Caramel Apple Cake

Also known as: apple cider-infused brown butter cake with apple pie filling and salted caramel buttercream frosting.

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Ahhh fall baking. When the weather turns cooler and the colors of autumn paint the trees and roads in rich golden hues, dessert just seems necessary. Last year at this time, I was finishing up a month-long trip to Guatemala where temperatures were in the 80’s and 90’s everyday and the leaves remain lush and green year-round. You may think that the perpetual summer-like weather would keep those longings for pumpkins and apples at bay, but you’d be wrong. The Americans in my group still craved the sweet indulgences of the season…so much so that we made special requests for baking ingredients to be sent over for our survival enjoyment (thanks, Mom!). Some cravings are just ingrained in us.

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In my opinion, this cake sums up the best flavors of the season. Sweet apple cider, cinnamon-laced apples, and that perfect balance of salted caramel. Fall, in cake form.


Caramel Apple Cake
For the cake:
3 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
4 tablespoons brown butter
2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup tightly packed brown sugar
6 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
2/3 cup canola oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For the apple cider soak:
1/4 cup apple cider
1 teaspoon tightly packed brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

For the apple pie filling:
3 Granny Smith apples
2 tablespoon unsalted butter
2/3 cup tightly packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch

For the frosting:
1/2 cup granulated sugar
4 tablespoons water
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) salted butter
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 teaspoon sea salt
4 cups powdered sugar
Preheat the oven to 350˚ F. Line 3 9-inch round baking pans with parchment paper rounds. Butter the bottom and sides of the pans and dust with flour.
In a medium bowl, sift together the dry ingredients for the cake. Set aside.
Combine the butters and sugars in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat together on high speed for 2-3 minutes until fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the eggs one at a time, and then mix on medium-high for 2-3 minutes.
With the mixer on low speed, slowly stream in the buttermilk, oil, and vanilla. Beat for 6-7 minutes, until the mixture is white, twice the size of the original butter and sugar mixture, and completely homogeneous.
With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients and blend for 45-60 seconds.
Divide the batter evenly among the cake pans. Bake for 22-30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Set aside to cool.

While the cake cools, make the filling. Peel, core, and dice the apples into small bite-size pieces. In a medium saucepan, combine the apples, butter, brown sugar, cinnamon and salt. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring frequently to cook evenly. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 3-5 minutes, until the apples are soft but not mushy. Using a slotted spoon, remove the apples from the pan, leaving the sauce. Add the cornstarch, stirring to dissolve. Continue to simmer until the mixture thickens enough to leave a thin coating on a spoon. Add to the cooked apples.

For the frosting, in a saucepan, stir together the granulated sugar and water. Bring to a boil over medium high heat. Cook without stirring until the mixture turns a deep amber color. Remove from the heat and slowly add in the cream and vanilla, stirring until smooth. Let caramel cool until room temperature.
In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat butters and salt together until lightened and fluffy. Reduce speed to low and add powdered sugar. Mix until thoroughly combined.
Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the caramel. Beat on medium speed until light and airy, about 2 minutes.

To assemble, mix the apple cider soak ingredients together in a bowl. Brush the first layer of cake with 1/3 of the soak mixture. Apply a thin coat of frosting to the top. Using a pastry bag, pipe a ring of frosting around the perimeter of the layer, which will serve as a dam for the filling and prevent it from seeping out. Evenly spread out 1/2 of the apple filling. Repeat with the next layer. Top with the final layer, brushing the final 1/3 of soak into the top. Frost and decorate as desired.
Cake, soak, and filling adapted from A Periodic Table. Frosting adapted from Sprinkle Bakes.