Beauty is only crust deep… but taste lasts forever

How do you like THEM apples?

That’s what I said to myself as I finished scattering toasted walnuts atop this cake, one that can only be described as GORGEOUS—wouldn’t you agree?

I’ve said many times that I don’t have the Martha Stewart gene. Make a centerpiece out of acorns and autumn leaves? No way. Hand-lettered invitations? If I want people to come over for pizza and beer, I’ll email. Decorating petits-fours would be my idea of purgatory; anything that requires a pastry bag, I’m outta here. Even icing a layer cake makes me feel like a cat with its fur petted backwards.

In short, I’m more into taste than looks. I’d rather eat that cookie than admire it.

But every now and then, just by sheer chance, I produce a truly beautiful baked good. This caramel apple cake is a perfect example.

It didn’t start out to be pretty; indeed, it started out pretty plain. I wanted to make an apple cake where the apples didn’t disappear, texture-wise. So, how about apple chunks baked into cinnamon-scented cake? Sounds delicious; looks… well, like beige apple chunks floating, raft-like, in a tan sea. BLAHHHHH. Even I could see this cake wasn’t going to make it, looks-wise.

So what goes with apples? Caramel, of course. Let’s drizzle caramel sauce all over the top and see what happens. Tastes good; looks like brown-spattered apple chunks floating… etc. So caramel was a plus taste-wise, but totally not a beauty enhancer. Ah, nuts… NUTS! Even better, toasted nuts, with their heightened flavor and subtle golden sheen. A win-win. Beauty and the feast.

So if you’re one of those slap-happy bakers (slap it together, be happy when it comes out of the oven in one piece), but do occasionally need to make a photo-worthy dessert—something to impress your urban(e) sister-in-law—here it is, Caramel-Apple Walnut Cake.

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First, we’ll beat together sugar, butter, cinnamon, baking powder, salt, and vanilla (yes, it’s hidden under the sugar).

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Beat till smooth, then add 2 eggs, and beat again till smooth.

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Add the flour alternately with the sour cream or yogurt, beating gently to make a stiff batter. Spoon the batter into a greased 9” round cake pan. Yes, it’s supposed to be stiff; that way the apples won’t sink.

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Spread the batter to the edges of the pan.

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Next come the apples. Here, I’m using our apple peeler/corer/slicer to simply peel 2 large apples, without coring/slicing.

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Use a plain apple corer to core the peeled apples.

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Then cut each apple into 8 wedges, and toss with sugar and vanilla. Or get to this point with whatever tools you prefer: a vegetable peeler, paring knife, apple corer/wedger…

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Place the apples atop the cake batter, pushing them in gently.

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Bake in a preheated 350°F oven till the cake tests done. The apples will be “al dente”—not totally mushy, not totally crisp. Just nice.

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Turn the cake out onto a cooling rack.

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Place another rack over the cake’s bottom…

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…and flip over so the cake is upright.

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I happen to love our block caramel. It’s like gold in the cupboard, ready to melt for a drizzle atop brownies or bars or cookies or cake, easy to combine with cream to make sauce… it’s shelf-stable, and stays soft (like modeling clay) and fresh indefinitely. So, combine caramel with cream, and heat in the microwave till the cream starts to bubble.

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Stir…

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…and keep stirring till you’ve made a smooth, pourable sauce.

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Drizzle the sauce over the warm cake, making sure to pour extra into the crevices around the apples.

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Sprinkle toasted salted walnuts on top.

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Pretty as a picture! Wait—this IS a picture…

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Cut open to reveal apple chunks and oozing caramel. This doesn’t need any ice cream, though whipped cream would be a (pretty) bonus.

Read, review, and rate (please!) our recipe for Caramel-Apple Walnut Cake.

Buy vs. Bake

Buy: Baci Grill, Cromwell, CT: Caramel Apple Torte, 1 slice, $2.50

Cocoa Bar, Brooklyn, NY: Apple Cider Caramel Cake, 1 slice, $5.50

Bake at home: Caramel Apple Walnut Cake, 1 slice (1/8 of cake), 83¢.

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel was born in Wisconsin, grew up in New England, and graduated from Brown University. She was a journalist in Massachusetts and Maine before joining the King Arthur Flour Company in 1990, where she's been ever since. Author or co-author of three King Arthur ...

comments

  1. Andrea

    I made this for dinner tonight. Goodness, was it delightful!

    And I agree about frosting the layer cake – that, to me, while an enjoyable dessert, is like my bi-yearly appointment to the dentist….necessary, but certainly not looked forward to!

    (And I’ve never had a cavity, so go figure!)

    I think I need to make a caramel apple cheesecake this weekend now – Hubster and I aren’t huge cherry fans, but we love us some locally grown apples and cheesecake! ;)

    Reply
  2. manzana

    Greetings from Spain!

    First of all, I have to let you know I LOVE this site. I’d like to try all the recipes you post, they are and look great.

