Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Chinese bakery-style cake

This was my first year hosting a holiday and probably the first time in over 10 years that I haven't had to travel for Thanksgiving. Also, my mom is celebrating a milestone birthday at the end of the month, so I wanted to make something special for her while she was visiting us for Thanksgiving.

I know that she (and my dad) aren't big fans of American sweets. They claim that our desserts are too sugary for their tastes. They much prefer the more subdued sweets that Chinese bakeries offer. We used to order Chinese bakery cakes all the time when we went to Philadelphia's Chinatown for a meal. There was always a reason to celebrate some momentous occasion, and therefore, always a reason to eat these cakes.

The sponge cake layers are light and fluffy and do not taste too sugary. Two cake layers are sandwiched on top of vanilla custard and fresh fruits. The entire cake is covered in a freshly made whipped cream frosting and garnished with additional fresh fruits. I can see why my parents love this cake - it just seems healthier because the cake is lighter than their American counterparts.

I've had this cake bookmarked from Christine's Kitchen Chronicles for a long, long time. And now was the perfect time for me to tackle it. Don't be overwhelmed with the long list of ingredients and directions. The cake is actually very easy to make, and you'll be rewarded with a beautiful Chinese style cake at the end.

Mom actually helped me bake this cake and had a blast making it. My dad happily ate the remaining custard with a spoon and is already looking forward to the day that my mom recreates it for him. This cake was a huge success and was enjoyed by all.

Happy birthday, Mom!

For the Cake
  • 0.7 cups of all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 0.8 cups of granulated sugar (split into 2 even portions)
  • 6 large eggs, separated into yolks and whites (both at room temperature)
  • 1.4 tbsp butter, melted
  • 1.4 tbsp milk
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
For the Custard Filling*
  • 1/4 cup of granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup of all purpose flour
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1 cup of milk
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla
* Note: You can take a shortcut and sub the custard filling with a large box of cook-to-serve (not instant) vanilla pudding.  Follow the directions to cook the pudding, place a sheet of saran wrap directly over the surface and put it in the refrigerator to chill while you prep the frosting and fruit filling. 
For the Stabilized Whipped Cream Frosting
  • 2TBSP cold water
  • 1 tsp unflavored gelatin
  • 2 cups (1 pint) of chilled heavy cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2.5 tbsp of confectioner's sugar
For Fruit Filling and Decorating
  • Various fruits of different colors and shapes, sliced as desired (Can use mangoes, grapes, strawberries, honeydew, canteloupe, canned peaches, or anything else you want)
To Make the Cake
Preheat oven to 340 degrees F.

Line two 8" or 9" round baking pans with parchment paper and grease the paper and sides of the pan with non-stick cooking spray or butter. (I used silicone baking pans so I skipped this 

Separate the eggs and place the egg whites into large stand mixer bowl and the 6 egg yolks into a separate large mixing bowl.  It's imperative that there isn't any yolk in the egg white portion!

Mix 0.4 cups of the sugar with the egg yolks and beat until slightly thick and pale yellow.  Stir in vanilla.

In the bowl of a large stand mixer, beat egg whites until they are about halfway to forming stiff peaks. Add the remaining 0.4 cups of sugar in three separate additions while continuing to beat the egg whites. Continue whipping until stiff peaks form, creating meringue.

Gently fold in half of the meringue into the egg yolk mixture using as few strokes as possible.  Gradually add flour and baking powder and mix carefully.  Add the melted butter and milk to the batter.  Gently fold in the remaining half of the meringue. 

Divide batter and pour into the two prepared pans. Bake for about 20-25 minutes in preheated oven until the cakes are a light brown and toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. (Your baking time may be shorter if you use a dark, matte, or non-stick pan, and your baking time may be longer if you use a glass, aluminum, or other shiny pan).

Note that you should bake the two cake layers immediately after the batter is done to prevent the liquid from separating from the rest of the cake.

Remove cakes from oven and leave in pan and allow to cool to room temperature.  You may also wrap the cooled cake layers in saran wrap if you are planning to assemble the cake in the same day.
For the custard filling
In a medium saucepan, whisk the sugar, flour, and salt. Add 3/4 cup of milk and mix until smooth.

Bring mixture to a boil at medium heat, whisking constantly. Do not scrape off any clumps that form on the sides and bottoms because they will leave clumps in your custard.

