Fall is my favorite time of the year and, having moved to Florida, this is when I miss the Northeast most – the turning of the leaves, the crisp bite in the air, pumpkin-flavored everything and the abundance of apples at the farmers’ market. We still get a decent selection of apples here, but they’re not exactly local, and there’s nowhere
near the variety. But I remain inspired by my memories, and continue to bake up a storm with harvest flavors throughout the season. Currently I’m on an apple kick, as you may have noticed. Here’s one of my favorite fall recipes, a simple, homespun cake made with applesauce (use your own or a good organic jarred one) and
flavored with fall spices – cinnamon, cloves and ginger. I use turbinado instead of white sugar in the cake, and this gives it a slightly coarser texture and a complex flavor with a just a hint of molasses. But it’s the topping that takes the cake – a silky cream cheese and maple frosting and lots of crunchy, sugar-coated pecans. Make
sure to use a pure maple extract -- not that horrible artificial maple "flavoring" that's so frequently used in maple desserts. You can find it in better supermarkets (Whole Foods has it) or on Amazon. For an extra hit of maple, drizzle each slice with a little Grade A pure maple syrup right before serving.
Applesauce Cake with Maple-Cream Cheese Frosting and Candied Pecans
Adapted from a recipe in my book Flavorful (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015)
Makes one 9-inch square cake, serving 8
2 cups (265 g/9.3 oz) all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon (3.75 g/0.13 oz) baking powder
¾ teaspoon (1.5 g/0.05 oz) ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon (1 g/0.03 oz) ground ginger
¼ plus 1/8 teaspoon (2.5 g/0.08 oz) fine sea salt
¼ teaspoon (1.25 g/0.04 oz) baking soda
1/8 teaspoon (0.25 g/0.009 oz) ground cloves
11 tablespoons (155 g/5.4 oz) unsalted butter, softened
1 ¼ cups (250 g/8.8 oz) turbinado sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon (4 g/0.14 oz) vanilla extract
1 cup (242 g/8.5 oz) unsweetened applesauce
¾ cup (75 g/2.6 oz) pecans, chopped
1/2 cup (50 g/1.76 oz) pecan halves
1 teaspoon (4 g/0.14 oz) vanilla extract
2 teaspoons (8 g/0.3 oz) granulated sugar
Pinch of fine sea salt
Maple Cream Cheese Frosting:
1 cup (227 g/8 oz) cream cheese, at room temperature
8 tablespoons (113 g/4 oz) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup (128 g/4.5 oz) confectioners’ sugar
Pinch of salt
½ teaspoon (2 g/0.07 oz) vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon (1 g/0.03 oz) natural maple flavoring*
Note: Available in some supermarkets or online at a variety of sources, including King Arthur Flour (www.kingarthurflour.com).
Make the cake:
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch square pan and dust the pan with flour. Set aside.
2. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, salt, baking soda and cloves. Gently whisk to combine and set aside.
3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter at medium-high speed until creamy, about 1 minute. Gradually add the turbinado sugar and beat at high speed until very light, about 6 minutes. Reduce the speed to medium and add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition and stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as necessary. Add the vanilla extract and mix until blended. Reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture in three additions, alternating it with the applesauce in two additions and beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Mix just until barely blended. Add the pecans and mix just until combined. Remove the bowl from the mixer stand and stir the batter a few times with a rubber spatula to ensure that it is blended. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake the cake for 40 to 45 minutes, until the top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool the cake in the pan set on a wire rack. Leave the oven on.
Make the Candied Pecans:
4. Place the pecans in a small bowl and toss well with the vanilla, sugar and salt. Scatter the nuts on a baking sheet and bake for 9 to 12 minutes, tossing them once during baking, until they are lightly browned and fragrant. Set aside to cool.
Make the frosting:
5. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the cream cheese, butter, confectioners’ sugar, salt and extracts together at medium speed until blended. Increase the speed to high and beat until stiff peaks form, about 5 minutes.
Frost the cake:
6. Swirl the frosting decoratively over the top of the cake in the pan. Arrange the Candied Pecans on top as desired and cut rectangles or squares of the cake from the pan. Store the cake, loosely covered with plastic wrap, in the refrigerator. Bring the cake to room temperature before serving.