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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:

Ingredients:

Cake:

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.)

Frosting:

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)

Directions:

Cake:

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.

Frosting:

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.

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We couldn’t help ourselves.  I meant to take a picture of this simply elegant dessert all plated pretty and everything. But we got carried away with our enthusiasm, and then someone said, “aren’t you going to take a picture?”

Uh oh.

So much for food styling.  We were lucky there was a piece left to shoot after we got done with it.

If you look close at this imperfect picture, though, you can see why we were so excited.  Both the cream and the sponge cake are studded with orange zest.  The cake is moist and the cream is luscious and the whole thing made for a light yet satisfying Springtime dessert, served alongside sliced strawberries.

Orange Glow Chiffon Cake with Marmalade Cream

Adapted from Rose Levy Berenbaum’s Rose’s Heavenly Cakes

Serves 8.

Equipment:

Stand mixer with whisk beater

9″ springform pan

Flat flower nail (used for cake decorating), 2 1/2 inches long

Ingredients:

1 cup all-purpose flour (Rose says bleached gives a finer texture, but I always use unbleached)

3/4 cup sugar

1 tsp. baking powder (3/4 tsp. at high altitude)

1/4 tsp. salt

1/4 cup canola oil

4 large eggs, separated, plus one additional white

1 Tbsp. orange zest, finely grated

10 Tbsp. freshly squeezed orange juice

1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

1/2 plus 1/8 tsp. cream of tartar

Directions:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk beater, mix the flour, all but 1 Tbsp. of the sugar, the baking powder, and salt on low speed for 30 seconds.  Make a well in the center.  Add the oil, yolks, orange zest, orange juice, and vanilla and beat on low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl.  Raise the speed to medium-high and beat for 1 1/2 minutes, or until very thick.  Scrape this mixture into a large bowl and thoroughly wash, rinse, and dry the  mixer bowl and whisk beater to remove any trace of oil.

In the clean mixer bowl fitted with the clean whisk beater, beat the egg whites on medium speed until foamy.  With the mixer off, add the cream of tartar.  Raise the speed to medium-high and beat until soft peaks form when the beater is raised.  Beat in the remaining 1 Tbsp. of sugar and continue beating until very stiff peaks form when the beater is raised slowly.

Using a large wire whisk, slotted skimmer or large silicone spatula, gently fold the meringue into the batter in two parts until just blended.

Scrape the batter into the pan and smooth the surface evenly with a spatula  Insert the rose nail base side down into the center of the batter so that it sits on the bottom of the pan.

Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the cake lowers slightly and a wooden toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.

Immediately invert the cake onto a prepared wire rack and allow it to cool for about 1 hour, or until the outside of the pan is cool to the touch.  Run a small metal spatula between the sides of the pan and the cake, pressing it against the pan.  Remove the sides of the springform and release the bottom of the cake from the bottom of the pan, pressing the spatula against the bottom.  Invert the cake and lift off the pan bottom.  Remove the rose nail.

Frost with orange marmalade whipped cream and serve. (Alternatively, you can serve the whipped cream on the side for an even simpler dessert.)

Orange Marmalade Whipped Cream

Ingredients:

1/2 cup sweet orange marmalade (beware not to use a bitter marmalade)

1 cup heavy cream

1 Tbsp. orange zest, finely grated

Directions:

In a small saucepan, heat the marmalade until hot to soften it.  With the back of a spoon press it through a strainer. Allow it to cool completely. In a mixing bowl, pour the cream and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes. (Chill the beaters alongside the bowl.)

Starting on low speed, gradually raising the speed to medium-high as it thickens, whip the cream just until beater marks begin to show distinctly. Add the marmalade and zest and whip just until the mixture mounds softly when dropped from a spoon. The marmalade will act as a stabilizer, keeping the cream from watering out for at least 8 hours refrigerated.

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