I was tapped to make dessert for Nana's 85th birthday celebration tonight, which is always a great chance to try a new cake. Surprisingly, as I sorted through dozens of recipes, everything sounded too rich. I narrowed it down to three and asked the sister-in-law - an excellent arbiter of taste - to vote.
The three we looked at were:
Ina Garten's Chocolate Cake (I'm impressed, as ever, with Amanda's piping skills!)
We picked the toffee apple cake, and I decided to make a caramel sauce to drizzle over the vanilla bean ice cream that will accompany the cake. In part, I wasn't sure the kids would eat the cake (mostly because it has nuts, but you never know with them...), and in part, I wanted the chance to make a second new item (since I wasn't doing a frosted cake). Besides, I've never made caramel before. That's for another post, though.
Doesn't it look appealing?
See how the toffee seeped into the edges of the cake? Yum.
The apples are covered in a nice toffee glaze, and the edges of the cake are beautifully caramelized. The cake itself has shredded apples, chopped pecans, and warm spices like cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. I'll let you know how it tastes, but the batter sure tasted good!
Toffee Apple Upside Down Cake
generous 1/3 cup (go for 2 1/2 ounces) brown sugar
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1 apple, unpeeled, cored, and thinly sliced (I recommend pink lady, honeycrisp, or granny smith apples; basically, a very crisp apple - the sweetness level is up to you. I combined pink lady and granny smith, because I couldn't get my hands on honeycrisp)
3/4 cup pecans or walnuts, chopped and lightly toasted
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup (5 1/4 ounces) brown sugar
1 3/4 cups (7 3/8 ounces) flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt (I added this)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon powdered ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg (I skimped, since nutmeg isn't my favorite)
2 apples, peeled and coarsely grated (again, I used pink lady and granny smith)
Since this is an upside down cake, you're going to make the toffee topping, layer in the sliced apples, and then spoon the batter over. The cake will bake, cool for just a few minutes, and be inverted onto the serving plate to finish cooling. Voila! The toffee and apples end up on the top!
Preheat the oven to 350F. If you can concentrate on two things at once, chop the nuts, toss them on a baking sheet, and pop them in the oven while it's preheating. It'll take a little longer to toast them in a cold oven, but they'll be ready to go when you need them. Don't forget to set a timer or check them so they don't scorch. While they're toasting, make the topping. Slice the apple so you'll have it ready. Then melt the brown sugar and butter together in a sauce pan over medium-low heat. Stir constantly until the sugar is dissolved, the butter is melted, and it's all incorporated. Spray a 9" cake pan with cooking spray, then pour in the toffee, tilting the pan so it covers the bottom. Lay out the apple slices so they look pretty (remember, this is the top of your cake!).
The batter comes together easily, especially if you have everything ready to go. Beat the butter and brown sugar together until smooth. Add the eggs and beat until lightened and fluffy. (Mine never got that light or that fluffy. Moving on.)
Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. Stir the dry ingredients into the wet ones. The recipe calls for stirring them in gently, by hand, but I didn't see this as a particularly delicate process. Just try not to overmix it. The batter is pretty thick, but it will thin out a bit from the juice from the apple shreds. Stir in the grated apples and chopped nuts. Spoon the batter in blobs over the arranged apples. That way, you can make sure you it's evenly distributed, and then smooth it with a rubber spatula, without messing up the arranged apples.
Bake for about 35 minutes or until the cake is set, doesn't jiggle when you move it gently side-to-side, and starts to turn golden brown. Let it cool for 10 minutes. If necessary, run a knife around the edges to loosen, and then invert it onto your serving plate. You should hear it zlich down onto the plate. Lift off the cake pan (see the pretty apples?) and let the cake cool completely.
Serve warm or at room temperature, with ice cream or whipped cream. The recipe says it's best the first day but can keep for 24 hours. I'm sure the leftovers - if there are any - would last another day or so. The recipe also notes that it serves 4-6, but I'm sure hoping it will serve 8-10!
ETA: This cake was not my favorite. It was certainly moist and the flavor was nice. As my brother-in-law pointed out, it would be nice as a breakfast cake, i.e., for brunch. I really liked the contrast of the nuts and apples, but I wished the apples had disintegrated a bit more during baking. Still totally worth a try!