Cook another 2 minutes and remove from heat (do not turn off the stove). The mixture should have thickened up dramatically.

Mix the egg with remaining 1/4 cup of milk, then pour it into the mixture in the saucepan. Whisk vigorously to combine. Return the mixture to the heat and cook until it just starts to boil. There will be a lot of lumps initially but just keep whisking over the medium heat and most of the lumps should disappear.

Remove from heat and immediately stir in vanilla. Transfer the custard to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. If there are still lumps in the custard, you can 1) keep whisking until they disappear, 2) strain the custard using a fine mesh sieve to get rid of the lumps, or 3) scoop them out with a fork or spoon.

Chill at least 2 hours in the fridge or overnight.
For the Stabilized Whipped Cream Frosting
Sprinkle the gelatin powder over the cold water and let it sit for 5 minutes.
Dissolve the gelatin by placing it in a bowl over a small pot of simmering water and stirring until the mixture turns clear. Let the mixture cool but do allow it to get cold.

Beat the heavy cream using an electric stand mixer (or a hand-held mixer) on low speed for about 30 seconds, or until small bubbles form.

Increase the speed to medium and continue beating for an additional 30 seconds.

Increase speed to high and beat until just before the cream becomes soft and poofy.

At this point, slowly add the sugar and vanilla while continuing to beat the cream until it is almost at stuff peaks.

Finally, add the melted gelatin mixture and keep beating until the cream becomes super thick.

Use frosting immediately or refrigerate for later use.
To Assemble the Finished Cake
Carefully remove cakes from pans. If desired, you can peel or cut away the browned top parts of the cakes using hands or a knife. Level the surface of cake with a knife to make the cakes as flat as possible.

Prepare the fresh fruits to be placed between the cake layers. You'll need enough fruit to cover the entire surface between the two cake layers and any additional fruits that you'll want to garnish for the top of the cake.

Make a simple syrup of 2 parts water to 1 part granulated sugar: Mix the two ingredients together in a saucepan and heat it up just until all the sugar dissolves. Squeeze in the juice from half a lemon. Brush each cake with a thin layer of simple syrup on all surfaces.

Lay the first cake layer down onto plate.  Spread half of the cooled custard onto the top of the cake layer leaving about 1/2" margin around the edge of the cake.  Add the fruit on top of the custard, and be sure to cover the entire custard area. Add remaining custard on top of the fruit.

Place the second cake layer on top of the fruit filling. Gently push down on the layers and wipe away any excess custard that escapes out of the sides of the cake.

Frost the sides and top of the cake using the whipped cream frosting. Use a wide blade or a offset spatula for best results.

If you want to give your cake an extra special professional-looking touch, you can make a glaze to top the fruits on the top of the cake. In a saucepan, heat 1/4 cup of fruit preserves (any flavor) with an equal amount of water. Stir until boiling. Let the mixture reduce by continuing to boil off the water until you reach a glaze consistency (it should be runnier than honey). If desired, you can strain the glaze through a fine sieve to get rid of the fruit and/or seeds.  While the glaze is still warm, gently brush over your fruit and let it dry to achieve a shiny finish.

Finally, chill the cake in the fridge and for a few hours to let the frosting set. The cake is best served the same day it is made.
Yield: About 12-16 servings, or more if you want smaller slices like me

Source: Christine's Kitchen Chronicles; originally adapted from My Edible Memories

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Old fashioned Southern sweet potato pie

Culture shock. That's what I experienced when I first set foot onto my college campus as a lowly freshman many years ago. Here I was, a naive Mid-Atlantic girl who decided to go to school in the South. It literally took me a full month to understand what people were saying because I had never heard a real Southern drawl before. "You ain't from around here, are ya?"

What I soon came to learn was that people in the South are very proud about their food. When asked if my family ever had barbeques, I got scoffed at when my response was yes, and we served corn on the cob, hot dogs, chicken and hamburgers. I was quickly put in my place and given the full explanation of what a real barbeque or pig pickin' was: a whole pig that roasted for at least 12 hours and usually included sides like black-eyed peas, mac and cheese, collard greens and cornbread. My version of the backyard barbeque was called "grilling out." Consider me schooled.

