Most of the time, cake is just not as tasty as pie. Cake is too cakey. It is often too dry, too sugary, too dense, too buttery, and too-too. Pie, on the other hand, is perfection in my world. It has a perfect balance of crust and filling, flaky and sweet, and it just gets better with age. My ratio of pie to cake baking is probably three to one. It takes a special cake to win my heart over a pie and with this apple cake, I just might have one.
Therefore, I wish to prove that all that cake discrimination is mere stereotype. Enter this exquisitely balanced apple spice cake and caramel sauce. An old family recipe, this cake was adapted and edited by my mom over the many years that she baked this for her family. I remember this cake in both cake pan and Bundt pan form, with and without nuts, with and without caramel. Many apple cakes and many tests on just the right amount of fat, sugar, and spice finally coalesce into the wonderful recipe that I share today.
Use red apples, preferably Gala or Fuji (although I feel that Honeycrisp might be a little amazing). The apples should be diced, rather than sliced, grated, or pureed. Diced apples provide this cake with the most delicious texture. Rather than being soggy or dry, as too many apple cakes achieve, diced apples give off the best balance of tanginess and moisture. I also varied the ratio of oil and butter to sugar, but just a bit. The original, old-fashioned recipe calls for 1 1/2 cup oil, but I skimmed it down to just 1/2 cup butter and 1/3 cup oil. Depending on your cake texture tastes, you may want more butter or more oil. I found that with the sweet caramel of the frosting, a balance of butter and oil gave this cake a just-light texture, rather than being too oily or overwhelming the caramel flavor. Besides, butter in cake is just irreplaceable.
This apple cake might prompt a cake renaissance - a cakeaissance, if you will. Serve it plain, slightly warm, with or without vanilla ice cream. I find that it needs no other gussying up than a plate and a fork. Have it by a warm fire while watching True Grit (a fine Arkansas tradition) and don't be afraid to adapt it to your own tastes. Scale down the spices if you're not a big spice person; I personally find that allspice and cloves added to apples and caramel give this cake the perfect wintery taste.
Apple Spice Cake
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1/3 cup canola oil
2 cups sugar
3 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 heaping teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon allspice
3/4 teaspoon ground cloves
3 cups apples, diced into 1/4-inch cubes
Preheat oven to 325 F. In a stand mixer, beat butter, oil, and sugar until well blended. Add eggs, one at a time, and add vanilla. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, soda, salt, and spices. Gradually add half the flour mixture to butter mixture and mix for about 5 seconds, until flour is blended. Add half of the apples and mix for another 5 seconds. Finish with remaining flour and apples. Do not overmix.
The batter will be fairly thick - thicker than your average cake batter. Pour into a greased Bundt cake pan and bake for 1 hour. Cool for about 10 minutes in the pan then transfer to wire rack to finish cooling. When cake is still slightly warm, add caramel sauce.
1 stick butter
2 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup half & half
In a saucepan over medium heat, melt butter, sugar, and half & half. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, until temperature reaches about 230 on a candy thermometer. Take caramel off heat and let stand to thicken for a few minutes until thick enough to pour over cake. Allow sauce to cool on cake for at least an hour before serving.