    But this one… it’s not gonna wait longer than a week to make it… Looks terrific!

    It’ s a pity I won’t find caramel blocks anywhere here…

    Thanks so much for delight me with every post you write!

    Cheers,

    manzana

    Reply
  3. Penny

    As always, you got me! PJ you are an artist with words and pictures! I look at this site first thing every day. I’ve looked at the block caramel in the KAF catalog for a long time but always resisted. No more! Today I’m ordering a chunk for myself! Thank you for always giving me such yummy ideas. Now I’m off to Curves to keep myself from turning into a big block of caramel myself!

    Hmmm… I wouldn’t like to BE a big block of caramel, but I’d certainly like to try sinking into a tub or melted caramel…. maybe we should open a culinary spa, because I’ve also wanted to lie in a tub of yeast dough and see if it’s strong enough to raise me :) – PJH

    Reply
  4. Jenna

    Why can’t my peeler do no slicing & no peeling? Is there a better variety? My apples always come out sliced too thin & mooshy.

    This cake looks beautiful – I will have to give it a try.

    Maybe your peeler can do that, Jenna – can you unlatch the little spring that holds the slicer part in place and push it out of the way? Ours can JUST peel; or peel, core and slice (since core and slice are the same function). PJH

    Reply
  5. Sue Griesser

    Well, I grew up in an apple orchard, and thought I had every apple recipe known to man. Can’t wait to impress the family with this. I live alone so I have to make it for a family occasion somewhere. Think it will go to my granddaughter’s birthday party on Sunday. Think I will try it with the fat-free caramel topping. I am on a fat free diet and most of my adult men are very diet conscious. I know it won’t be as good, but sometimes you have to make people THINK they are indulgent. I do make cakes with elaborate decorations for my grandkids’ birthdays, this one will be a dog cake made to look like my great dane, as my granddaughter requested. But sometimes you have to make something simple yet impressive, in comes the apple cake.

    Reply
  6. Lucy

    The cake is absolutely beautiful, i can hardly wait to make it, i’ll get apples on my way home from work. I will pass along a tip you can consider trying. Japanese Nashi Pears (similar to an apple) should work just as well. i have a special recipe from an old San Francisco firehouse cookbook that mixes apple pieces into the batter and when i made it with Nashi Pears it was even better than apples, served a bit warm w/vanilla ice cream it was a patisserie quality dessert. I think the caramel on this cake would have to be applied very sparingly as the pears are a bit sweet and personally, i would add toasted pecans or almonds. However, it is fun to try substituting Nashi w/apples. let me know if anyone tries it and how you like it.

    Lucy, sounds REALLY good. We don’t have nashi pears here, but I could try Bosc. And yes, a different nut would be tasty, too – thanks for the suggestion. PJH

    Reply
  7. Kimberly

    Good evening everyone, my name is Kimberly and I am not Martha Stewart. (I sit down and feel relief for finally admitting it.) I have tried and tried to make my cakes look perfect and they never do, so yes I agree I can not do the perfect looking frosted cake or make arrangements out of sticks rubber bands and some flowers and make it look like arrangement out of her magazine. So this looks like a cake right up my ally! Thanks for sharing it. Will have to give it a try. Oh what do you think of pecans instead? I am not a big fan of nuts so really don’t care what kind it uses.

    Pecans would be delicious. But if you don’t like nuts, heck, don’t use ‘em! Remember, we’re NOT Martha. Do you like dried cranberries? They’d be pretty, too. (In the spirit of this particular recipe, I’m thinking like Martha…) -PJH

    Reply
  8. Kimberly

    I am sorry, I forgot to ask you this question. I’m using our apple peeler/corer/slicer to simply peel 2 large apples, without coring/slicing. Use a plain apple corer to core the peeled apples. Why did you do it this way? Why didn’t you just core the apple at the same time you peeled it?

    Because our apple peeler/corer/slicer cores/slices at the same time using the same blade; I didn’t want them sliced, just cored… PJH

    Reply
  9. Elisabeth

    Hey! Beautiful update…I love caramel and will definitely be making this! Now, on to a very random question, but I’m looking to make a strawberry shortcake for my boyfriend, and, no joke, he wants that icky dunkin’ donuts “butternut” topping on the sides. Any clue what it is? Does KAF sell it? Does anywhere? I have the feeling that anything vaguely similar to that or the (equally bizarre) coating of the “strawberry shortcake” ice cream bars is what he’s after. Apparently, he found some grocery store that does their cakes with something similar a while along. Sigh. Thanks,
    Elisabeth

    Believe it or not, Elisabeth, we actually DID sell that buttercrunch/butternut stuff a long time ago, before we went all-natural… as you can imagine, it’s loaded with unpronounceable chemicals of one kind or another. But speaking of bizarre, take a look at this recipe – it might come as close as anything else to approximating your boyfriend’s longed-for buttercrunch. (Myself, I liked the stuff on the Good Humor chocolate eclair ice cream bars…) Maybe you could, like, coat the sides of the shortcake in cream and roll in this stuff before baking? Worth a try… true love knows no (culinary) bounds… – PJH

    Reply
  10. myrna

    I am on a strict weight loss program so all I can do is pretend that I can taste it. Hopefully, I will achieve nirvana and my goal weight and can make this cake. From all the raves, I can hardly wait!

