Beauty is only crust deep… but taste lasts forever

How do you like THEM apples?

That’s what I said to myself as I finished scattering toasted walnuts atop this cake, one that can only be described as GORGEOUS—wouldn’t you agree?

I’ve said many times that I don’t have the Martha Stewart gene. Make a centerpiece out of acorns and autumn leaves? No way. Hand-lettered invitations? If I want people to come over for pizza and beer, I’ll email. Decorating petits-fours would be my idea of purgatory; anything that requires a pastry bag, I’m outta here. Even icing a layer cake makes me feel like a cat with its fur petted backwards.

In short, I’m more into taste than looks. I’d rather eat that cookie than admire it.

But every now and then, just by sheer chance, I produce a truly beautiful baked good. This caramel apple cake is a perfect example.

It didn’t start out to be pretty; indeed, it started out pretty plain. I wanted to make an apple cake where the apples didn’t disappear, texture-wise. So, how about apple chunks baked into cinnamon-scented cake? Sounds delicious; looks… well, like beige apple chunks floating, raft-like, in a tan sea. BLAHHHHH. Even I could see this cake wasn’t going to make it, looks-wise.

So what goes with apples? Caramel, of course. Let’s drizzle caramel sauce all over the top and see what happens. Tastes good; looks like brown-spattered apple chunks floating… etc. So caramel was a plus taste-wise, but totally not a beauty enhancer. Ah, nuts… NUTS! Even better, toasted nuts, with their heightened flavor and subtle golden sheen. A win-win. Beauty and the feast.

So if you’re one of those slap-happy bakers (slap it together, be happy when it comes out of the oven in one piece), but do occasionally need to make a photo-worthy dessert—something to impress your urban(e) sister-in-law—here it is, Caramel-Apple Walnut Cake.

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First, we’ll beat together sugar, butter, cinnamon, baking powder, salt, and vanilla (yes, it’s hidden under the sugar).

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Beat till smooth, then add 2 eggs, and beat again till smooth.

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Add the flour alternately with the sour cream or yogurt, beating gently to make a stiff batter. Spoon the batter into a greased 9” round cake pan. Yes, it’s supposed to be stiff; that way the apples won’t sink.

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Spread the batter to the edges of the pan.

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Next come the apples. Here, I’m using our apple peeler/corer/slicer to simply peel 2 large apples, without coring/slicing.

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Use a plain apple corer to core the peeled apples.

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Then cut each apple into 8 wedges, and toss with sugar and vanilla. Or get to this point with whatever tools you prefer: a vegetable peeler, paring knife, apple corer/wedger…

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Place the apples atop the cake batter, pushing them in gently.

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Bake in a preheated 350°F oven till the cake tests done. The apples will be “al dente”—not totally mushy, not totally crisp. Just nice.

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Turn the cake out onto a cooling rack.

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Place another rack over the cake’s bottom…

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…and flip over so the cake is upright.

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I happen to love our block caramel. It’s like gold in the cupboard, ready to melt for a drizzle atop brownies or bars or cookies or cake, easy to combine with cream to make sauce… it’s shelf-stable, and stays soft (like modeling clay) and fresh indefinitely. So, combine caramel with cream, and heat in the microwave till the cream starts to bubble.

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Stir…

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…and keep stirring till you’ve made a smooth, pourable sauce.

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Drizzle the sauce over the warm cake, making sure to pour extra into the crevices around the apples.

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Sprinkle toasted salted walnuts on top.

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Pretty as a picture! Wait—this IS a picture…

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Cut open to reveal apple chunks and oozing caramel. This doesn’t need any ice cream, though whipped cream would be a (pretty) bonus.

Read, review, and rate (please!) our recipe for Caramel-Apple Walnut Cake.

Buy vs. Bake

Buy: Baci Grill, Cromwell, CT: Caramel Apple Torte, 1 slice, $2.50

Cocoa Bar, Brooklyn, NY: Apple Cider Caramel Cake, 1 slice, $5.50

Bake at home: Caramel Apple Walnut Cake, 1 slice (1/8 of cake), 83¢.

