Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Applesauce cake with cinnamon cream cheese frosting

(Forgive me.  Technical difficulties prevented me from posting what I had typed up earlier.  An abbreviated version follows.)  

When the sign-up sheet first appeared for the office holiday party, I requested first crack at it.  Every year I wait much too long to pick something and by the time I've settled on an idea ("chocolate bundt cake!  shrimp salad cups!  the best macaroni and cheese in the world!"), would you believe that someone else has already signed up for a similar dish?  The nerve of some people!  Can't they read my mind?

So, then it's back to square one.  Even knowing that the clock is ticking, I spend another 4 hours toiling and coming up with (what I think is) the perfect potluck surprise and, hey, someone is bringing it already, too!  Give me a break!  To quote Matt's mom when she once told me to pick out a recipe for dinner, "I'm sorry, I didn't realize what I was telling you."  Ha! :)

I've had this recipe saved for months (familiar story, no?) and again, why do I put these things off until the last minute.  For someone who loves to bake so much, you'd never think I needed a sound reason to bake a cake.  Just the baking of it is reason enough!  At first glance, this applesauce cake might sound humble... unable to hold its own in the face of more flashy desserts like a pumpkin roll or black forest cake.  But it's that very humility that blows you away when you take the first bite!

As far as texture goes, think of this cake as the apple version of carrot cake... but so much more.  The cake is dense and moist, smelling of those warm spices that perfume the very best kitchens.  The walnuts, though not necessary, add a nutty slightly bitter crunch to the sweetness of the surrounding cake body.  And the cream cheese frosting?  Arguably the best part about carrot and red velvet cakes, it's even better with a hint of cinnamon. 

One Year Ago: Chicken and Rice Soup

Spiced Applesauce Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
(adapted from Gourmet)
-makes one 9-inch cake

A few notes: A round or square pan will do -- use whatever your mood (or kitchen supply) dictates.  I used square since it lent itself for easy cutting at the office holiday party.  While the cake should be stored, covered, in the fridge, do take it out at least an hour (if not two) before serving.  The cake is delicious cold or at room temperature, so again, per your preference

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups unsweetened applesauce
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and roughly chopped

5 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup confectioner's sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350F.  Coat an 8- or 9-inch square cake pan with nonstick spray and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda and powder, salt, and spices.  In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat butter, sugar, and vanilla on high speed until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes.  Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat in applesauce.  With mixer on a low speed, add flour until just combined.  By hand, stir in walnuts if using.

Spread batter evenly into pan and bake until golden brown on top and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean, about 40 to 45 minutes.  Cool in pan for 15 minutes.  Run a knife around the edges of the pan to loosen cake and carefully invert onto wire rack.  With cake right side up, cool completely.

While cake is cooling, beat butter, cream cheese, and vanilla with an electric mixer on high until light and fluffy.  Sift confectioners sugar and cinnamon over frosting mixture and mix on medium speed until incorporated.  Spread frosting over top of cooled cake.

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