Apple cake with cream cheese frosting. Or, spiced applesauce cake with cinnamon speckled cream cheese frosting. Sounds much more interesting the second time around, doesn't it? Either way, apple cake is on the menu. I've been on a quest for a new rendition for some time now, and although still intrigued by a few others, filed away for a future date, and after a disastrous attempt with a bad recipe, this one thankfully fell into my lap, and here we have it.
The cake is surprisingly mild but in a good way. Mildly sweet, somewhat dense, and very moist cake works well with the tangy-sweet, creamy frosting. The addition of cinnamon in the frosting adds a nice touch and helps to unite the two together even more, as if a spiced cake ever met a better companion than a cream cheese concoction smothering the top. For an afternoon snack, if you're the type to enjoy snacks that are dessert-like, or if you're the type to enjoy your dessert in the afternoon rather than after a meal, a slice of this will meet any type of a sweet tooth's requirements.
Although the addition of toasted walnuts is optional, and there weren't any on hand at the time of baking, I kind of missed them. From what I've seen, people tend to divide into two camps when it comes to nuts in baked goods: they either love the addition, or loathe it. Toasted walnuts can elevate a cake (or a bread, or a cookie) by bringing in another dimension of flavor that complements a host of other ingredients without muting those other flavors, so I would definitely recommend adding them. Unless, of coarse, you happen to be in the "loathe the nuts" category. If that's the case, the cake is just fine without them.
If you can, cook up a batch of homemade applesauce to use, like this one. Using that recipe as a template, I halved it, cutting out the sugar, lemon juice, and cinnamon for a basic unsweetened version. Fresh applesauce tastes so much better than the store bought stuff, even in a cake, and with apples abounding at the markets right now, it's prime season for using them.
Spiced Applesauce Cake,
with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting
Adapted from Gourmet, October 2009
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
¾ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger
⅛ tsp ground cloves
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 ½ cups unsweetened applesauce
½ cup walnuts, toasted, cooled, chopped
5 oz cream cheese, softened
3 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
¼ tsp pure vanilla extract
1 cup confectioners sugar
½ tsp cinnamon
Preheat oven to 350° F with rack in middle. Butter an 8- or 9-inch square cake pan.
Make cake: Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices.
Beat butter, brown sugar, and vanilla with an electric mixer at high speed until pale and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat in applesauce. At low speed, mix in flour mixture until just combined, then stir in walnuts (if using).
Spread batter evenly in pan and bake until golden-brown and a wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean, 40 - 45 minutes. Cool in pan 15 minutes. Run a knife around edge of cake to loosen, then invert onto a plate. Reinvert cake onto a rack to cool completely.
Make frosting: Beat cream cheese, butter, and vanilla with an electric mixer at high speed until fluffy. Sift confectioners sugar and cinnamon over cream cheese mixture, then beat at medium speed until incorporated.
Spread frosting over top of cooled cake.
Store in the refrigerator.