Monday, November 8, 2010

Spiced applesauce cake or How to eat like a god

I have an intimate relationship with spiced goods. When I eat a really amazing snicker doodle or drink vanilla chai tea, there's a certain unique sensation that washes over me, a strange mix of homey nostalgia and romantic passion. It's the taste of  wild coziness and for some reason to most people it's old hat. But these are unique, exotic, and hard to tame spices from Mexico and Asia and yet we think of them like the petticoats on American housewives. Vanilla is the second most expensive spice by weight (after saffron), it's a pain in the ass to cultivate and almost impossible to grow outside its' indigenous area and yet it's so amazing that it's still the most widely used flavor for baking. And cinnamon was once thought so big and fancy it was considered a suitable gift for god(don't get too big a head now cinnamon). And yet in so many recipes nobody cares enough to let these flavors sing.

The first thing I noticed about this cake when I started to mix it up was that the vanilla and cinnamon measurements were way too small for me. After baking about a million spiced this and that recipes with uninteresting results I've found that this little detail is usually the problem. Maybe it's maybe it's that northern southern divide, the difference between pumpkin and sweet potato pie eaters,but I believe that when you want something spiced, mulled or homey, it's vanilla and cinnamon you're really looking for. Sure cloves and nutmeg like to hang out in there but they're really just part of the entourage.You know, the back up dancers, the Supremes to it's Dianna Ross. Which is why in this little recipe I had to learn from past experience and do two things I never do; taste the batter along the way (gasp!), and let the spices just do what they wanted (double gasp!). I know, I know, in baking you're supposed to be exact but I've found that as far as flavoring goes if I just let my senses tell me what when there's enough of that exotic warmth it just tastes so much better.

 So far it's the first fall spiced dish I've made that marries a lot of my favorite elements into a single cake (Imagine a carrot cake, crossed with an oatmeal cookie and a vanilla chai latte). And doesn't have that bitter Hey there's CLOVES in here! thing happening that I've experienced so many times. One thing I fantasized about whilst slurping away at the frosting knife was how magnificent this would be in muffin form for breakfast with a good cup of coffee. The end result, I think this cake has a lot of that wild let your hair down vibrancy I was looking for. And maybe even a little bit of me in there.

Spiced Applesauce Cake with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting
via smitten kitchen/

The Cake
2 cups AP flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon (or to taste I'd say)
1/2 tsp ground ginger
a tiny sprinkle ground cloves (or to taste)
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1- 2 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract (or to taste)
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups unsweetened applesauce ( I just used the publix brand)
1/2 cup walnuts or pecans (optional), toasted, cooled, and chopped

The Frosting
5 ounces cream cheese, softened
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
 3/4 cup confectioners sugar ( or more if it seems like it needs it)
1/2 - 1 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle.  Line the bottom of an 8- or 9-inch cake pan with parchment and non-stick spray.

For the cake: Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices. Beat butter, brown sugar, and vanilla until pale and fluffy ( I did this by hand but you can use a mixer). Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat in applesauce. Stir in flour mixture until just combined, then stir in walnuts or pecans (if using). The batter will look weird but it's okay, Deb warned about this on her website and was totally right.

Spread batter evenly in pan and bake until golden-brown and a wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean, about 35 to 45 minutes depending on your oven. Cool in pan 15 minutes. Run a knife around edge of cake to loosen, then invert onto a plate. Re invert cake onto a rack to cool completely.

Make frosting: Beat cream cheese, butter, and vanilla until fluffy. Then add confectioners sugar and cinnamon over cream cheese mixture,and then beat until incorporated (test for sweetness and flavor and adjust the sugar and cinnamon to taste). Spread frosting over top of cooled cake. Lick knife when nobody's watching.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Tell me what you think, or just say hello. Your comments make my day!