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Spiced Apple Cake with caramel icing and whipped cream cheese frosting

I recently made it a tradition to make a new layer cake every Christmas eve for us to enjoy for

dessert after Christmas dinner. My goal is always to make a memorable cake that, as my sister says, is a party in your mouth...different mouth feels, flavors, textures, a sexy balance of all these. I'm never sure what I am going to make until a week of so before Christmas eve.

This year, I started with the concept of an apple layer cake, because my brother loves apple desserts. One recipe detail I wanted was to make the cake with applesauce, not just for ease, but that is the cake texture I wanted. When time allows, I will make this recipe with homemade applesauce, but in this busy world, I used the ready made product from a jar. (There are some wonderful applesauce products out there, I am trialing some now.)

Thankfully, my recipe produced a dense, moist, richly spiced, yet not overly sweet apple cake.

Next, the icing or frosting. I opted for both, for sheer indulgence sake (after all, it IS Christmas!). I used my most favorite icing, Foolproof Southern Caramel Icing, to fill the layers and top the cake. The sugary-rich, slightly salty, aromatic flavors of homemade caramel icing is so luxurious! I frosted the outside of the cake with a cream cheese buttercream frosting, for a bit of tang and satisfying neutral creaminess. Bitter black walnuts finish the cake, added on top of the overly thick final layer of caramel icing. Those flavor contrasts made a wonderfully rich holiday cake. I hope you will give it a try and tell me how you make it YOUR own!

Also, if you worship caramel icing like I do, but shy away from making it because it can be difficult, please give my decadent, Foolproof Southern Caramel Icing a try! I feel certain you will have great success with it!


Prep Time: 15 minutes for cake layers, 45 minutes for cake completion Yield: 12-16 servings

Tools Needed: Stand mixer or electric hand mixer, large bowls, (3) 9 inch cake pans

Cake assembly instructions: For best results, I make the whipped cream cheese frosting while the cake is baking, and the caramel icing when the cake is cooling.


4 cups all purpose flour (I prefer King Arthur)

2 teaspoons baking soda

1/4 teaspoon cloves

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon cardamom

1 teaspoon salt

8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

1 1/2 cups light brown sugar

1 cup granulated sugar

3/4 cup vegetable oil

2 eggs, at room temperature

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

3 cups unsweetened applesauce

1 cup black walnuts, set aside for cake assembly


Grease and flour 3 9 inch cake pans. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamom, and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, or in a large bowl with an electric hand mixer, cream the butter until smooth. Add in the brown and granulated sugar, mixing until light and fluffy. Mix in the oil and beat for an additional minute.

Add in the eggs and vanilla extract. In stages, add in the flour mixture just until combined.

Stir in the applesauce, blending well.

Divide the batter between the three pans. Bake until cake springs back when touched in the center, or a toothpick inserted comes out clean, 30 - 40 minutes.

While the cake is baking, make the Whipped Cream Cheese Frosting.

Whipped Cream Cheese Frosting

16 ounces (2 8 ounce packages) full fat cream cheese, softened

8 ounces unsalted butter, softened

2 pounds (36 ounces) powdered sugar, sifted

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 teaspoon lemon juice

In a large bowl with an electric hand mixer, or a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, blend the cream cheese until completely smooth. Add the unsalted butter, mixing until light and fluffy. Add in vanilla, salt, and lemon juice. Add the powdered sugar in stages, blending until smooth and creamy.

Set cream cheese frosting aside until after cake is frosted with the caramel icing.

After baking, let pans cool on a wire rack. Once the cake pans are barely warm to the touch, unmold the cake layers. While the cakes finish cooling, make the caramel icing.

While the caramel icing is still warm, spread it between the cooled cake layers, then apply a thick layer of icing on the top layer. Add black walnuts to the top of the cake.

Frost the sides of the cake with the whipped cream cheese frosting. You may also pipe some additional frosting on the cake. Enjoy!

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