Autumn Enchantment: Apple Cake with Sage Caramel

Benjamina Ebuehi says that her Apple Cake with Sage Caramel "couldn't be more autumnal if it tried," so it seemed like a perfect project for an early November bake. It's an apple cake topped with cream cheese-sage caramel frosting, finished with more sage caramel, dried apple crisps, and fresh sage.

The cake batter includes a homemade applesauce you make by cooking peeled, chopped apples with a little water until softened, and then mashing the fruit lightly with a fork. I wish the recipe had provided a volume measurement for the amount of applesauce you're suppose to have, because obviously your mileage can vary depending on the size of your apples (the recipe simply calls for "2 apples of your choice" without specifying a weight). I doubled the recipe (which is written to be baked in an 8-inch square pan) to bake it in a 9-inch by 13-inch pan, and I used four small Braeburns that had a total trimmed weight of about one pound. 

Once I made the applesauce, the batter came together quickly. I whisked eggs and sugar until pale and thick; slowly added in oil; and incorporated the applesauce, vanilla, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon. The recipe doesn't include salt, but I added a pinch. I poured the batter into a parchment-lined pan to bake and let the cake cool completely in the pan.
To make the sage caramel, first you steep fresh sage in heavy cream and strain out the sage. Then you heat sugar until it melts and turns amber; add the sage-infused cream; bring the caramel to a simmer; remove the pan from the heat and add salt; and let the caramel cool. The sage flavor of the caramel was subtle, but detectable, and I liked it quite a lot. You mix some of the cooled sage caramel into a cream cheese frosting (a mixture of butter, powdered sugar, and cream cheese). The frosting recipe calls for 180 grams of cream cheese, so my double batch should have used 360 grams. But I figured that I might as well use two full bricks of cream cheese (454 grams), so I multiplied the frosting recipe by 2.5 instead of just doubling it.
To assemble the cake, I turned the cake out of the pan; spread on the frosting; drizzled more sage caramel sauce on top; and decorated the cake with apple crisps (very thinly sliced apples dried out in a low oven) and fresh sage leaves. Even though I thought my apple crisps looked more like mushrooms than apples, I was enthralled with the appearance of the finished cake. To me it evoked a romantic forest setting, and I thought it was gorgeous. The recipe also calls for a garnish of walnuts, but I was making the cake for someone with a nut allergy, so I just left them off.
I trimmed off the edges of the cake to get a clean appearance and was able to snack on the trimmings before I delivered the cake to a friend. The cake was moist and somewhat rustic with chunks of apple in it, because my applesauce was not completely smooth. But the cream cheese frosting is what stopped me in my tracks. It was rich and so incredibly delicious, with the glorious combination of slightly astringent cream cheese and earthy, salty-sweet sage caramel. And as you can see from the photo, the ratio of frosting to cake was high, so eating this cake felt quite indulgent. I loved everything about this cake and thought it was a showstopper. And I might start upgrading the cream cheese frosting on other cakes and cupcakes to this sage caramel-cream cheese version. Fall is my favorite season of the year and this cake embodies the enchanting spirit of the season.

Recipe: "Apple Cake with Sage Caramel" from The New Way to Cake by Benjamina Ebuehi.

Previous Post: "The Savory Sablé: Brown Butter and Sage Sablés," January 3, 2021.


Sally said…
This looks amazing! I've loved everything I've made so far from her book but everything is undersalted IMHO -
Lack of salt is one of my pet peeves -- whenever I see a recipe is missing salt, I usually add some anyway!!
Louise said…
My first thought when I saw the photo was "mushrooms!"
@Louise -- lol, I know! But somehow I still find the mushroom/forest vibe very appealing!