This past spring, I returned to my college town since my husband and I were attending a regional March Madness tournament game. We visited one of the area's best barbeque joints that has been written up all over the internet and featured on several food and travel shows on TV. While at the restaurant, I was told that I had to try the sweet potato pie because it was to die for. Our waitress brought out a piece, and after I tried a bite, I thought I'd died in this Southern part of heaven. It was unbelievable.

After the trip, I went online to look for a sweet potato pie, and most of the recipes I found contained cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger or allspice - otherwise known as pumpkin pie spice. I knew that my Southern friends would give me a smackdown if I even attempted a sweet potato pie with pumpkin pie spices. So I finally found this version on Sage Trifle. The ingredients are simple so the true sweetness of the sweet potatoes comes through.

This is my contribution for November's What's Baking challenge, which my dear friend Kim at Just Baked is hosting. She chose pie as this month's theme, and I was thrilled to be able to finally bake an authentic, old-fashioned, Southern sweet potato pie for Thanksgiving. Please send Kim some love and check out the round-up in early December to see what kinds of pies everyone made!

Aunt Ruby's Sweet Potato Pie
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup light Karo syrup
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 can evaporated milk
  • 3 cups cooked, mashed sweet potatoes
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 unbaked 9-inch pie crust
  • Nutmeg (optional)
Directions
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. In a large bowl, cream butter, brown sugar and syrup with an electric or handheld mixer.

Add eggs and mix until completely incorporated. Add sweet potatoes and mix well. Stir in the milk, vanilla and salt and ensure all ingredients are thoroughly combined.

Pour mixture into the pie shell and bake 40 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Dust top with freshly grated nutmeg or freshly whipped cream if desired.


Yield: One 9-inch pie (12-16 servings, or more if you're watching your waistline)
 
Source: Sage Trifle

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Chocolate acorn squash baked custard

Do you love custard? What if I told you I had a recipe for a chocolate custard? Now what would you say if I told you that it didn't contain any eggs, cream, milk or butter? You're probably thinking, "What kind of custard is that?"  Well, in one word, it is amazing.

I had one acorn squash left over and had no idea what to do with it. I did an internet search for "acorn squash desserts" and found this simple chocolate acorn squash custard on Manifest Vegan. Since I am not vegan, I made some slight revisions to the recipe, but if you'd like a vegan or gluten-free version, please go to the link for the original recipe (the original version also contained a topping that I decided to omit).

I wasn't quite sure what to expect from a dairy-free custard, but I am now a believer. This chocolately custard tastes like one of its dairy-filled cousins. I was amazed how the acorn squash puree could create something so divine. Don't believe me? Try it for yourself, and tell me that this stuff isn't pure genius.

If you're still looking for an easy, no-fuss Thanksgiving dessert, then this is it! Happy Thanksgiving to all my United States readers!

Chocolate acorn squash baked custard
  • 1 acorn squash, halved and roasted about 50 minutes (slice in half, remove the seeds and stringy bits and roast cut-side down in a pan with 1/2" of water)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp salt
Directions
Preheat oven to 350°F.

Lightly grease and flour (using cocoa powder) two 4″ ramekins.

After roasting the acorn squash for 45-50 minutes at 350°F,  scoop out the insides and puree in a food processor or blender.

Add brown sugar, cocoa powder, flour, pumpkin pie spice, vanilla extract and salt to the blender or food processor. Pulse until all ingredients are well combined.

Transfer the mixture into two ramekins (you may have some left over) until the ramekins are 2/3 to 3/4 full.

Bake the custards for about 45-50 minutes. Serve hot or chill in the refrigerator for several hours before devouring.

Yield: Two 4" ramekins

Source: Slightly adapted from Manifest Vegan

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Pumpkin ice cream

Even though it's officially fall and the weather is getting cooler, I'm still making ice cream. To me, ice cream is a year-round treat. If you asked me in the middle of winter whether or not I'd want to eat ice cream, I would say yes without any hesitation. It's one of the world's most perfect foods, in my opinion.

I've wanted to make pumpkin ice cream for a while now and finally decided to cross this off my to-make list. I had just enough pumpkin puree left over from another recipe and also had some egg yolks hanging around. This was not just some random coincidence, my friends. The pumpkin ice cream was just begging to be made!

