This October, Cleveland, TN is hosting another of its annual apple festivals on Saturday the 15th. As usual, it will feature an arts and crafts show, live music, food booths, and pony and hay rides. And, of course, an apple festival wouldn’t be complete without an apple dessert competition! Here’s an apple recipe for caramel apple cake to get you started as well as a few more ideas to bring to the dessert table.

Caramel Apple Cake

What You Will Need

For the Cake:

  • 3¾ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1½ tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1½ cups packed brown sugar
  • ¾ cup canola or vegetable oil
  • ¾ cup unsweetened applesauce (not chunky)
  • ¾ cup jarred caramel dessert sauce
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1½ cups buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 1 apple, peeled, cored, and finely diced

For the salted caramel frosting:

  • 3 cups granulated sugar
  • 1½ cups buttermilk
  • 1 lb 2 oz ounces butter, divided use
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ¾ tsp salt
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

For the caramel apple decoration:

  • 3-4 mini apples (mine were about 2½ inches in diameter, smaller is okay)
  • 7 ounces soft caramels
  • 1½ tsp cream or water
  • Lollipop sticks, wooden skewers, or wooden popsicle sticks

How It’s Done

Cake:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line two 9-inch cake pans with parchment paper and spray the pans and paper well with nonstick cooking spray. (Note: these cake layers bake up high, so it’s best to use cake pans that are at least 2 inches high.)

2. In a bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Whisk them together. Set aside.

3. In the bowl of a large stand mixer, combine the brown sugar and oil and whisk them together on medium speed until well-combined.

4. Add the applesauce, caramel sauce, and vanilla extract. Mix well again. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

5. Finally, with the mixer running on low, add a third of the dry ingredients. Once that’s mostly mixed in, add half of the buttermilk, half of the remaining drys, the rest of the buttermilk, and the rest of the drys. Stop the mixer when there are just a few streaks of flour remaining.

6. Fold in the rest of the dry ingredients with a spatula, scraping the bottom and sides of the mixing bowl well. Add the diced apples and fold them in as well.

7. Divide the batter evenly between the two cake pans. Bake the cakes at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes, until the top springs back lightly when pressed and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let the cakes cool at room temperature and remove them from the pans when they are barely warm. Wrap them well with plastic wrap and place them in the freezer for 30 minutes to firm up before cutting them and assembling the cake.

8. Once the cakes are firm (they do not need to be completely frozen), remove them from the freezer. Use a very long, sharp serrated knife to cut them in half through the middle, so that you have four cake rounds. If the tops are very domed, trim off the tops to make them even as well.

9. Place one cake round on a cardboard circle the same size as the cake. Spoon about ¾ a cup of frosting in the center of the cake and use an offset spatula to spread it out to the edges of the cake. Top the frosting with another cake round, and repeat this process, until you have stacked all four cake rounds on top of each other. Place a generous spoonful of frosting on top of the cake, and use the spatula to spread it to the edge of the top in random, artful swirls.

10. Now get a good scoop of frosting on the edge of the spatula, and spread it on the sides of the cake, repeating until the sides are covered. While this frosting can be smoothed out with a hot spatula, I think it looks great with some rustic swirls from the spatula. Top the cake with a few small caramel-covered apples.

Salted caramel frosting:

1. Combine the granulated sugar, buttermilk, 12 ounces of butter, and baking soda in a large pot. It will bubble up a lot, so use a 6-quart pot. If you don’t know the size of your pots, make sure that the mixture has room to expand to at least 3 times its size. Place the pan over medium-high heat, and stir until the butter melts and sugar dissolves. Bring the mixture a boil, and insert a candy thermometer.

2. Continue to cook the mixture, stirring occasionally, until it reaches 240 degrees Fahrenheit (115 C). It will get dark brown and fragrant. Once at 240, remove the pan from the heat and pour the hot mixture into the bowl of a large stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Whip the mixture on medium speed, until the caramel has slightly cooled and thickened (about 6 minutes).

3. Add the remaining 6 ounces of butter, salt, and the vanilla extract. Mix well. Add the powdered sugar in ½-cup increments, mixing after each addition. Once all the ingredients are added, whip on medium-high speed for about 10 seconds until it’s light and fluffy. Use immediately.

Caramel apples:

1. Wash the apples and dry them extremely well. Twist out the stem and insert the lollipop sticks or wooden skewers in the top of each apple. Line a baking sheet with foil and spray the foil well with nonstick cooking spray.

2. Unwrap the caramels and place them in a medium microwave-safe bowl, along with the cream or water. Microwave the caramels in 30-second increments, stirring each time until it’s completely melted and smooth.

3. Holding an apple by the stick, dip it until it is mostly submerged in the caramel. Place the apple on the baking sheet and repeat until the rest of the apples are dipped.

4. Store caramel apples in the refrigerator.

View the full instructions here.