People in upstate New York are absolutely wild about their apples. It’s a wildness bordering on religious conviction, and they can rattle off the differences in varieties, which apples work best for which recipes, and how many acres of orchards have been lost to development. They also feel a sense of ownership of all things apple, even though New York does not hold the title of largest apple-producing state (that would go to Washington). Unsurprisingly, there are many variations on apple cake floating about the Northeast, each with a particular family-inflected nuance. Our version is hearty. It is moist, dense, lightly spiced, and covered in a slightly sweet caramel frosting that gives the cake a homey county-fair feel. This cake is pure fall. It is dedicated to the apple lovers of New York, and I can say for certain that I have never made it before August or after January.
Sift the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, allspice, and cloves together into a large bowl. Set aside.
In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, 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. Scrape down the bowl, then mix on low speed for a few more seconds.
Divide the batter among the prepared pans and smooth the tops.
In a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan, whisk the sugar and flour together. Add the milk and cream and cook over medium heat, whisking occasionally, until the mixture comes to a boil and has thickened, about 10 to 15 minutes.
Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on high speed until cool. Reduce the speed to low and add the butter and vanilla; mix until thoroughly incorporated. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until the frosting is light and fluffy.
Add ⅓ cup of the caramel and continue mixing until combined. If the frosting is too soft, put the bowl in the refrigerator to chill slightly, then beat again until it is the proper consistency. If the frosting is too firm, set the bowl over a pot of simmering water and beat with a wooden spoon until it is the proper consistency.
Place one cake layer on a serving platter. Trim the top to create a flat surface and evenly spread about 1¼ cups of the frosting on top. Add the next layer, trim and frost it, then add the third layer. Spread a very thin layer of frosting over the sides and top of the cake and put it in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes to firm up. (This is known as crumb coating and will help to keep loose cake crumbs under control when you frost the outside of the cake.) Frost the sides and top with the remaining frosting. Drizzle on a few swirls of caramel and refrigerate the finished cake for 15 minutes to firm it up before serving.
This cake will keep beautifully in a cake saver at room temperature for up to 3 days, as long as the weather is cool and humidity free. Otherwise, place the cake in a cake saver and refrigerate it for up to 3 days. Let a chilled cake sit at room temperature for at least 2 hours before serving.
© 2010 All rights reserved. Published by Abrams Books.