    Reply
  11. karen cotler

    Haven’t been on-line all summer but love your new format with pictures showing how you achieve the recipes on the website. Also really like additional tips you provide now….Great new improvements…..

    Reply
  12. Sue Griesser

    I made this cake for my granddaughter’s birthday party and it was a big hit. And since I didn’t have the option of sending for the great caramel block, I used the fat-free caramel topping from the grocery store. Just microwaved it for 20 seconds and poured it over…DELICIOUS. I did use butter and light sour cream, seemed great to me. Now I am on to the ciabatta featured this week. I make artisan bread quite often, so the mess doesn’t bother me. The only part I don’t like is cleaning the rising bowl after.

    Sue, spray your rising bowl with non-stick vegetable oil spray, and the bread should slip right out… PJH

    Reply
  13. Monta Albin

    After reading all the glowing reviews, I could hardly wait to bake this cake. Unfortunately, my cake was so dry that we could not eat it. Even my grandson, who will eat almost anything, refused a second serving. I realized that 1hr 5min was excessive, so I removed the cake at 45 minutes as it was golden brown on top and breaking away from the sides of the pan. I bake often so I know that my oven is calibrated properly and I checked and rechecked my ingredients. I used butter and sour cream.

    Did anyone else have this problem?

    So sorry, Monta- you weren’t using a convection oven, were you? Haven’t heard of anyone else having this problem… It is indeed a dryer than normal cake, in order to support the apple chunks; maybe I didn’t manage your expectations well enough. At any rate, I apologize for your disappointment! – PJH

    Reply
  14. Linda

    I brought back some Northern apples (Wealthy and Courtland) to TN and I am hoarding them for use in apple pie and this recipe especially. It is a dry and not sweet cake but the toping takes care of that. It is similar to a Polish Apple cake and with tose apples it is as good as being in Poland. I did use butter and the light sour cream and might take the next one ut of the oven a little sooner, It does not need to get brown on top and using these particular apples, they stayed on the hard but not uncooked side. It was greatly appreciated by my Polish friends. I did use the carmel block and I like the block. Now to go on to the Caqrmel-apple mini cakes and the apple pie with a twist!

    Reply
  15. Colleen

    I just finished reading all the comments, so now I must conclude that it’s just me – but don’t those peeled apple chunks look just like little caterpillars nestled into the cake batter? Those apple peeler/corer/slicers always leave kind of a spiral pattern on apples, and cut up like that they do look cute! It is a lovely looking cake on the whole and makes me want to go apple picking soon.

    Reply
  16. DanaSmith

    I am going to make this cake tomorrow night…..it looks so darn good! I love your wool pieces. I’m a primitive rug hooker and have never done punch needle…I need to do a piece!
    Dana in Virginia
    http://www.TheThingsILove.typepad.com

    Hi Dana – did you see some wool pieces on our site? I’m a bit confused… but glad you love them! – PJH

    Reply
  17. Julia Thornton

    Made this cake, (actually 2 of them, one with apples and one with pears) when I had 2 couples for dinner a week ago. The wives are good cooks and honest critics, and they approved. It made a lovely dessert, not too sweet, even with the carmel sauce. I particularly liked the moist, fine textured, tender crumb and the excellent flavor which compliments and does not overwhelm the fruit. You have another winner.
    P.S. I also made the panzanella salad that nite as an opportunity to showcase our garden produce.
    Thanks and keep up the good work!
    Julie T.

    Reply
  18. Suzy B

    I haven’t tried this but I’m going to as soon as I can get someone over here to help me eat it! The close-ups of that apple cake are making my mouth water. Tender crumb, soft apples, sticky caramel and a little crunch. Mmmmm.

    I look forward to fall in Wisconsin and the resultant cooler weather so I can get back to my first love–baking. Unfortunately, I made a humongous apple crisp this weekend and used my up my bag of apple seconds I get from the orchard. Cheap, but wonderful for baking because it is a mix of varieties and only $.29/lb.

    As for the spa idea, count me in. I, too, love the idea of falling into a big tub of fresh, soft dough and have the scent of yeast billowing around me. Oh, my. It’s one of my favorite smells and so comforting. And we could offer chocolate massages as well….

    Keep it up.
    Susan

    Reply
  19. Jill

    This was soooooo good! I diced half of an apple into small pieces and mixed it into the batter. I also used a springform pan so I didn’t have to worry about flipping the cake over. The caramel block works like a charm. I go to Chicago every year to visit my family for Thanksgiving, and this cake will definitely be the showstopper this year! Thanks again for a wonderful recipe…………

    Reply

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