When Chris' mom gave me the baking books for Christmas she mentioned this cake recipe as one that looked particularly good. I had to agree with her, and since she was nice enough to give me the book in the first place, I figured it would be the least I could do to make this cake for her.
The cake isn't hard, just a basic layer cake with some spices and grated apples. It's super moist and full of flavor. The apple flavor didn't really come through that much though -- it's mostly spice, but that's just fine. The frosting is a combination of buttercream and cream cheese swirled with caramel which makes it super sweet and sticky, but it complements the cake well.
Pastry Queen wants the caramel swirled into the frosting, but if I make the cake again I will frost it with the buttercream/cream cheese mixture, and then drizzle the caramel over the top of the whole thing. The caramel mixture has to cool enough so it doesn't melt the frosting, but what she fails to mention is that if the caramel gets too cool it will clump up instead of swirling attractively. She also wanted toasted pecans pressed into the sides, but I ended up skipping that step.
When I made it I only had two 8-inch cake pans on hand, instead of the 3 9-inch pans the recipe required, so I made ended up baking two cakes, cooling the pans and then re-using them for four 8-inch cakes total. However, when I baked the second set I forgot to grease the pans, so getting them out was a bit... um... messy. Luckily I only needed 3 cakes for the layers because one of the second set fell completely apart as I tried to pry it out of the pan. The last one I managed to carefully coax out of the pan with only minor damage (frosting will hide a multitude of sins...) Note to self: greasing the pans is a required step -- not optional.
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter at room temp
3 cups sugar
2 tbsp light molasses
6 large eggs
3 cups cake flour
1 1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp kosher salt
2 tbsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp gound ginger
1 cup sour cream
3 granny smith apples, peeled and shredded (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp grated fresh ginger (optional)
one 14-ounce bag caramels
4 tbsp heavy whipping cream
2 tbsp plus 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter at room temp
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 cups powdered sugar
1 cup (8 oz) mascarpone (Italian cream cheese, available at most grocery stores)
2 cups pecan pieces, toasted (optional)
Preheat oven to 350. Grease three 9-inch cake pans with butter or cooking spray.
Using an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Beat in the molasses. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating between each addition. In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda, slat and ground spieces to blend. Add the flour mixture and sour cream alternately to the batter -- starting and ending with the flour. After each addition mix on low speed just to combine the ingredients. Stir in the apples, vanilla and optional fresh ginger.
Spoon the batter (it will be thick) evenly into the prepared pans. Stagger the cake pans in the oven so that no layer is directly over another. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until firm to the touch. Monitor the cakes carefully -- each one may be done at different times. Remove from the oven and let cool in pans for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edges of the pan and unmold the cakes onto wire racks to cool completely, 15 to 30 minutes, before frosting.
The cakes can be kept frozen, tightly wrapped in plastic wrap, for up to 3 weeks. Defrost them at room temp before unwrapping. Frost immediately.
To make the icing: In a medium stainless-steel bowl, combing the unwrapped caramels, 2 tbsp of the cream, and the 2 tbsp butter. Place over a saucepan filled with 2 inches of simmering water. Stir the caramel mixture until smooth. Remove the bowl from the heat. Let cool, stirring the mixture ever few minutes until cool to the touch, about 20 minutes. (if the mixture is too warm, it will melt the buttercream frosting when it is stirred in later.)
While the caramel is cooling, make the buttercream: Using an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the 1 1/2 cups butter on medium-high speed for about 1 minute until pale in color. Add the remaining 2 tbsp cream and the vanilla and powdered sugar, and beat for 3 minutes, until light and fluffy. Add the mascarpone and beat on medium-low speed until incorporated. Do not overbeat the mascrapone, or it may separate. Reserve 1/4 cup of the cooled caramel mixture to drizzle over the cake once it is frosted. Stir the remainderof the caramel into the frosting, using large strokes to create caramel swirls throughout. Don't stir it too much or the ribbons of caramel will disappear.
Place one cake layer on a serving plate and spread a thick blanket of frosting on top. Add the second layer and spread thickly with frosting. Add the third layer and cover the top and sides of the cake with an even layer of frosting. Use a small sppon to drizzle the reserved 1/4 cup of caramel over the top of the cake. Pat the toasted pecan pieces to cover the sides of the cake.