I guess I’m on an apple tear. I made this dessert for a dinner party recently, where chicken with Moroccan spices was the main course. I wanted something to complement the warm notes of that dish, and be also appropriately seasonal. I found Dorie Greenspan’s recipe for a not-too-sweet Fuji Apple Spice cake, and adapted it for this occasion. The original made two very high layers. I prefer thinner layers, and didn’t need that much cake. So I divided the batter into three layers, and baked them all, but set aside one and froze it for later. The two layer apple cake, pictured here, fed eight for dessert, with leftovers. The cake is moist and dense, studded with chunks of apples and chopped pecans, and the frosting is rich and creamy. A small slice is plenty for most people. Luckily, the cake improves with a little age, as the flavors meld and the cakes get even more moist. This is a good cake to make a day ahead.
Two-layer Apple Spice Cake, with one for later:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder (at high altitude, reduce to 1 tsp.)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground allspice
1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup (packed) brown sugar
3 large eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 Tbsp. bourbon, apple brandy, or rum (optional)
1 1/2 cups applesauce, unsweetened
2 medium apples (Fuji or Gala, about 13 or 14 ounces total), peeled, and diced into 1/2-inch cubes
1 1/2 cups finely chopped pecans (about 6 oz.)
1 8-ounce package cream cheese (or neufchatel cheese), room temperature
1/2 cup butter, unsalted, room temperature
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
3 cups powdered sugar, sifted
Coarsely chopped toasted pecans or dried apple slices (for garnish)
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Butter and flour three 9-inch-diameter cake pans. Line bottom of each pan with parchment paper round. Whisk first 7 ingredients in medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat 1 cup butter in large bowl until fluffy. Add both sugars and beat until smooth. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla, then bourbon, if desired (mixture may look curdled). Add flour mixture to egg mixture in 3 additions alternately with applesauce in 2 additions, beating until blended after each addition. Stir in apples and pecans. Divide batter between cake pans; smooth tops.
Bake cakes until tester inserted into center of each comes out clean, about 40- 45 minutes. Transfer cakes to racks and cool in pans 15 minutes. Cut around pan sides to loosen cakes. Invert cakes onto racks; peel off parchment paper. Place another rack atop 1 cake and invert again so that cake is rounded side up. Repeat with other cake layers. Cool completely. At this point, you can wrap each cake in plastic and store at room temperature, or freeze for later use.
Using electric mixer, beat cream cheese and butter in large bowl until smooth. Beat in vanilla extract and pinch of salt. Gradually add powdered sugar, beating until frosting is smooth and creamy.
Transfer first layer to platter. Drop half of frosting (about 11/2 cups) by spoonfuls atop cake. Spread frosting evenly to edges of cake. Top with second layer. Drop remaining frosting by spoonfuls onto top of cake, leaving sides of cake plain. Spread frosting to top edges of cake, swirling and creating peaks, if desired. Sprinkle with pecans or decorate with dried apple slices (pictured above). Let cake stand at room temperature 1 hour to allow frosting to set slightly.