Although the recipe was slightly more high maintenance than the other ice creams I've tried, it was definitely worth it. I hard a difficult time waiting overnight to chill the recipe and then finally incorporating the vanilla and pumpkin puree and straining the mixture. And then I had to wait another few hours for the ice cream to harden. How is a girl to wait when there is ice cream waiting to be eaten?

The ice cream was phenomenal! This frozen treat was incredibly rich and creamy, and the spices definitely came through. In fact, it was almost like eating a pumpkin pie, but in ice cream form. As David Lebovitz stated in his book, this would pair very well with some graham cracker crusts or gingersnaps. I'm actually thinking about eating this with some white chocolate cheesecake (which is definitely going on our Thanksgiving menu this year - it was Dad's request).

If you're looking for a pumpkin ice cream recipe, you definitely need to give this a try!

Pumpkin ice cream
  • 1-1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon freshly-grated ginger*
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon*
  • 1 cinnamon stick*
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly-ground nutmeg*
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 5 large egg yolks
  • 1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar (I only have light brown sugar and used that)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons Grand Marnier, rum or brandy (optional; I omitted)
  • 3/4 cup pumpkin puree (canned or homemade)
* I replaced these ingredients with 2 teaspoons of pumpkin pie spice

Directions
Make an ice bath by putting some ice and a little water in a large bowl and nest a smaller metal bowl inside it. Set a mesh strainer over the top. (I skipped this step.)

In a medium saucepan combine the milk, cream, granulated sugar, ginger, ground cinnamon, cinnamon stick, nutmeg, and salt. (I replaced the ground spices with 2 teaspoons of pumpkin pie spice, so I mixed this with the milk, cream, sugar and salt.)

Warm the mixture over medium heat until the edges begin to bubble and foam.

Whisk the egg yolks in a separate bowl and gradually whisk in about half of the warm milk mixture to temper the yolks. Stir constantly.

Transfer all of the warmed egg yolks into the saucepan and continue cooking over low heat. Keep stirring and scraping the bottom until the mixture thickens and can coat either your spatula or a wooden spoon. If using an instant-read thermometer, the temperature should read between 160º-170ºF.

Immediately pour the mixture through the strainer into the bowl nested in the ice bath. Mix in the brown sugar, then stir until cool. Chill thoroughly, preferably overnight.

After the mixture has cooled, whisk in the vanilla, liquor (if using), and pumpkin puree. Press the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer, then freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Source: Slightly adapted from David Lebovitz

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Acorn squash bread


Do any of you parents have a hard time getting your children to eat vegetables? I certainly do. Addison eats fruits with no problem, but she isn't too fond of her veggies. For whatever reason, she eats them at daycare, but I am guessing that it's due to peer pressure. When she's at home, it's a different story. She is already showing signs of future teenaged years by ignoring her parents' instructions.

I received some acorn squash and wasn't quite sure what to do with it. Of course, I wanted to make some type of dessert or sweet with them and found this acorn squash bread. The recipe only made one loaf, and the method seemed easy enough. Addison even helped me mix all the ingredients together. I told her we were making cake so she'd eat some. And she did!

This is a wonderful way to sneak some additional veggies into any non-vegetable eating children or significant others. You cannot taste the acorn squash but instead will get a bite full of delicious autumn spices with the cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. This bread is a wonderful treat for breakfast or as an anytime snack.

Acorn squash bread
  • 1 small-medium acorn squash
  • 1 ½ cups granulated sugar
  • ½ cup mild olive oil or vegetable oil
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 ½ cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp ground clove
  • ½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ½ cup chopped pecans or hazelnuts (optional)
  • Coarse sugar for sprinkling
Directions
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  

Cut the squash in half and scoop out the insides with the seeds and stringy stuff.  Put the squash cut sides down on a high sided baking tray and fill the tray with ½ an inch of water.  Roast for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the squash is very tender.  Remove from the oven and let the squash cool.  Scoop out the fleshy bits with a spoon puree in a food processor or blender until smooth.  Set aside 1 cup of the puree for the bread.

In a medium size bowl, blend together 1 cup of the squash puree, sugar, the oil, and the eggs.  

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, spices, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.  Slowly add this to the squash mixture and mix until no longer lumpy.  Stir in the nuts (if you are adding them). 

