Once again, another roommate’s birthday has come and gone and while no one is going to award me prizes for making perfectly leveled cakes, at least everyone said this one tasted good.
Halfway (or so) through business school, I re-met my friend Skyler. We had been vaguely acquainted in college, but had never really interacted (save for one VERY MEANINGFUL MOMENT OF EYE CONTACT). But I ran into him at a concert in June, and then again at a shop in July, and at a friend’s pedal party, and then again while out with friends.
Somehow, we started hanging out and it turned out he knew about my blog and was also a huge fan of baking (and probably a better baker than I am). We ended up baking many things together, screen printing shirts for my classmate’s bachelorette, drinking many G&Ts and wearing those fake glasses with the lenses popped out more than you should probably be allowed. Somehow, he ended up being the catalyst that fused several disparate friend groups together and suddenly I went from drifting in Houston to be surrounded by what felt like a solid squad.
Anyway, in 2015, he was on a mission to bake one new cake every month and I think this was one of them. My roommate isn’t a big fan of cake, save for tres leches, but she took a bite of the slice I brought home for her and her eyes went big and she went This is the cake I want for my birthday!
At the beginning of this year, Skyler moved to New York after accepting an amazing gig at a very cool company (PS. he’s also famous) which was well-deserved and great and beautiful but he also left a distinctly Skyler-shaped hole in Houston behind him. I made this cake again, adapted from one of his favorite cookbooks, for my roommate’s birthday just a few weeks after he left.
And it was good, but somehow not as good as when he made it.
Notes: I scaled the recipe down by 1/3 to make a 3-layer, 6″ cake simply because that’s pretty much the size I make all my cakes and I love the momofuku style of naked cakes (and being able to bake all the layers in 1 9×13 pan).
After tasting the cake after it came out of the oven, I wish I had bumped up the spices more. I compensated by adding a spiced milk soak to the layers. If you wish to skip the milk soak (the extra moisture isn’t necessary), I would suggest increasing the cinnamon to 2.5 teaspoons and adding extra all-spice or cloves or nutmeg, whatever calls to you.
Each of the steps (making the applesauce, making the caramel, etc.) is not difficult, but it does require time. I would recommend doing this in phases (i.e. caramel and applesauce one day, cake the next). Alternatively, the cake will not suffer if you just buy applesauce and caramel from the store.
I didn’t like the way the caramel turned out with the corn syrup as written in the Baked cookbook (and the caramel also took forever to brown), so I’ve included my suggested method for making the caramel instead.
PS. I topped the cake with the salted caramel balls from Trader Joe’s. Don’t forget the flaky sea salt on top!
- For the applesauce:
- 2 large green apples, peeled and diced (4 cups total)
- ¾ cup water
- ¼ cup sugar
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- squeeze of lemon
- For the cake:
- 2⅔ cups all-purpose flour
- scant 1.5 teaspoons baking soda
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- pinch cloves
- pinch nutmeg
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes, at room temperature
- 1⅔ cups sugar
- 1 large egg
- 2.5 cups homemade applesauce (recipe below)
- For the caramel:
- ¾ cups sugar
- 4 tablespoons butter, softened, cut into ½-inch cubes
- ¾ cups heavy cream
- For the caramel buttercream:
- ¾ cups sugar
- 2.5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- ¾ cups whole milk
- 2.5 tablespoons heavy cream
- 12 tablespoons unsalted butter, soft and cut into small pieces
- ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 3 tablespoons caramel at room temperature, more to taste
- For the milk soak:
- ¼ cup whole milk
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon vanilla
- Special equipment needed: 6" springform cake pan
- Make the applesauce:
- Peel and dice the apples. Add to a medium saucepan with water, sugar and cinnamon. Cook over medium heat for 20-25 minutes, until apples are soft. Add a squeeze of lemon, let cool, and then mash with a fork or use an immersion blender to blend until smooth. Let cool.
- Make the cake:
- Grease a 9x13" pan and preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and spices.
- In a large bowl, use an electric beater to beat the butter until creamy. Add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg and beat until smooth.
- 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 briefly until incorporated.
- Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for 55-60 minutes until the surface springs back when you poke it with your finger or a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Let cake cool before removing from pan.
- Optional: once cool, cut out 2 6" cake rounds using a 6" cake pan as a guide. Wrap tightly in plastic and freeze up to a week. Line the 6" cake pan with plastic wrap and place the remainder of the scraps in an even layer across the bottom of the pan to form a "third" cake layer. Fold the plastic wrap over the cake and freeze until use, up to one week.
- Make the caramel:
- In a small saucepan, add the sugar and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally until the sugar has melted. As soon as the sugar turns a deep amber color, remove from heat and stir in the butter and heavy cream. Let cool.
- Make the frosting:
- In a small 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 10-15 minutes.
- Transfer the mixture to the bowl either attached to a stand mixer or use an electric hand mixer. Beat on high speed until the mixture is cool to the touch (this will help keep the butter from melting. Reduce speed to low and add the butter and vanilla. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until the frosting is light and fluffy.
- Add 3 tablespoons of caramel and continue beating 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.
- Make the milk soak: Combine milk, cinnamon and vanilla until combined.
- To assemble:
- Cut the cake into two 6" rounds using a 6" cake ring or pan as a guide. Collect the remaining cake scraps to form the third layer of cake.
- Line the 6" cake pan with plastic wrap and use as many cake scraps as needed in the pan to form a single, even layer. Mash down the scraps with your fingers until the layer is as flat as you can get it. Use a tablespoon to sprinkle ⅓ of the milk soak evenly across the layer. Split the remaining milk soak across both of the remaining cake layers.
- Spread ⅓ of the frosting across the bottom layer of cake inside the pan. Place one of the full rounds of cake on top of the frosting. If one of your 2 cake rounds is prettier than the other, save it for the top. Spread another ⅓ of the frosting across the second layer of cake. Place the last round of cake down and finish with the last ⅓ of the frosting.
- Freeze cake for at least three hours, or up to overnight. 2-3 hours before serving, place cake in fridge or at room temperature to thaw. Remove cake ring and drizzle with remaining caramel. Sprinkle with flaky sea salt and serve!