Apple Cake with Caramel Buttercream

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Autumn has finally arrived! It may still be 90° here in central Texas, but that isn’t going to stop me from enjoying my favorite fall treats and staring longingly at my beloved flannel shirts, dreaming of crisp breezes and turning leaves. Yes, it is in fact so hot here that carving actual jack-o’-lanterns would render them sad, moldy mounds of orange sadness within a day, and makes for pumpkin patch trips or hayrides only enjoyable with several layers of sunblock and summer clothing. To lift my spirits, I started decorating the house for Halloween, planning our costumes, and researching recipes that fit the season. What better way to get into the fall mood than baking a delicious spiced apple cake with some homemade caramel buttercream?

Ingredients 

For the caramel: 

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2/3 cup heavy cream, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • candy thermometer (optional, but highly recommended)

For the apples:

  • 2 cups diced apples, peeled
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

For the cake: 

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the buttercream:

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup caramel sauce (save the rest for drizzle)
  • 1 – 3 tablespoons heavy cream (optional)

 

Instructions

For the caramel:

  1. In a small saucepan over medium heat, add sugar, salt, and water. Bring to a simmer stirring gently until the sugar is dissolved, approximately 5-8 minutes. Once sugar is dissolved, increase heat to medium-high and cook until the mixture is an amber color without stirring, approximately 5 minutes or so more. If using a candy thermometer, it should reach 350°F. If not, bubbles should appear in the middle and slowly popping. *
  2. Once the caramel is a deep amber color, remove from heat and immediately whisk in the cream and butter until completely incorporated.** Let it cool in the pan slightly and then transfer to another container to cool completely. Feel free to use the refrigerator to speed up the cooling process. If the caramel gets too hard, just leave it out to reach room temperature.

* I highly recommend a candy thermometer for caramel! It can burn so quickly!
**Be VERY careful when adding the butter and cream. The mixture will bubble up and release a lot of steam. It’s very easy to get burned.

For the cake:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Grease and flour three 6″ cake pans lined with parchment paper.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, spices, and salt. Whisk together until completely incorporated.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine vegetable oil and both sugars. Beat on medium speed until well combined, approximately 2 minutes. Add in the eggs one at a time, incorporating fully between each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Add the vanilla extract.
  4. Add the dry ingredients in three additions, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary and ensuring everything is thoroughly incorporated.
  5. Remove bowl from mixer and fold in the apples using a wooden spoon or spatula.
  6. Spread batter evenly into the prepared cake pans* and bake for 45-55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
  7. Allow cakes to cool in their pans for 10 minutes and then turn them out onto wire racks to cool completely.**

*I like to use an electronic kitchen scale to make sure each cake pan has the exact same amount of batter. It makes for perfect, even layers.
**Make sure cakes are completely cool to the touch or the buttercream will melt!

For the buttercream:

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and salt together until light, smooth, and creamy (approximately 2 minutes).
  2. Sift in 2 cups of powdered sugar and beat on medium speed until smooth.
  3. Add the 1/2 cup caramel sauce slowly until completely incorporated.
  4. Sift in the remaining 2 cups powdered sugar and beat until light and fluffy.
  5. If desired, add several tablespoons of heavy cream to reach the desired texture. Feel free to adjust flavors with more powdered sugar or more caramel.

Assemble the cake!

  1. If desired, cut tops of cakes to create a flat surface. Place one cake down on a turntable or plate, and top with buttercream. Place the next cake on top and gently press into the buttercream, ensuring the pieces are aligned and even. Repeat until all three are tiered!*
  2. Frost the entire cake! Using an offset spatula, start from the top of the cake, working your way around the sides, smoothing everything out evenly as possible.
  3. Take remaining caramel sauce and slowly pour over the top of the cake, starting in the center. Once the entire top is filling, gently create drops down the side using the edge of a spoon or your spatula.
  4. Decorate in any way that strikes your fancy! Gold leaf, caramel candies, frosting rosettes, whatever! But most importantly, ENJOY!

    *I like to use a piping bag with the tip cut off to add the buttercream in even layers between the cake. Hold the bag above the center of the cake and gently spiral even layers of frosting outward until the entire surface is covered. Use an offset spatula to even out, if desired.

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