Grease and flour your bread pan and pour in the batter.  Generously sprinkle the top of the bread with the coarse sugar.  Bake for 45-55 minutes until set.  A toothpick inserted into the center of the bread should come out clean.

If you want to make the bread super awesome, you can add a layer of streusel topping.

Source: Simmer Seasonal Recipes

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Pumpkin swirl brownies

"Lumpkin, bumpkin, diddle diddle dumpkin, zumpkin, frumpkin, PUMPKIN!" That phrase from Sesame Street's Abby Cadabby gets stuck in my head when I mention pumpkin at our house. Abby is a fairy-in-training and has the ability to transform things into pumpkins.

I was contemplating what to make one afternoon but my requirement was that it couldn't be too time-consuming. I wanted something that that incorporated fall flavors and could be easily shared with friends or coworkers. If Abby Cadabby was at my house, she'd probably turn some of our household items into pumpkins while I was brainstorming. Suddenly, it hit me - pumpkin brownies!

While these were good, I thought they tasted more like cake than brownies. You really need to work quickly with the chocolate brownie batter layer - mine molded together like a batch of hardening caramel when I was pouring it into the pan, and the resulting chocolate brownie part tasted a bit like azuki (red bean). The pumpkin part of the brownie was good and full of pumpkin spice flavor. I'd make a bunch of tweaks next time and probably use my tried and true brownie base and create a separate layer of pumpkin on top to swirl. But overall, I still received some enthusiastic thumbs up from family and coworkers.


Pumpkin swirl brownies
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for pan
  • 6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (I omitted)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cups solid-pack pumpkin
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup chopped hazelnuts or other nuts (I omitted)

Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter or grease a 9-inch square baking pan.

Melt the chocolate and butter in a double boiler or heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Stir occasionally until smooth and set aside.

In a separate large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, cayenne, and salt. Set aside. 

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the sugar, eggs, and vanilla until fluffy and well combined, 3 to 5 minutes. Slowly add in the flour mixture.

Divide the batter between two bowls (about 2 cups per bowl). Add the chocolate mixture into one bowl. In other bowl, stir in the pumpkin, oil, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Pour half of the chocolate batter to prepared pan and smooth the top with a rubber spatula. Then pour the half of the pumpkin batter on top. 

Repeat to make one more chocolate layer and one more pumpkin layer (you should have four layers). Work quickly so batters don't set.

Using a small spatula or a butter knife, gently swirl the two batters to create a marbled effect. Sprinkle with nuts if using.

Bake until set, 40 to 45 minutes. Let cool in pan on a wire rack. Cut into 16 squares.

Yield: 16 brownies

Source: Martha Stewart

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Chocolate Caramel Bars


In honor of my birthday that just passed, I wanted to share my signature dish with you. It's the dessert that I am best known for and the item most requested when I am invited to a party or potluck.

I don't exactly remember where this recipe came from, but I believe that one my childhood neighbors made these and was kind enough to share the recipe with my mom. If you are the nice neighbor or friend who gave us this recipe, please let me know so I can credit you properly!

Just a fair warning that these are very rich bars.  The crumb layers on the top and bottom effectively balance out the gooeyness of the caramel and chocolate interior.  You might need a napkin or two...and a nap afterwards! I wouldn't be surprised if these bars disappeared from your house within an hour. In fact, these bars were gobbled up within 15 minutes at a party we attended last weekend. And a friend of mine recently described these as "heaven in a bar." Are you tempted yet?

Try these bars today, and who knows--they may soon become your signature dessert! Oh, and if you are wondering what I did on my birthday, I took the day off and baked, skated and shopped. All in all, it was a perfect day!

Chocolate Caramel Bars
  • 1 cup chocolate chips (I use semi-sweet)
  • 38 caramels (I use Kraft, but you can certainly use homemade)
  • 6 Tbsp heavy cream
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 cup oatmeal
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup softened butter (not melted)
Directions
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Unwrap the caramels and place into a saucepan.  Add cream and melt both over low to medium heat. Set aside.

Mix together flour, salt, soda, oatmeal, sugar and butter.

Pat half of the flour mixture into an 8.5x8.5 inch square pan. Bake at 325 degrees F for 20 minutes.

Pour melted caramel mixture over baked crust; then sprinkle with chocolate chips.

Crumble the rest of the flour mixture over the chips and bake an additional 20 minutes.
    Yield:  about 16 bars of yummy goodness!