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!

comments

  1. sandy

    This is a very pretty cake. I made it yesterday without reading the reviews that are posted in the recipe section until after I put it in the oven. I had only looked at the reviews here in this post. When I saw so many comments in the recipe section about the cake being dry I watched my baking time very carefully. The cake was done in 50 mins. Unfortunately even with the shorter baking time it was still dry … beautiful but dry. I will take the basic concept of topping a cake with apples, caramel and nuts and look for a moister cake to use it on. The Blueberry Buckle Coffeecake is very moist. I might try the basic recipe there using apples mixed in the batter instead of the blueberries and then top with the apple slices, caramel and nuts. From now on I will read the comments before I bake. They are extremely helpful.

    Reply
  2. Jill

    This was soooooo good! I diced half of an apple into small pieces and mixed it into the batter. I also used a springform pan so I didn’t have to worry about flipping the cake over. The caramel block works like a charm. I go to Chicago every year to visit my family for Thanksgiving, and this cake will definitely be the showstopper this year! Thanks again for a wonderful recipe…………

    Reply
  3. Suzy B

    I haven’t tried this but I’m going to as soon as I can get someone over here to help me eat it! The close-ups of that apple cake are making my mouth water. Tender crumb, soft apples, sticky caramel and a little crunch. Mmmmm.

    I look forward to fall in Wisconsin and the resultant cooler weather so I can get back to my first love–baking. Unfortunately, I made a humongous apple crisp this weekend and used my up my bag of apple seconds I get from the orchard. Cheap, but wonderful for baking because it is a mix of varieties and only $.29/lb.

    As for the spa idea, count me in. I, too, love the idea of falling into a big tub of fresh, soft dough and have the scent of yeast billowing around me. Oh, my. It’s one of my favorite smells and so comforting. And we could offer chocolate massages as well….

    Keep it up.
    Susan

    Reply
  4. Julia Thornton

    Made this cake, (actually 2 of them, one with apples and one with pears) when I had 2 couples for dinner a week ago. The wives are good cooks and honest critics, and they approved. It made a lovely dessert, not too sweet, even with the carmel sauce. I particularly liked the moist, fine textured, tender crumb and the excellent flavor which compliments and does not overwhelm the fruit. You have another winner.
    P.S. I also made the panzanella salad that nite as an opportunity to showcase our garden produce.
    Thanks and keep up the good work!
    Julie T.

    Reply
  5. DanaSmith

    I am going to make this cake tomorrow night…..it looks so darn good! I love your wool pieces. I’m a primitive rug hooker and have never done punch needle…I need to do a piece!
    Dana in Virginia
    http://www.TheThingsILove.typepad.com

    Hi Dana – did you see some wool pieces on our site? I’m a bit confused… but glad you love them! – PJH

    Reply
  6. Colleen

    I just finished reading all the comments, so now I must conclude that it’s just me – but don’t those peeled apple chunks look just like little caterpillars nestled into the cake batter? Those apple peeler/corer/slicers always leave kind of a spiral pattern on apples, and cut up like that they do look cute! It is a lovely looking cake on the whole and makes me want to go apple picking soon.

    Reply
  7. Linda

    I brought back some Northern apples (Wealthy and Courtland) to TN and I am hoarding them for use in apple pie and this recipe especially. It is a dry and not sweet cake but the toping takes care of that. It is similar to a Polish Apple cake and with tose apples it is as good as being in Poland. I did use butter and the light sour cream and might take the next one ut of the oven a little sooner, It does not need to get brown on top and using these particular apples, they stayed on the hard but not uncooked side. It was greatly appreciated by my Polish friends. I did use the carmel block and I like the block. Now to go on to the Caqrmel-apple mini cakes and the apple pie with a twist!

    Reply
  8. Monta Albin

    After reading all the glowing reviews, I could hardly wait to bake this cake. Unfortunately, my cake was so dry that we could not eat it. Even my grandson, who will eat almost anything, refused a second serving. I realized that 1hr 5min was excessive, so I removed the cake at 45 minutes as it was golden brown on top and breaking away from the sides of the pan. I bake often so I know that my oven is calibrated properly and I checked and rechecked my ingredients. I used butter and sour cream.

    Did anyone else have this problem?

    So sorry, Monta- you weren’t using a convection oven, were you? Haven’t heard of anyone else having this problem… It is indeed a dryer than normal cake, in order to support the apple chunks; maybe I didn’t manage your expectations well enough. At any rate, I apologize for your disappointment! – PJH

    Reply

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