Excerpted from Desserts From the Famous Loveless Cafe by Alisa Huntsman (Artisan Books). Copyright 2011. Photograph by Karen Mordechai
Tennessee has innumerable county fairs that vie for attention all through the summer and early fall. The Wilson County Fair in Lebanon, just east of Nashville, attracts half a million visitors every August. Amid all the typical fried foods, sausages, and kettle corn are gorgeous caramel-coated apples on stick, and that’s what inspired us to put this luscious apple cake coated in caramel on the menu.
Caramel Apple Cake
Makes an 8-inch bundt cake; serves 8
½ cup pecan pieces
1 ½ cups packed dark brown sugar
1 cup canola oil or other neutral vegetable oil
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and cut into ¼-inch dice
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
¾ teaspoon baking soda
1 cup Drunken Caramel Sauce (recipe below)
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a 6- to 8-cup Bundt pan. Place the pecans in a small baking pan and toast them in the oven for 5 to 7 minutes, until lightly colored and fragrant. Let cool. Mix the eggs, brown sugar, and oil to a large bowl and whisk until smooth. Add the pecans and apples and stir with a spatula to combine. Sift the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, and baking soda over the mixture. Fold together until combined so that no streaks of flour remain. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan.
Bake for 1 hour 10 minutes, or until a toothpick or cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the cake cool in the pan for about 20 minutes, then turn it out onto a rack and place the rack over a baking sheet. Using a fork, poke holes all around the sides and top of the cake. If the caramel sauce is not in a liquid state, heat it gently on the lowest setting in the microwave until it pours like honey. Drizzle the caramel slowly over the cake in an effort to cover the entire cake with a thin layer of glaze. If the caramel pools on the pan below, scoop it up and drizzle it over the cake again; the more you get on the cake, the better. Allow the caramel to set and the cake to cool completely before slicing.
Baking Tip: If you don’t want to make your own caramel sauce, you can buy it, but be sure it is a thick sauce, such as an ice cream topping. Mexican cajeta or leche quemada works quite well too.
Drunken Caramel Sauce
Makes about 1 ¼ cups
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 small cinnamon stick
1 inch of vanilla bean, split lengthwise in half
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
¼ cup bourbon, whiskey, or dark rum
In a small saucepan, combine the cream, butter, and cinnamon stick. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the pan using the tip of a knife and toss in the pod. Set over low heat to warm the cream, melt the butter, and infuse the flavors, about 3 minutes.
In a separate deep saucepan, combine the sugar, corn syrup, and ¼ cup water. Bring to a boil over medium-low heat, stirring to melt the sugar. Using a moist brush, wash any sugar crystals off the sides of the pan. Continue to boil without stirring until the sugar syrup begins to color. Once it turns golden, gently swirl the pan and watch it closely. As soon as the caramel turns an even amber shade, remove from the heat.
Carefully pour a few tablespoons of the warm cream into the caramel; the mixture will boil up furiously. Whisk until smooth. Slowly whisk in the remaining cream. Continue to whisk until all the caramel is dissolved. Stir in the bourbon, remove the vanilla pod, and let the sauce cool to room temperature before serving.