    Source:  Unknown - from my mom's old recipes, which may have come from a neighbor

    Sunday, November 4, 2012

    Caramel apple cake

    My college roommate and I have birthdays that are two days apart. There have only been a few times in my 15+ years of knowing her that we haven't celebrated our birthdays together. We didn't get to see other for the past few birthdays due to multiple conflicts, but this year we made our schedules work.

    I spent a long time thinking about what cake to make for my (our) birthdays and when I came across this caramel apple cake, my search was over. I read through the recipe, and although it seemed labor-intensive, I knew the end product would be worth it.  Because the cake uses 7 sticks of butter (!!!), I reluctantly cut back on my Halloween candy consumption to make every calorie count (I only ate one fun-sized Milky Way bar all night--how's that for self control?).

    I started baking the cake and making the caramel sauce on Halloween night. I stirred the caramel sauce and whisked ingredients while answering the doorbell to excited trick-or-treaters. At the end of the night, my kitchen smelled like fall. The sweet aroma of caramel wafted throughout the kitchen while hints of cinnamon escaped from the oven.

    I was skeptical about the original recipe's caramel buttercream that contained flour (used as a thickening agent). After working on the buttercream for a good 20-30 minutes, I gave up. My frosting was a big, gloopy mess. I tried saving it by adding some powdered sugar, but it was still too runny. So I dumped it out and made my own frosting instead - I should have trusted my instincts and made this from the get-go.

    Happy birthday, E! I'm glad you enjoyed this cake, and I had a wonderful time hanging out with you this past weekend. I can't wait to celebrate with you again next year!

    Caramel sauce
    • 1-1/2 cups sugar
    • 1/4 cup corn syrup
    • 1/2 cup butter
    • 1-1/2 cups heavy cream
    Cake
    • 4 cups flour
    • 2 teaspoons baking soda
    • 1 teaspoon baking powder
    • 1 teaspoon salt
    • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
    • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
    • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
    • 1 1/2 cups unsalted butter
    • 2 1/2 cups sugar
    • 2 large eggs
    • 4 cups applesauce
    Caramel buttercream
      • About 4-6 cups of powder sugar (two pounds or about eight cups)
      • 1/2 cup unsalted butter or shortening
      • 1 tsp vanilla extract
      • 1/2 cup – 3/4 cup milk
      • 1/2 cup caramel sauce (from above)
      Directions
      For the caramel sauce: In a tall saucepan, combine sugar and corn syrup with 1/2 cup water. Cook over medium-high heat while stirring until sugar dissolves. Increase heat, stop stirring, and bring mixture to a boil. Cook the mixture until it reaches rich caramel color. Remove pan from heat, mix in butter and heavy cream, and stir until combined.  If the mixture becomes clumpy or seizes, keep stirring over heat how until the sauce comes back together.

      To make the cake: Preheat the oven to 325°F. Grease three 8-inch round cake pans, line with parchment, and butter and flour the parchment (I used two 9-inch silicone pans).  In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, allspice, and cloves. In a separate bowl, cream the butter and sugar with a hand or stand mixer until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Add the egg and mix until combined.  Alternately add the dry ingredients and the applesauce, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Divide the batter among the pans, smooth the tops with a silicone spatula, and bake for 40 to 45 minutes.  Cool for 20 minutes before turning the cakes out onto a cooling rack.  Let cool completely.

      For the frosting: In a large bowl or the stand of an electric mixer, cream the sugar and vanilla for about 3-4 minutes.  Alternate adding the powdered sugar and milk until you reach the desired consistency. Add 1/2 cup of caramel sauce from the first step and mix until combined. If the frosting is still too stiff, add more milk.  If it is too runny, add more powdered sugar.

      Cake assembly: Place one cake layer and frost the top with a thin layer of frosting.  Repeat for the second and third layers. Frost the sides with a thin layer of frosting and refrigerate until frosting is firm.  Remove the cake from the refrigerator and frost the top and sides with the  remaining frosting. If there is extra drizzle, you can swirl it on top (or in between the cake layers if you want to add another punch of flavor).

      Sources: Cake and caramel sauce from Lulu the Baker; originally from Baked Explorations by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito; frosting is an Eva Bakes original but inspired from Lulu the Baker and i am baker

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