07 February 2011

Caramel-Apple Cake

When you have a houseguest, there are any number of preparations to be made, as anyone watching the recent import from the BBC, Downton Abbey, can tell you. My own elements to being a good hostess are much less elaborate, and have evolved over the years from my days days living in tiny Manhattan apartments, when my guests would be offered a corner of the floor to sleep on. Things are a bit more civilized now... and while I'm not up squeezing fresh orange juice or arranging bouquets of flowers for the guest room, I do try to fill the apartment with some element of home baking to greet a guest.  

Such was the frenzy on a Thursday evening when Doug and Meredith and their offspring were arriving late one evening. It was well past dinner, and I doubt they were expecting anything more than a soft bed (or corner of floor) but I would not be deterred. Since they are family, I'm less interested in making a good impression then the chance to try out a new dessert recipe without having to eat the whole thing myself for the next week.  

This was the state of things when I began baking this mammoth cake. It was delectable. Though really with the caramel glaze, the cake itself could have been just about anything and it would have tasted amazing. 
Caramel-Apple Cake
*The height of this cake was somewhat by accident as I wanted a round cake rather than the square version described in the recipe, and had only 8-inch cake rounds. It all worked out in the end, but I had to increase the cooking time significantly to assure the cake was baked through. This is reflected in the recipe below, but if I had to do over again, I would make it in a 9-inch pan, or the square 9x13 inch in the original recipe, and reduce the cooking time. I do however try to keep to advice given me several years back by a professional pastry chef of not relying on timers when baking a cake, but rather to just use a cake tester (toothpick!) once you start smelling the aroma of baked cake!  


Adapted minimally, from Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock, The Gift of Southern Cooking
published in Leites Culinaria 

Cake: 
1 cup light-brown sugar, packed
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
3 eggs
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon 
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 tart apples, peeled and diced into 1/2 inch pieces
1 1/4 cups chopped pecans
2 1/4 teaspoons vanilla extract

Glaze
1/2 stick unsalted butter
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light-brown sugar
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup heavy cream
Cake:  Preheat the oven to 325°F. Beat together the sugars and vegetable oil for about 1 minute, then add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt, and gradually add to the sugar and eggs, mixing just until well blended.

Stir in the apples, pecans, and vanilla, and pour into a buttered and 8-inch round* baking pan. Bake until a skewer or toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 hours (begin checking after 1 hour). Remove from the oven, and allow to cool in the pan while you prepare the caramel.

Glaze: Allow the cream to come to room temperature. Melt the butter in a saucepan, and add both the sugars and the salt. Stir until blended, and cook over medium-low heat for 2 minutes. Stir in the heavy cream, and boil for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. 

Remove the cake from the pan and turn back upright onto a cake stand or plate. Use a skewer or toothpick to poke holes all over the top of the cake, and pour the warm glaze over the surface. Serve warm.



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