Saturday, April 9, 2011

Spiced Applesauce Cake

This time of year is full of anticipation – warmer weather, longer days, and farmers introducing springtime favorites back into their market stalls. The thought of buying fresh asparagus, fava beans, and ramps is very uplifting to a cook! I’m afraid, though, we’re not quite there yet. It may be getting warmer but at my market it’s still all about potatoes, carrots, and onions, potatoes, carrots, and onions.

Oh, yes – and apples. Apples are a good source of fiber, which is great for digestion, and vitamin C. Half of the vitamin C content in an apple is in its skin, which is also where the majority of its fragrance comes from. Apples have no fat, cholesterol, or sodium and contain a bit of potassium, which is helpful to the heart.

Terhune Orchard continues to supply Manhattan with crunchy, flavorful apples thanks to their nitrogen storage and I have the perfect cake recipe to put them to tempting use. The apples are cooked down into applesauce and then folded into a warm, spicy batter. It makes for a satisfying, not-too-sweet cake that helps take the bite out of any lingering, chilly days. April showers eventually bring May flowers (and rhubarb and nettles and radishes) but until then, here’s a last hurrah for a faithful wintertime favorite.

Spiced Applesauce Cake with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting
Adapted from Gourmet

All this talk of spring has got me thinking it’s time to do spring-cleaning of my baking supplies. If you suspect your baking powder, baking soda, and spices are over a year old and losing flavor and potency (guilty as charged!), toss them and buy fresh. Spices can be pricey so it’s smart to keep track of when you bought them; the easiest way is to write the date of purchase right on the bottle.

Baking powder and soda only cost a few dollars and are easier to part with. They make a world of difference in the lift of cakes and cookies and if you’re going to the trouble of making something homemade, you may as well stack the deck in your favor by using the freshest ingredients.

It’s not necessary to make your own applesauce but given how quick and easy it is, why not? I leave the apple skins on because I like the rosy color red-skinned apples give applesauce (and now I know it adds to the fragrance and Vitamin C content, too). Run the applesauce through a food mill to remove the skins or if, like me, you don’t a mill, mash the soft apples through a strainer for the same results.


2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 ½ cups unsweetened applesauce
½ cups walnuts (optional), toasted, cooled and chopped


5 ounces cream cheese, softened
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
¼ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup confectioners sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees with rack in the middle. Butter an 8 – 9 inch square cake pan.

Make the applesauce (optional)
3 – 4 pounds apples, with or without skins, cored and cut into chunky pieces
2 or 3 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice
Sprinkle of cinnamon, to taste
1 cup of water
Pinch of salt

Put all the ingredients into a large pot. Cover and bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer for 20 – 25 minutes.

Remove from heat and mash apples with a potato masher if you like chunky sauce or put through a food mill if you prefer a smooth sauce and/or left the peels on the apples.

Make the cake
Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices.

Beat butter, brown sugar, and vanilla with an electric mixer at high speed until pale and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat in applesauce. At low speed, mix in flour mixture until just combined, then stir in walnuts (if using).

Spread batter evenly in pan and bake until golden-brown and a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Cool in pan 15 minutes. Run a knife around edge of cake to loosen, then invert onto a plate. Reinvert cake onto a rack to cool completely.

Make the frosting

Beat cream cheese, butter, and vanilla with an electric mixer at high speed until fluffy. Sift confectioners sugar and cinnamon over cream cheese mixture, then beat at medium speed until incorporated.

Spread frosting over top of cooled cake.

Serves 6

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