). 

For the Caramel Italian Meringue Buttercream
2 1/4 cups sugar, divided (1 cup 2 tbsp each)
6 tablespoons water (1/4 cup + 2 tbsp)
6 large egg whites, at cool room temperature
¼ teaspoon salt
1 1/2 tsp lemon juice
4 sticks (2 cups) unsalted butter, at cool room temperature

Over medium heat, bring water and 1 cup + 2 tablespoons of the sugar to a boil. Cover the pot and let boil for 2-3 minutes to wash any sugar crystals off the sides of the pot. Remove cover and cook until the sugar syrup reaches 248 degrees, F.

In the meantime, fit your stand mixer with the whisk attachment. On medium speed, whip egg whites, salt and lemon juice until foamy. Add the reserved sugar and beat to medium-stiff peaks. Try to time this so the sugar water and the whites are ready at the same time.

When the sugar has reached 248 degrees, F and the whites are at medium-stiff peaks, with the mixer on medium-high, carefully pour the sugar syrup in a thin stream down the inside of the bowl. Whip until cool, about 8-10 minutes.

Feel the mixing bowl, it should feel like it's room temperature. Add the butter 2 tbsp at a time, whipping until each piece is completely incorporated before adding another piece. The icing might start to look a little curdled, or conversely, feel like soft marshmallow fluff, but it should come together nicely by the time you have added all the butter. You should be able to see the consistency start to change, and the magical change occurs when you've reached the right combination of butter and time (sometimes I'm able to get away with not adding in all the butter required). Once the frosting has changed consistency to beautifully whipped, add in 1/3 cup of the caramel sauce that was made earlier (or store-bought). Give it a taste and if you decide you'd like a bit more caramel, go for it!

If desired, tort each cake layer in half, and level off the tops if needed. Put a thin layer of caramel sauce on the layers and then spread caramel buttercream on top. Next, add another layer of cake and frost as you did with the first layer. Place the last layer on top bottom side up. Spread a very thin layer of frosting over the entire cake (crumb coat) and place the cake on the fridge for 20 minutes, or until the buttercream has become firm. Remove the cake from the fridge and use the remaining frosting to ice the top and sides. An easy technique for getting beautifully smooth sides when using buttercreams, particularly Swiss or Italian Meringue, is to run your spatula under hot water, then dry it off before smoothing the frosting. The heat from the spatula slightly melts the buttercream, creating a smooth surface. Rinse and dry the spatula frequently. Use the remaining caramel to drizzle over the top. Add chopped peanuts, if desired.

Source: Apple Sauce, Caramel Sauce and Cake taken from The Great Cake Company, Buttercream from my post on Strawberry Cupcakes

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