It's been about 5 years since I was lucky enough to dig into a slice of my pal Diana's drool-worthy apple cake, and when I tasted this today....oh, man. There was much more going on than I even remembered. Appleness, like juicy red and dangling from the tree. Pecans. Cinnamon--a proper, generous amount of it. But what really flipped me out was that I'd totally forgotten about the caramel glaze. When Diana sent her recipe a couple of weeks ago, it just said "glaze"--nothing about the caramel nature of it, nothing about the science project that it truly is (although an easy one; I have tips!). By glancing at the ingredients (sugar, butter, buttermilk, soda), you'd have to be a pretty frequent baker or candy-meister to say, "Oh yeah--that's caramel." I thought it was going to be a light, translucent, pouring glaze like my mom used to use on lemon jello cake. I was totally wrong. Eating this cake is like eating a caramel apple that somebody thoughtfully dosed with cinnamon and pecans, but it's a lot less messy and goes great with coffee. It's inspiring.
Diana was famous at the music store in Fort Smith, Arkansas, for this cake. She'd bring it once or twice a year, usually in the fall and winter, usually on a yucky day when everyone needed a sugar boost. I ate it for a good 5 years, maybe even 6 or 7; it's hard to remember, now. This recipe makes about 12 to 16 slices, so it's perfect for sharing. Your neighbors will owe you a really, really good favor.
A few notes, and some caramel advice
Diana uses red delicious apples, and I used Macintosh (they were the prettiest), and they worked out great. I tried pecans this time and I love them so much I doubt I'll ever get around to trying the cake with walnuts. Maybe.
Caramel has been a monkey on my back for many years now. One night I had some friends over for dinner and tried making a caramel sauce to go over sauteed bananas, in the same vein as Rolando's Restaurant. I stood at the stove, chatting and casually stirring the sugar and water together with a plastic spoon that promptly melted into the caramel. That sugar gets hot! Needless to say, everyone learned a lesson about caramel that night. I'd been forgetting caramel ever existed, and if I'd realized that's what was going on with this glaze recipe, I doubt I would have made it. But I knew from that fiasco that anytime you boil sugar, you should use something sturdier than plastic (I used a stainless steel spoon). The buttermilk was kind of awesome, and I actually had fun taking the glaze through its chemical reaction journey. It starts out snowy white and milky, then by turns it becomes buttery yellow, crayola sunshine yellow, goldenrod, fake suntan, new penny, and finally, a deep orange maple leaf. Like roux, only candy. Amazing and totally worth it.
diana's apple cake with caramel glaze
- butter and flour for pan
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 3/4 cup white sugar
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 3 eggs
- 1 1/4 cups flavorless oil, like vegetable
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 4 cups chopped, peeled apples (4 medium apples)
- 1 cup chopped nuts (pecans are excellent)
- Preheat oven to 325. Butter and flour a standard bundt pan.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar soda, salt, and cinnamon, mixing very well.
- In a medium bowl, beat eggs together, then add oil and vanilla. Add to dry ingredients, mixing well.
- Stir in apples and nuts. The batter will be pretty stiff and all about the apples and nuts. That's fine. Scoop out the batter and pat it into the prepared pan, evening out as much as possible. I like to rap the pan lightly a couple times on the counter to get rid of any air bubbles.
- Bake at 325 for an hour. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then invert cake onto rack and cool another 20 minutes before glazing.
optional (but if I were you I'd make it) glaze icing
- 1 cup white sugar
- 1/2 cup buttermilk
- 4 teaspoons unsalted butter
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan (preferably stainless steel) and bring to a gentle boil over medium heat, stirring constantly with a metal spoon.
- Boil gently for about 10 to 15 minutes, until the mixture reaches the "soft ball stage," or in candy lingo, is sticky like caramel, coats a spoon like caramel, and is still loose enough to pour over a cake. It will probably threaten to boil over a few times; if so, just lift the pot off the heat and keep stirring until the foaming subsides. It's going to reduce down a lot. Check above for my color-chart progression.
- Pour/drizzle over cake. It'll look great no matter how messy you get.
Note: Since posting this recipe, I've heard from a couple of friends that their glaze was more of a candy coating than a soft caramel, and some caramel research has hinted that swirling the pan in the early stages rather than stirring the caramel may help the sugar dissolve faster. For whatever reason, the constant stirring worked for me. But then again, I'm below sea level, and sugar may have special properties down here. But whether the sugar dissolves or holds itself into a candy-like glaze, it's still gonna be goooooooood.
Makes 12 servings. Guh.