This past weekend, we were blessed with the opportunity to gather as a family and celebrate several birthdays including my mother's, her twin brother's and my cousin's. It was a day filled with beautiful weather, cheery spirits (both moods and beverages) and lots of laughter.
In honor of my mother's birthday, I finally had a motivation to attempt a cake design inspired by a Pinterest post that I have been eyeing for quite some time. My mother LOVES caramel apples (as of course do I), and they are always a staple in our homes each fall. Fortunately, you can turn almost anything into a cake in both taste and design.
Now, I am not and do not claim to be a terrific baker or decorator. I will admit, I literally had difficulties sleeping one night in fear of my caramel apple cakes being a flop leaving us dessert-less. I imagined an endless struggle between me and the caramel when trying to coat the top of the cake (see my cheat to success in the directions for assembly below). Given the extent of my irrational nerves over a cake design, I am thrilled with the outcome. My execution of the caramel apple cakes has its flaws and could be executed by more seasoned bakers much for skillfully, however as a novice baker, they turned out better than I had hoped! I look forward to recreating this design and improving with each attempt. So, take this post as a vote of confidence from a novice baker that you can do more than you think!
The recipe outlined herein is intended to make one large three tier cake. As I was reaching for my round cake pans, I saw in the corner of my cabinet four mini spring-form cake pans, and a light bulb switched on. With the number of birthdays we were celebrating and with the general size of caramel apples, this recipe would be perfect to divide and make mini caramel apple cakes. Plus, everyone should get their own cake and candles to wish upon on their birthday.
I am pleased with the result - they are adorable! Better yet, they are delicious!
This cake recipe is bursting with flavor from the apple spice cake to the sweet creamy caramel which is nothing short of perfection. You cannot buy caramel like this, you have to make it, and I promise that the recipe below is doable by people of varying culinary levels. The cake is further coated with a smooth, sweet buttercream frosting and finished with a salty crunch in the peanut garnish along the edges. The original recipe called for a caramel buttercream, however with the multiple components of the cake, I elected to stay with my tried and true recipe of a simple vanilla buttercream. Feel free to adapt as you see fit! Most importantly, enjoy this delicious and precious fall treat!
CARAMEL APPLE CAKE
For the Cake
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon allspice (can also substitute with apple pie spice)
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into 1-inch cubes
- 2 1/2 cups sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 4 cups unsweetened applesauce
- crushed peanuts (for decor)
For the Caramel Sauce
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 1/4 cup corn syrup
- 1/2 cup of butter, softened, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- 1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
For the Buttercream Frosting
- 3 cups confectioners sugar
- 1 cup butter, softened
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 to 2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
For the Cake
- Preheat the oven to 325-degrees. Butter three 8 or 9-inch round cake pans, line the bottoms with parchment paper and butter the parchment. Dust the parchment with flour and knock out the excess flour (I really enjoy using the Pam with Flour product as a substitute to this step). (Note in the pictures above, I baked 3 rounds of cakes using this mini spring-form pan set).
- Sift the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, allspice (or apple pie spice) and cloves together in a large bowl. Set aside.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (or a hand mixer), 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 (1/3 flour + 1/2 applesauce + 1/3 flour + 1/2 applesauce + 1/3 flour). Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then mix on low speed for a few more seconds until thoroughly combined.
- 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 or cake tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Note that the mini spring form pan cakes took approximately 30 to 35 minutes.
- Transfer the pans to a wire rack and cool for 20 minutes. Turn the cakes onto the rack, remove the parchment, and let cool completely.
For the Caramel Sauce
- In a medium saucepan with high sides, combine the sugar and corn syrup with 1/2 cup water. Stir the mixture gently. 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 reaches 300-degrees Fahrenheit on a candy thermometer (or once it begins to turn a rich caramel color if you are eyeballing it), remove from heat, add the butter and cream and stir until combined.
- You can save the caramel sauce, tightly covered, in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. Let it come to room temperature before using it on cakes, ice cream or other treats. If you want a warm caramel topping, heat the caramel sauce in short bursts in the microwave or using a double boiler.
For the Frosting
- In a stand mixer with a whisk attachment (or a hand mixer), mix together sugar and butter. Mix on low speed until well blended and then increase speed to medium and beat for another 3 minutes.
- Add vanilla and cream and continue to beat on medium speed for 1 minute more, adding more cream if needed for desired spreading consistency.
For the Assembly
- Use a cake turntable or a circular cake board to assist in rotating the cake while frosting. Cut a circle out of parchment paper to fit under the cake for further assistance in transferring the cake between the work space and the ultimate serving platter.
- Place first cake layer over the parchment paper. Decorating Tip: If the top layer of cake is more dome-like than flat, take a serrated bread knife and slice across the top layer to create a flat surface (plus you can use the scraps to taste test the cake).
- Fill a frosting piping bag with a standard circular tip (bigger is better for filling purposes). Pipe a border around the edge of the cake. Decorating Tip: I like to perform this step to ensure that the visible cracks between layers are filled. Oftentimes when starting in the center and spreading the frosting outward, the frosting is too thin on the edges resulting in a gap between layers that will become visible and will have to be filled when frosting the outside of the cake. Alleviate this step by making a nice cushy layer on the edges, that when pushed down with other layers, will result in extra frosting that can be removed and used to smooth the remainder of the cake.
- Fill the inside of the circle with frosting to create a smooth layer of buttercream.
- Add second cake layer, and repeat steps 3 and 4.
- Add third cake layer.
- Begin to frost the outside of the cake. Decorating Tip: First start with a "crumb layer". The crumb layer is a thin layer of frosting coated over the entirety of the cake to fill any crevices and manage any crumbs that can interfere with the smooth frosting layer. Once completed, clean the spatula and begin the final buttercream layer. Note that with this cake, the frosting on the bottom half and the very top layer does not need to be perfect as these areas will be covered with other elements of the cake.
- Upon completion of the frosting layer, take crushed peanuts and layer around the bottom half of the cake. Do this by taking a large heaping scoop in hand, carefully pressing against the cake and applying slight pressure to ensure the nuts settle into the frosting.
- For the caramel topping, if you are worried like I was regarding the caramel staying on top, pipe a thin border of buttercream frosting around the top cake layer to serve as a bumper to contain the creamy caramel. If you have the skill set to alleviate this step, all of the power to you - you will likely result in an even more polished cake.
- Fill a piping bag with caramel and pipe a swirl starting from the outer edge and moving inwards. Smooth with a spatula as needed.
- Finish with a thin wooden rod and a bright red bow.
- Give your self a pat on the back, and enjoy a well deserved piece of cake!
Recipe and cake design adapted from The Great Cake Company.