Friday, November 4, 2011

Apple Spice Cake

I am starting to feel a bit more like how I imagine an artist thinks... how do I make something new, that hasn't been done before, but that is still good - still respecting what is established and tried-'n-true while creating something special and unique? There are recipes I want to try, but for a special occasion, like a loved-one's birthday, I want to make something that is remarkable that demonstrates an extra amount of thought and preparation. I continue my quest for the perfect brownie and perfect sugar cookie, but even if I found the exact recipe, it wouldn't be what I would make for a celebration.

This struggle came to particular light as I was planning a cake for my mom's birthday. The almost-Halloween timing always pushes me heavily toward pumpkin. I love the moist, spiced cakes that pumpkin provides the base for - pumpkin-buttermilk bundt cake with maple glaze, pumpkin layer cake with apicot filling, pumpkin sheet cake with browned butter icing and carmelized walnuts, or pumpkin-orange loaf cake with pecan swirl and bourbon glaze.

So many delicious choices, but so cliched for a late-October birthday. I turned to another part of the autumn harvest: apples, but tried to glamourize them with an international flair. I made an apple-spice cake recipe in two 9-inch round pans, filled the layers with garam masala custard, and frosted with a sweet caramel. The result was moist, rich with fall spices and the exoticism of India, while delighfully reminescent of a sticky, gooey  caramel apple from the childhood Halloween carnival.

Cake Layers
Two 8" or 9" round pans, lightly greased and floured.
Preheat oven to 350.

1 1/3 cups flour
1 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup unsweetend applesauce
1/3 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs
1 large granny smith apple, peeled and shredded

Whisk together dry ingredients. In a separate small bowl, whisk together applesauce, oil, and eggs. Stir in shredded apple, then add wet ingredients to dry and stir just until incorporated. Divide evenly between prepared pans, smoothing tops.
Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes until tester comes out clean. Cool on racks.

Note: as always, if you can buy whole spices and grind them yourself, the flavors will be much deeper and more complex. You will appreciate the difference.
Garam Masala Custard
1/2 cup whipping cream
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 whole eggs
4 egg yolks
1/4 cup butter (unsalted)
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon garam masala powder
2 teaspoons maple syrup

Stir cream and cornstarch in medium bowl until cornstarch dissolves. Add eggs and whisk to blend.
In small heavy saucepan, melt butter and brown sugar, stir until sugar dissolves then bring to a boil. Mix in garam masala and maple, then gradually whisk butter into cream mixture. Return to saucepan and whisk continuously over medium-high heat until custard begins to thicken, and mixture reaches 160 degrees. Strain custard into clean bowl, press plastic wrap onto the surface, and chill until set.

Caramel Frosting
2 cups packed brown sugar
1 cup whipping cream 
3 tablespoons butter (unsalted) + 3 tablespoons (optional)
1 teaspoon
Combine in a medium, heavy saucepan and stir over medium heat until sugar is dissolved. Raise heat to medium high and cook, without stirring, until temperature reaches 238-240 degrees (soft-ball stage). Remove from heat and float 3 tablespoons butter on top. Allow to cool to 110 degrees (about 45 minutes). Beat icing with electric mixer until cool, thick, and creamy. Use right away because it will start to set (if you want to make it ahead, warm slightly and rebeat to spreading consistency.)
To assemble the cake, fill layers with the custard and frost with the caramel frosting. I coated my cake with one layer of this glaze, and then beat in an additional 3 tablespoons of butter and frosted with a second layer of the thicker icing. The custard could be used to pipe a message/script decoration. Other attractive garnishes would be whole star anise pods ringing the border, with cinnamon sticks tied in a bundle with a pretty ribbon in the center.

The version of the cake pictured is actually frosted with brown sugar buttercream,
which is great to work with and also complements the cake well.

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