Sunday, September 16, 2012

apple harvest cake with salted caramel cream cheese frosting


Oh Fall, how I've missed you! All winter, spring, and summer, I dream about your arrival and the party that ensues in the form of apples, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, and acorn squash. And rest assured: this gal is ready for that party.

Yes, I know that autumn doesn't technically begin until the end of this week, but I just can't wait any longer. So brace yourselves, Friends. A year's worth of harvest recipes are about to come bursting forth.

And what better way to welcome in this most lovely time of the year than with a caramel apple-inspired celebratory cake?? Having reached an exciting milestone at work, I decided that a tasty reward was in order for my coworkers. They didn't object.

Of note: this cake was surprisingly fluffy for an apple cake. While I was expecting a dense and heavy treat, this was actually quite light. More spice flavored than overtly apple, it tasted like autumn on a plate. And, paired with a fabulous cream cheese frosting made extra special by the addition of a homemade salted caramel sauce, it was definitely a flavor combo that showed off the best tastes of the season.

P.S. Please excuse the less than lovely photo. Booo for long work hours and decreasing daylight!

Apple Harvest Cake with Salted Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting

For the cake:
3 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 cups sugar
2 tablespoons molasses
6 large eggs
3 cups cake flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 cup sour cream
3 Granny Smith apples, peeled and shredded (approximately 2 cups)
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

For the icing:
16 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into pieces, at room temperature
2 cups confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
pinch of salt
heaping 1/3 cup salted caramel sauce, more or less to taste

For the salted caramel sauce:
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons Kosher salt or sea salt

1/4 cup walnuts or pecans for garnish, toasted and chopped (optional)

To make the caramel sauce:

Pour the water into a medium saucepan. Add the sugar and corn syrup to the middle of the pan, avoiding any contact with the side of the pan. Over medium heat, bring to a boil, swirling the pan periodically but never stirring, until a deep amber color forms, about 6 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and carefully whisk in 1/4 cup cream. After bubbling subsides, add the remaining cream, butter, vanilla, and salt. Let the caramel cool to room temperature before using.

To make the cake:

Preheat the oven to 350°. Grease 3 9-inch cake pans, then line each one with a parchment paper round and grease the rounds.

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the molasses, scraping down the sides of the bowl. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. In a second bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, and ground spices. Add the flour mixture and sour cream alternately to the batter, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Stir in the shredded apples and vanilla.

Evenly distribute into the three pans (the batter will be very thick). Place in the oven and bake until a tooth pick inserted in the center comes out clean, 35-40 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the pans for 10 minutes. Run a knife along the edges and carefully unmold the cakes onto cooling racks. Cool completely before icing.

To make the frosting:

In a large mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese and butter until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add in the confectioners' sugar and continue beating until smooth. Add in the vanilla and salt. Slowly add in the caramel sauce. Beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes.

To assemble the cake:

Place one cake layer on a cake stand and spread a layer of icing on top. Repeat with the second layer of cake and additional icing. Top with the final layer and cover the entire cake with a thin 'crumb coat' layer of frosting. Refrigerate until icing is firm to the touch. Use the additional frosting to cover the cake in a final coat (you may have leftover frosting). Decorate as desired with toasted nuts and/or additional salted caramel.

Cake barely adapted from Pink Parsley; Frosting barely adapted from Good Thymes and Good Food

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