I truly don’t have any words for this cake! I don’t think I’ve been this excited about a recipe in a long time. And I get pretty darn excited about all of them. Today is my birthday, and I wanted to make something super fun and special! I actually have no problem making my own birthday cake. I’ve done it for years and I actually love it and enjoy the process so much. It’s so therapeutic to me.
I have no idea where to even start! The cake itself is filled with tons of autumn spices like cinnamon, ginger, allspice, and nutmeg. It’s also filled with grated granny smith apples and honeycrisps too (my absolute favorite)! It also has all brown sugar instead of white so it’s super rich and caramelly. And moist! I know a lot of you hate that word but there’s no other way to describe it! So. much. flavor.
And oh my goodness the buttercream! Brown sugar buttercream to be exact! I’m usually not a frosting person but this is the best frosting I have EVER tasted. It’s made with egg whites, so it’s SUPER fluffy. And it’s made of all brown sugar, which adds to the lovely caramel flavor. I can’t describe how good it is. I could seriously eat it with a spoon!!
The apple cider bourbon caramel adds another insanely delicious layer of flavor to this cake. I mean, what’s not to love about homemade caramel sauce that’s spiked with bourbon and apple cider?! SO much goodness!
If you’ve never made your own caramel, don’t be intimidated. It’s crazy easy and so worth it. All you need is sugar, water, heavy cream, and a tablespoon of corn syrup. And in this case, bourbon! And apple cider instead of water! This will make extra so you can keep it in the fridge and eat it on just about anything this holiday season! I’m looking at you, ice cream. And cookies! And brownies. Or even oatmeal…? I’d never ever judge.
If you’re thinking this seems like an intimidating cake, I promise you it’s not! There aren’t too many ingredients, and it’s all about the method. As soon as you make the three components, it comes together effortlessly!
I had so much fun decorating this, but feel free to get creative! I found those adorable mini apples at the grocery store last weekend and just about died. I thought they would be theeee most perfect cake topper. I’m not sure if you can tell the scale of how tiny and cute they are by these photos, but they are smaller than a tennis ball. So freaking cute! Then to finish the cake off, I just got some fall flowers and arranged them on the top. But just have fun with it!
Do you have any birthday cake traditions? I grew up ALWAYS requesting funfetti. Boxed funfetti cake that is. With the store-bought container of vanilla frosting. WHY is that stuff so good?! I have no judgement at all toward boxed cake mix or frosting. That taste just can’t be replicated.
Sometimes my palate just wants something a little different and more sophisticated/elegant. And this was one of those times!
So much brown sugar goodness. I can’t wait to eat another slice of this tonight!
Do you have any birthday traditions aside from the cake? The past several years I’ve gone to the gym in the morning for my usual early workout, then went and got doughnuts in downtown Baltimore. I freaking love doughnuts. Especially the fancy gourmet flavor ones. I mean what’s not to love?! They make me so, so happy.
Then I’m just having a relaxing dinner at home with a meal cooked by my mama. Filet mignon, mac and cheese, garlic butter shrimp, and salad! Some of my favorite things in life. And this cake of course!
And you can bet I’ll be adding an extra drizzle (or three) of this caramel!
- For the CAKE:
- 2¼ cups flour
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- 3 teaspoons cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon ground ginger
- 1½ teaspoons allspice
- ½ teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups packed light brown sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- ½ cup whole milk
- ¾ cup canola oil
- 2 granny smith apples, peeled and grated
- 2 honeycrisp apples, peeled and grated
- For the apple cider BOURBON CARAMEL:
- 2 cups sugar
- ½ cup apple cider
- 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
- 1 cup heavy cream
- ½ cup bourbon
- ½ teaspoon salt
- For the BROWN SUGAR BUTTERCREAM:
- 4 egg whites
- 1 cup packed light brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- Begin by making the cake. Preheat oven to 350℉. Butter and flour three 9-inch round cake pans. Line the bottoms of the pans with parchment paper as well.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, nutmeg, and salt. Set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together the brown sugar, eggs, vanilla, milk, and canola oil until smooth. Add the flour mixture and stir until combined. Fold in the grated apples and stir until just combined. Divide the batter among prepared pans and smooth out the tops with a rubber spatula.
- Bake for 22-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean. Cool cakes in pans for 20 minutes, then cool for the rest of the way on a wire cooling rack.
- Next, make the caramel. In a medium saucepan, bring the sugar, water and corn syrup to a boil over high heat. Cook until the sugar is dissolved, but DO NOT stir! Swirl the pan on the stove if you need to. Continue cooking, without stirring, until an amber caramel forms, about 6-7 minutes. Remove from the heat and carefully stir in the cream. Let cool for 1 minute, then stir in the bourbon. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat and cook, stirring, for 1-2 minutes. Let the caramel sauce cool. (I made mine the night before but this isn't crucial. Stick it in the fridge if you have to!)
- Make buttercream. In a heatproof bowl, whisk together the brown sugar, egg whites, vanilla, and salt until smooth and combined. Place bowl over a pan of boiling water, (make sure the bottom of the bowl doesn't touch the water!), and cook until sugar has dissolved, 3-4 minutes. Remove from heat. Pour mixture into the bowl of an electric mixer and beat on medium speed for 10-12 minutes, until mixture is lighter in color and fluffy. Increase the speed to high and beat until stiff peaks form, another couple of minutes. Reduce speed to medium-low and gradually add the butter, 2-3 tablespoons at a time, and beat until smooth. If the mixture seems to have separated after all the butter is incorporated, beat on medium-high until smooth. Then, reduce speed to low, and beat for 3 more minutes.
- To assemble the cake, place one layer on a serving plate, and spread the top with buttercream. Top with another layer and spread top with buttercream. Top with the third layer and spread with another layer of buttercream, leaving a little bit left for the sides of the cake. Use the leftover buttercream to "half" frost the sides, to create a "semi-naked" effect. Use an offset spatula or bench scraper to smooth out the sides of the cake. Pour the caramel over the cake and let it drip down the sides (you won't use it all, just use your desired amount!). Garnish with mini apples and flowers, if desired.
buttercream and cake adapted from martha.