Baking recipes usually frown on softer apples, specifying instead that you use Granny Smith. But this fragrantly spiced, fabulously flavored and pleasingly textured cake makes beautiful use of varieties such as Roma, Cortland, or MacIntosh which have tender flesh. This is also good with apples that you’ve had in a bowl on the counter for a while. The apples partially “melt” right into the cake as it bakes. For an holiday flourish, I’ve paired this cake with maple-brown-sugar frosting which has a caramel flavor that goes supremely well with the apples and spice in the cake. Stacked, the layers make a towering apple amazement—homey indulgence of the best sort. Note: For best release, I line the cake pans with well-greased parchment—sides and bottoms.
• 1 1/2 cups unsalted butter (three sticks)
• 3 cups granulated pure-cane sugar
• 6 eggs
• 3 cups all-purpose flour
• 1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
• 2 tsp baking powder
• 2 tsp baking soda
• 2 tsp ground cinnamon
• 1/2 of a freshly grated nutmeg (or 1 tsp ground nutmeg)
• 1 tsp ground cloves
• 1 tsp salt
• 1 cup room-temperature buttermilk
• 6 to 8 McIntosh apples (or a mixture of softer-textured apples of any variety) peeled and diced to make 6 cups
• Parchment paper for lining baking pans
• Solid vegetable shortening for greasing pans
FOR THE MAPLE BROWN SUGAR ICING:
• 1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cups) unsalted butter
• 1 1/2 cups lightly-packed brown sugar
• 1/4 to 1/2 tsp salt (to your taste)
• 3/4 cup pure maple syrup
• 1/2 cup half-and-half
• 2 tsp vanilla extract
• 4 to 4 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
Peel, core and medium dice enough apples to make 6 cups. Set aside.
In the bowl of a large stand mixer, whip butter with sugar for five minutes. Beat eggs in one at a time until mixture is light-colored, volumized and fluffy. In a separate bowl, sift together remaining dry ingredients (flours, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and salt). Alternating with the buttermilk, beat 1/3 of dry ingredients followed by 1/3 of buttermilk into the butter/sugar mixture, until all are incorporated. Stir in the diced apples. Set oven rack to center position. Preheat oven to 350.
Generously grease three 9-inch baking pans with solid vegetable shortening. Using a Sharpie, trace a circle around the bottom of baking pans onto parchment paper. Cut out three circles and use the trim to cut enough straight strips to line the sides of each pan. Fit circles into the bottom of each pan and press the strips around the sides. To help the strips fit the slight angle of the sides of each pan, I cut inch long snips along the length of each strip; the shortening you’ve greased the pans with will help the parchment to stick. Fill each pan with equal amount of batter. Bake at 350 for 50 minutes or until tops of cakes spring back when lightly pressed and a toothpick comes out without any trace of unbaked batter. Remove cakes from oven. Cool on racks.
In a medium-sized heavy saucepan, over medium low heat melt butter. Add brown sugar and maple syrup stir for 2 minutes. Stir in salt. Add half-and-half and whisk until boiling. Remove from heat. Stir in vanilla. Sift in powdered sugar, whisking to incorporate until smooth and creamy. Assemble cake immediately after making frosting while icing is still hot and pourable (it sets up very quickly!) Place first layer on serving platter pour maple frosting over the surface, allowing some of the frosting to drip down the sides. Quickly repeat this process with the remaining two layers. Decoratively top cake with a few wedges of apple, if desired.