There's something to be said about a cupcake that change a naysayer into an evangelist. It was the masterminds behind Baked, the charming all-American bakery in Brooklyn's Red Hook and Charleston, NC, who were capable of doing just that. The offender: Applesauce. The verdict: Consider me reborn.
I was a lifelong applesauce skeptic. I disliked everything about the substance, from the flavor to the texture to the artificial preservatives. To me, it was what you ate when you couldn't chew after a dentist visit, or if you wanted a diet substitute for butter. Always a poor second, never a contender in its own right. At least, that's what I thought until a couple of weeks ago.
Honestly, I didn't really consider that my stance on applesauce could, or would, ever change. That is, until I bit into a Caramel Apple Cupcake at Baked's launch party. Suddenly, I had discovered my inner appleholic. I promptly marched up to co-owner Matt Lewis, cupcake clutched tightly in my hand, and asked on behalf of cupcake lovers and applesauce pride to share this recipe on Cupcakes Take the Cake.
Finally, I have found applesauce in a form I can truly appreciate. As Matt pointed out, the trick is in the fresh homemade applesauce, since you can control the sugar and preservatives. I encourage you all to go into the kitchen and test out a batch or two, and hope that you enjoy it as much as I have.
Recipe after the jump. (Or click here to go to the full post.)
Caramel Apple Cake
(Adapted into cupcakes)
for the apple cake
4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into
1-inch cubes, at room temperature
2 1/2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
4 cups homemade applesauce (see Baked Note) or store-bought unsweetened applesauce
for the caramel buttercream
1 ½ cups sugar
1⁄3 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1⁄3 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, soft but cool, cut into small pieces
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1⁄3 cup plus 2 tablespoons Classic Caramel
Sauce (SEE AT BOTTOM OF RECIPE), at room temperature
If you prefer, you can make your own applesauce for this cake. It’s quite easy. The basic recipe is to peel and cut your apples, then place them in a medium saucepan with small amount (maybe a 1⁄3 cup) apple cider, ground cinnamon to taste, and a tiny bit of dark brown sugar (optional). Cover the saucepan and cook for about 30 minutes. Uncover and mash as you would potatoes.
make the apple cake
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Butter three 8-inch round cake pans, line the bottoms with parchment paper, and butter the parchment. Dust the parchment with flour and knock out the excess flour.
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. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through the baking time, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Transfer the pans to a wire rack and cool for 20 minutes. Turn the cakes out onto the rack, remove the parchment, and let cool completely.
make the caramel buttercream
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 1⁄3 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.
assemble the caramel apple cupcakes
There are many ways to frost a cupcake. If you have a pastry bag, simply fit with the largest tip, fill the bag with frosting, and pipe enough to cover the cupcake in a big mound. If you do not have a pastry bag, use an ice cream scoop with a release mechanism to scoop the frosting and dispense it onto the top of the cupcake. You can also use an offset spatula to frost the cupcakes. Top with drizzled caramel (via spoon or squeeze bottle).
Classic Caramel Sauce
(for coffee cake and the like)
yield: about 2 cups
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup corn syrup
1/2 cup (1 stick) of butter, softened, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 ½ cups heavy cream
In a medium saucepan with high sides, combine the sugar and corn syrup with 1/2 cup water. Stir the mixture gently so you don’t slosh any of it up the sides of the pan. Turn the heat to medium-high and continue stirring until the sugar dissolves. Increase heat to high, stop stirring, and allow the mixture to boil. Once it begins to turn a rich caramel color (if you don’t want to eyeball it, take the caramel to 300 degrees F on a candy thermometer), remove it from the heat, add the butter and cream, and stir until combined.
You can save the caramel sauce, tightly covered, in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. Let it come to room temperature before using it on cakes, ice creams, or quick breads.
If you want a warm topping, heat the caramel sauce in short bursts in the microwave or in the top of a double boiler.
Thanks to the friendly baking duo, Matt and Renato, for making our kitchens a bit sweeter. They've really done it again with lots of brand new recipes in their new book, Baked Explorations. For this recipe and more, pick up a copy of Baked Explorations online or in person wherever books are sold.